One thing that is sure to happen at the ICTCM later this week is that I will be inundated with tech stuff (from the exhibit hall) and ideas about using tech stuff (from sessions and workshops) in my teaching. Of course it’s good, clean fun to play around with tech stuff, and it’s good to come into contact with other people who are passionate about technology in teaching and with their ideas. But there’s a danger here as well: You might get so swept up in the zeitgeist of the conference that you begin to uncritically adopt all kinds of tech stuff and tech ideas for inclusion in your classroom without really evaluating it.
So when I am at the conference, there are three basic questions that I will ask whenever encounter tech stuff or ideas. They are the same questions I have asked for years about technology, whether that technology is for education, entertainment, home improvement, or whatever:
- What does this technology do?
- What problem does this technology solve?
- What technology currently exists to solve this problem, and in what sense is this product an improvement over the existing technology?
This series of questions has, in the past, provided me with a buffer of objective distance from interesting-looking tech and forced me to think critically about things I see, rather than just snapping up whatever looks cool or interesting and blindly moving forward with it in my classes. Forcing yourself to see new technology from a problem-solving point of view is a pretty good exercise in general.
I daresay that there are a lot of edubloggers out there that could stand a little more objectivity and critical thinking in how they approach technology; sometimes ed-tech blogs put off a sort of glassy-eyed cult-like aura, like the blogger wants nothing than for you to drink the Kool-Aid of the latest read/write Web 2.0 social network/digital storytelling thing they just spent 36 hours deconstructing. (I think the delusion about digital natives arises mainly as a product of the haze of one’s own unbridled indulgence in educational tech. Spend enough hours wasting time on Twitter and you can convince yourself that 24/7 sharing of personal acts and information is actually normative.)
If a technology product I am considering cannot be described easily in terms of its basic functionality, or if it is not in place to solve a clearly-defined problem, or if it does not improve significantly upon existing technology whose functionality is well-defined and which solves a clearly-defined problem, then most likely it’s not going to make me be more productive or my students learn better.
I think these questions actually originated with Wendell Berry, not somebody you’d normally associate with the ed-tech stormtroopers in the blogosphere. He’s something of a Luddite, I know, but an intelligent one and a person whose caution with new technologies I have always admired.