Why Isn’t It About the Pedagogy?

It was interesting to read Royan Lee’s blog post this weekend entitled “It’s not about the tech, let’s move on …“.  Now, Royan is a pretty sharp teacher.  If you read his blog regularly, you’ll see that he does some pretty amazing things with his students and is transparent enough to share that with us and encourages dialogue about what’s happening.

In his blog post, he makes reference to a few other blog postings that support his position.  On the surface, the logic seems pretty straight forward.  I think of my own teaching scenario where my students have dual boot iMacs, high speed internet, a wireless network where they may attach their own devices, and I think that I could jump on that bandwagon as well.  For years, I’ve railed against the concept of “integrating technology”.  The term itself implies that technology is an additional part of the classroom where it really shouldn’t be.  In a perfect world, it should be just another tool that a teacher may or may not elect to use to meet a specific purpose.

While, in a perfect world, I do agree somewhat with Royan’s original premise, I think that the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.  From where I sit and gaze into the future, the conversation will always be about the technology.  In education, most really haven’t got their heads around the use of technology and what it could actually do and, more importantly, what it should look like.  I’m guessing that Royan’s situation is similar to mine.  He has a strong background and sense of what is possible and access to the tools to make things happen.  There are lots of supporters, few blockers, and an understanding of what can be done when the technology fits.

When I think of the conversations that I watched yesterday, people are struggling to get to that level of comfort.

I read discussions about:

  • whether or not wireless access should be available in schools;
  • if wireless is available, who should get to use it and with what;
  • certain resources being blocked in one school district but not in another;
  • the goals of a single “computer lab teacher” in a school;
  • the goals of a classroom teacher who was planning a lesson around technology for today;
  • a classroom teacher who wanted to have a scanned PDF copy of a worksheet for use with an interactive white board;
  • the old Mac versus PC debate;
  • technology that has been purchased but not set up;
  • technology that has been purchased but not set up properly;
  • the importance of constructivism;
  • the importance of connectivism;
  • someone who was dreading a computer workshop about dealing with data to make informed decisions;
  • people who were having to choose between doing report cards and having an online discussion;
  • feedback about the presentations from an online conference;
  • a teacher who wasn’t allowed by policy to blog with her students;
  • how to teach today with the events that happened in Arizona over the weekend;
  • a proposal to make it illegal for teachers to text their students;
  • and much more but you get the gist, I’m sure.

These were all good discussions but they also serve to remind me that the profession and use of technology hasn’t matured to the point that Royan and others envision.  Access and abilities differ from district to district, from school to school, and even from classroom to classroom.  We’ve got the high flyers who have a sense of where they’re going and we also have those who aspire to be a high flyer but are held back by their abilities, the access to technology, the type of technology, or even does the technology work.

Personally, I think that the conversation is good and important at this time.  Knowing that you’re part of the discussion enables your own professional growth and learning.  Unfortunately, technology ensures that we don’t live in a static world.  There isn’t a single answer except that standing still isn’t helpful.  I’m reminded of the MacLean’s article “Don’t give students more tools of mass distraction.”  It’s a view of education from the outside that would have us ignore many of today’s realities.  I smiled when they made reference to students enjoying Powerpoint presentations and the image of a chalkboard filled with writing in the background.  Today’s reality is more like what we see in the foreground – students collaborating using a piece of technology.  It’s a matter of staying current.  Even MacLeans which has its roots in paper and newsstands has this electronic version and in the top right corner, you’re invited to try their iPad version of the magazine.  If embracing current technology is OK for them to use to reach their clientele, why isn’t it for classrooms that are trying to do the same?

It is very helpful as we have this discussion to take a look at all sides.  I remember a few years ago being at a MACUL Conference at the Renaissance Center in Detroit being so motivated by keynote speaker Clifford Stoll.  He was riding the success of his efforts in tracking hackers and his book The Cuckoo’s Egg.  (As an aside, a very engaging book).  A subsequent book “High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don’t Belong in the Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian” needs to be read as well.  Balance that with the writings of Seymour Papert to help you frame your thoughts.  Do you have your own “Vision for Education?

It’s a big topic and it could be very easy to ignore it and grab another piece of chalk to continue.  But, if you care about those faces that are smiling back at you, you need to be part of the discussion in this less than perfect world.  That discussion absolutely needs to be about the pedagogy but it also has to include the technology,  Our profession is working to understand both.

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9 Replies to “Why Isn’t It About the Pedagogy?”

  1. We have heard a lot “it’s not about the technology”, though often it seems to be about the lack of technology! And new technology amounts to a big change in what we do day-to-day in the classroom. Thanks for voicing this, perhaps contrarian, view.

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  2. Thanks for dropping by and your thoughts, Mike. I really didn’t intend it to be contrarian but I can see how it can be taken that way. I hope that it can be interpreted in some way as a tribute to those who are having these conversations for the betterment of what they do.

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  3. While I will agree with Royan that the focus is often on the technology – I think it fairer to say that too much attention is often paid to the technical aspects of software operation. I will take a McLuhanist approach to this one I think. You cannot take the technology out of the picture when you are considering perceiving, learning, thinking, and societal implications.

    The medium is the message.

    One needs to consider other technologies beyond computers through an historical lens in order to see this more clearly.

    Revisit Nicholas Carr’s book – The Shallows – for his discussion of the history of various technologies. The spoken and written word. The printing press. These, and others, have been technologies with which to think. They clearly have impacted the human mind, learning and society in ways that were previously unanticipated. Gavriel Salomon would call these second-order effects of technology – or the ‘drip effects’ of technologies.

    Derrick De Kerchove, in The Skin of Culture, says, “The addition of a drop of blue dye to a glass of water results not in blue dye plus water, but in blue water: a new reality.” The point being that the technologies become fully integrated in our ways of being in the world. Read more here.

    A perfect example of where the ‘medium is the message’ is reflected in @brendasherry ‘s post where the real learning has been the metalearning – well beyond the intent of the presenter.

    This view of the world is one of the reasons we feel so strongly about the Minds On Media model and why we frame the day with ‘pedagogistas’. To have the ability to ‘zoom out’ from the activity of learning the tools affords us a vantage point where we can learn both the content at hand and anticipate and embrace potential ‘drip effects’.

    On a final note, Seymour Papert has also accurately claimed, I believe, “If the role of the computer is so slight that the rest can be kept constant, it will also be too slight for much to come of it.”

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  4. Funny, today at work we’re reading chapter 10 in “21st Century Skills” (Bellanca, Branddt, editors) http://www.amazon.ca/21st-Century-Skills-Rethinking-Students/dp/1935249908

    In there, “Form follows Function” – Frank Lloyd Wright.

    And:
    >Focusing on the form of the technology at the expense of the purpose means that we shortchange our students.

    >Students can’t always name the function, but they can name the form. Hence the shopping list of gadgets.

    Finally:
    >Humans need to share, store, create and communicate. (functions)

    >Students teach us tools, and we help them understand functions.

    Thanks for the conversation!

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