Actually, It Is About the Technology

I have a technophile streak that runs through me. I become giddy when I open up an iPod Touch for the first time. I marvel at how lightweight and instant a Chromebook is. When I was a child, I would dream about a computer that could do games, videos, video-recording, music, audio-recording and connect to other computers. I didn't realize I would have all that and more at the palm of my hand. I am often amazed at how technology can transform a lesson.

I also have a Luddite streak in me. I don't own a cell phone. I don't let the alarm clock define when I wake up. I like French Press coffee. I refer to online identity as the "vapor existence" and I grow skeptical at the overstated claims of the lastest iGadget. When I am at a technology conference, I find myself feeling like a skeptic in a Cathedral of Innovation. You know Tumblr for centuries back when it was called a commonplace book.

Call it Rage Against the Machine.

Oftentimes, to check my technophile tendencies, I say things like, "It's about the learning and not about the technology." When I'm around a large group of people gushing about the latest, coolest apps, I often say, "It's really not about apps. It's about thinking better about how kids learn."

And yet . . .

On some level, it really is about the technology. Blogging is powerful, because students have a magnified audience where they can engage in both a synchronous and asynchronous dialogue. Students can engage in the folksonomy of tagging, embed multimedia and constantly revise a post until they have reached a place of mastery.  It's a tool that is available anywhere they have internet on devices ranging from desktops to netbooks to tablets to laptops to iPods and cell phones.

I love blogs. True, I love what people can do with blogs. However, it isn't all that different from saying "I love having coffee with a friend" rather than "I love the conversations I have a friend while I happen to be hanging out at the coffee shop."

The platform matters. There are amazing people I know because of blogging and Twitter. There are opportunities I now have that would not have existed without this medium. There is nothing wrong with saying, "This platform really can do some amazing things and I'm fortunate to have access to it."

Too often, I fail to recognize the power of the technology. I don't push students to use blogging to its fullest potential. I don't use Google Docs for much more than a simple word processor. I don't ask students to develop a deeper conceptual understanding of numbers when they use a spreadsheet.

On the flip side, I also fail to think critically about the medium itself.  If I'm not careful, "it's not about the technology" becomes an excuse to avoid asking hard questions about the medium itself. We have the whole world in our hands. Is that a good thing? Space and time are evaporating. What is the cost involved?

To a large extent, it is about the technology. Our tools are transforming geography, identity, social systems and communication. Is it such a bad thing that we take the time to ponder what that actually means for our students?


John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler.
He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard
and the co-founder of Write About .

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