Separating – and interweaving – technology and learning

23 03 2007

Christy Tucker at Experiencing E-Learning has put into words what I’ve been thinking – and practicing – in my work promoting and supporting the use of educational technology to enhance learning at my Institute:

To reach those who are more resistant, in education or elsewhere, I think a focus on what can be done with the technology will ultimately be more effective than focusing just on the technology.

This statement resonates resoundingly with my thoughts on the work of educational technologists who support the work of teachers and trainers. By first demonstrating the application of technology, and providing a clear picture of the goal – how it might improve teaching and learning – we can help educators to better understand why they might want to become more proficient with educational technology tools, even before they start grappling with them.

Furthermore, by demonstrating teaching and learning support processes seperate from the technology, we help bring about a paradigm change in the way technology in education is treated. Many teachers still regard technology as a special tack-on to the “other stuff” they might do in a standard classroom, when really, technology should be as transparent and integrated into education as it is in other aspects of our students’ lives. Christy Tucker cites Chris Lehman, principal at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, quoted in this post on Teaching Tech Literacy to the MySpace Generation:

“We need to get away from the notion that computers are something we go use in a lab once a week. When was the last time we sent kids to a pencil lab?”

In this statement, Chris Lehman infers that technology only provides the tools of learning, and (particularly for our increasingly technology-literate students) using these tools can be as transparent as picking up a pencil. Therefore, what we should focus on in developing our staff and students is how to use these tools to achieve outcomes or goals. From the same article, this quote from David DeBarr, instructional technology coordinator for the Scottsdale Unified School District in Scottsdale, Arizona:

“Our approach is not to teach technology. Our approach is to teach it as a goal. It becomes infused in every classroom and becomes part of life. It happens naturally.”

This way of looking at technology in education has useful applications in how we support teaching and learning. Even in mobile learning, the focus should not be on the technology, but on the learning; handheld devices merely provide a ubiquitous “swiss army knife” of useful tools that a learner can use to accomplish useful goals such as research and reflection. Indeed, no other technologies are more personal, pervasive and interwoven into the fabric of our learners’ lives than mobile technologies, which strongly suggests one of their natural roles as educational tools: supporting informal and lifelong learning.

[Update: another related article on educational technology and the MySpace generation, via Ewan McGregor]

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9 responses

24 03 2007
Christy Tucker

Hi Leonard,

Thanks for the link and the praise. I really appreciate it.

The metaphor of mobile devices as a “swiss army knife” learning tool is great. I completely agree with you that mobile learning has real possibilities for supporting lifelong learning. I don’t see mobile learning as the best tool for content-heavy formal learning; personally, I don’t want to read a book on my cell phone. But for bringing learning right to the students, right when they need it, wherever they are, mobile learning can be a great solution.

Recently, I had a discussion with someone who is highly skeptical of mobile learning. She raised two primary arguments against it:
1. Noisy and chaotic environments (i.e., outside a classroom) aren’t really best for learning because students have too many distractions.
2. There isn’t a support system for teachers who want to use mobile learning.

I had my own responses to those arguments, but I’m very interested in how you would counter those arguments. Addressing these sorts of barriers and challenges I think is the next step after helping teachers see the “why” in using technology.

27 03 2007
Graham Wegner

Your Update link is from Ewan McGregor? The Ewan McGregor. Or do you mean the nearly as famous Ewan McIntosh? Sorry, Len, but you did make me smile and laugh out loud… 🙂

27 03 2007
Leonard Low

LoL, I hadn’t picked that up… looks like I’d better refrain from listening to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack in the car on the way to work. 🙂

27 03 2007
:: ed(ge)ucation design :: » Blog Archive » Blending learning and the tools for learning

[…] Leonard makes some interesting points about educational technology and the way we work to engage teachers in using technology for learning and developing learning approaches and resources. This is his opening para: Christy Tucker at Experiencing E-Learning has put into words what I’ve been thinking – and practicing – in my work promoting and supporting the use of educational technology to enhance learning at my Institute: To reach those who are more resistant, in education or elsewhere, I think a focus on what can be done with the technology will ultimately be more effective than focusing just on the technology. Mobile Learning » Separating – and interweaving – technology and learning […]

27 03 2007
Teaching Generation Z » Blog Archive » What Technology Does For Me

[…] Leonard Low points out that an effective way of getting educators on board with new technologies is to focus on the outcomes gained by technology use, not the technologies themselves. He says:- […]

28 03 2007
Sue Waters

I agree with you Len.

I have been to way too many workshops where they have focused entirely on the technology aspects and failed to address the first point which is why to use it. The first thing that practitioners like myself want to know is why should we use it, give us practical examples of how it can be used effectively with students first so that we can visualize ourselves using it and be inspired. Once you have inspired us then we will focus on wanting to learn how to use it.

Unfortunately I think the problem is that many who offer the PD for staff are not “hand-on” practitioners with students which is why they do not understand this need.

Chris – my response to the skeptics is really the same as any teaching strategy – you have to open your mind and experiment just as you do with any method you use with students. So things will work others won’t; is that no reason to try and enhance the learning environment for your students. One of the most effective uses of mobile learning that schools and higher education is using is podcasts – amazing outside the classroom; in situations where there may be distractions; and yet students are gaining so much from this (check out the statistics at Using
podcasts with students
; or Richard Meagher’s great podcasts for year 11 and 12 students at Meagher’s Podcasts).

28 03 2007
Anne Paterson

Well said Leonard

“Furthermore, by demonstrating teaching and learning support processes seperate from the technology, we help bring about a paradigm change in the way technology in education is treated.”

When I am talking about using technology in teaching and learning my real aim is for teachers to think through the application of technology to learning as just one of the teaching and delivery strategies available to them.

When they ask themselves, how best do I help my learners learn this material the intention is that they consider the capabilities and features of various technology, and can mentally work through what the various configurations of technology in teaching and learning, along with other strategies, can offer.

I was also interested in the comment from Christy Tucker about the objections raised to mobile learning by her colleague:
1. Noisy and chaotic environments (i.e., outside a classroom) aren’t really best for learning because students have too many distractions.
2. There isn’t a support system for teachers who want to use mobile learning.
Like Christy I too have my answers to those 1. Life and learning is a chaotic environment and 2. Teachers have always supported each other in the hows and whys of delivery, this teacher at some stage would have been shown how to use an overhead projector for best effect, probably a wordprocessor, a video player, a photocopier (a gestetner copier), and similarly can work on how a mobile phone might work to support her teaching. Its not that different

Technology is a multifaceted jewel in the treasurebox of teaching and learning tools, valuable, but just more tools to choose from to fit the purpose.

6 04 2007
CyberCompliment Day « Experiencing E-Learning

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30 08 2007
MKFC Stockholms Folkhögskola » Blog Archive » Är datorn ett verktyg i din undervisning?

[…] bör försöka komma till att datorn blir ett verktyg. Mobile Learnings inlägg om att väva samman teknologi och lärande är samma tankar och idéer som vi på MKFC har. Det handlar om att väva samman tekniken med bra […]

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