Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's about the learning, not the technology

I am very active on Twitter, and was recently part of a conversation about digital storytelling. I was talking about using PowerPoint, a tool that is immediately available to my students, as an incredibly versatile tool. We’ve used it for creating animated story books and for creating glogster-like posters. It has endless possibilities – which my students teach me about just about daily.Tool Trader Iphoto © 2009 Meena Kadri | more info (via: Wylio)

But teachers demanded to know, but haven’t you used this tool, haven’t you used that tool. Yes, I play around with lots of different tools, and I often let my students do that, too. But the point isn’t to try out each and every new cool tool. The point is learning.

I see dozens of new tools come through my Twitter and RSS streams every day. I check a lot of them out. I also look at what value they add to my students’ learning, and at how they do that. Voicethread, for example, often starts with an image, allowing students to comment on it. Starting with an image is powerful. That has encouraged me to include images more in my teaching, both F2F and online. I’ve started adding images to all my Moodle discussion prompts because I think they help my students make connections that words by themselves won’t do.

But does that mean I’m going to add VoiceThread to my arsenal? Maybe not. If I can get the job done – using images to help my students think and providing a way for them to converse about it – using an existing mechanism (Moodle discussion), then why add the overhead of still more student IDs and passwords? My goal is not “using VoiceThread,” it’s improving student understanding.

With each potential tool, I have to ask myself, “what are the logistics?” How much time do I have to set aside for this new whiz-bang tool? Because I don’t have 25 students. I’m a secondary teacher, and we often have 150 or even 200 students. And each new tool has a learning curve – whoever thinks all kids know how to use technology without assistance has never spent time in a school computer lab. It’s not obvious to all of them.

When I first really got into using online discussion, I tried out a blog, where I posted a question, and students discussed it via comments. We all enjoyed it and the benefits of the discussion were immediately clear. But the logistics just about killed me. That’s why I decided to use Moodle, because it reduces the logistics – never eliminates them, but makes them manageable.

That way, I can focus on what I want my students to learn – the whole point of the enterprise.


  1. I'm glad to see that someone else sees the use of technology as a way to enhance learning, not to just use the technology.

  2. Nice to hear I'm not alone. :)