Educational Technology – It’s Not About the “What”

by Howard Pitler

In the 2009 animated movie “UP” by Pixar, the dogs in the movie are easily distracted by the presence of squirrels. Right in the middle of the action, while the dogs are keenly focused on a task or objective, we hear the word “squirrel”, the action freezes, and the dogs all look in the direction of the squirrel. Technology is sometimes the “squirrel” in education.

I believe technology has the potential to dramatically improve the learning experience for students. All too often that potential isn’t been reached. Why is that? Here is one scenario. An app or product hits the market and teachers immediately ask, “how can I use this with my class?” 3D printing is a good example. The price point is now reasonable for many schools to purchase 3D printers and I am seeing more and more media centers and classrooms equipped with 3D printers. I also see students making toy dinosaurs and jewelry.

What I don’t often see is the “why.” Yes, 3D printing is cool and kids like creating things, but what is the educational value. What are students suppose to be learning when they are creating these cute things? Is this about coding? Maybe this is part of math? Educators need to use technology intentionally to enhance learning and students should be able to tell you what they are learning.

Here is a different example. Star Wars: The Force Awakens premieres in theaters and BB-8™ is an immediate star. BB-8 is also an amazing app-powered droid made by Sphero based in Boulder, CO. Many teachers rush to get their hands on BB-8 or Sphero’s other very cool products, SPRK and Ollie.

Here is the difference -There are quite a few learning activities teachers can download right from the Sphero website – good ones too. The teacher guide for each lesson identifies the Common Core standards addressed.

The student guides and worksheets for each learning activity guide the learner through the process. Teachers who are intentional about technology use the droid in the same way they use other good educational and technology tools. They use their new BB-8 to help teach specific identified math, physics, or computer science skills. Other teachers use the new technology because it’s really cool. They see a new technology and hear “squirrel.”

I do think technology has the potential to change the way teachers teach and students learn, but it requires educators to be intentional in their planning. Before teachers address the technology to use they have to first determine what they are trying to teach, when is the best time to use the tools available, and why this is the best tool. 

Keeping the eye focused on the real targets rather than the squirrel reduces teachers’ frustration with technology.

Image credits: Wikipedia

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