It's Not Just "Stuff"

04 May 2008

The more I read and reflect on the idea of "educational technology," the more I've come to realize that it's not just "stuff." It isn't comprised simply of hardware: LCD projectors, document cameras, laptops, smartboards, clickers, etc. You'd think that as an edublogger, I would have already understood that these things are just conduits to much broader tools such as blogs, social networking venues, digital storytelling, and more. It's not about the stuff. It's about what you do with it.

I get it now (finally). This leads me to the next point along the way: When will the "Department of Information Services" get it?

For as long as I've worked in this district, it's been about the stuff of technology. They tout the upgrades to the memory of computers that have been installed. They describe the new wireless access points (which are so secure, even the building admins have trouble logging on). They describe the sets of student response systems they've purchased for each building (and then sit gathering dust). They have a server just for internal filesharing through SharePoint software---and most of the sites created there have not been updated in months. They also block wikipedia from student access. And sites like MySpace and Facebook and Blogger. For everyone, there is no YouTube or anything which has streaming content. You can use Moodle, but no one is allowed to use a wiki which exists outside the network.

So much for the whole "information services" thing, eh?

I understand that there are some unsavory things happening on-line, but as Sandy at Techlearning points out in Social Networking: What Are We Afraid Of?, nearly all of cyberbullying, child predation, and pornographic spam are happening to students while they are away from school. However, "as educational leaders, our sole responsibility is to do the best we can to create learners. In order to do that we must learn what tools our students are using. They are learning without us, often without guidance, using tools we not only don't understand, but also often block. If we want them to learn in an environment where they can receive guidance, make mistakes safely, and be prepared to learn long after they leave us, we need to be exploring the tools they will use to communicate."

It is absurd that the divide which already exists between the technology we use in the classroom and the technology students use away from school to connect and educate themselves is turning into more and more of a chasm each day. I am sorely tempted to chuck the rest of my curriculum this year and spend time with students in the computer lab teaching them how to use "their" tools to learn in our environment. I want them to storm the DIS Bastille and demand better access to instruction. I want them to tell their parents "Don't you dare vote for a technology levy until the schools allow us to be creators of learning. We deserve more than just 'stuff.'"

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