You Need to Use Technology the Wrong Way

I don't think I've ever known anyone else who uses a spreadsheet as a calendar. For me, it works, though. I have the date, the day, the task or event, the type of task and the location. For recurring events, I simply write "every week" or "every day." Then, I use the sort function to see what I need to do each day or to see the timeline of a particular project (sorting by category).  I like being able to ask, "When is Galileo testing?" and simply sorting it with one click. Calendars don't allow me to do that.

I'm not suggesting everyone should use a spreadsheet for a calendar. I'm odd. I get that. I like every event in one place and I find the calendar to be inefficient. But it has me thinking about technology and customization. It has me thinking that maybe acceptable use should be broadened to also mean, "Use the tools in the way they weren't intended to be used."

Too often, students learn a rigid definition of how a particular technology tool should be used. PowerPoint and Google Presentations are meant for presenting new information. Spreadsheets are for crunching numbers. Twitter is for telling people what you're doing. Blogging is for short writing entries. Google Docs should be used for writing only.

I want students to be hackers.

The following are some examples of using tools in ways they weren't originally intended to be used:

  • Vocabulary Tumblrs: Tumblrs allow students to create and to curate. They can write the vocabulary word, do a sample sentence, tag it with a synonym, tag it by subject, and add multimedia. They can then sort it by tags, by topics, by search or chronologically. They can re-blog one another's vocabulary words.
  • Sequencing with Google Presentations: Sometimes students who struggle with sequencing do better when it is organized top-down rather than left-right. I don't know why this is the case, but I've found it to be true. So, I have students maneuver events with Google Presentations in order to practice sequencing.
  • Google Forms for Choose Your Own Adventure Books: David Wees is a genius. He figured out how Google Forms could be used to a multi-option choose-your-own adventure book. 
  • Google Docs for Literary Circles: Most often, people use Google Docs for writing. However, they also work well in having students annotate and discuss writing.
  • Blog as a Wiki: Everybody participates, creates, organizes, changes the blog in a way that they typically would with a wiki. The advantage with the blog is that they can subscribe to it, leave comments and see it chronologically as well as topically.
Those are just a few examples and many people would say, "Well, why don't you just use ______ instead?" However, that's the point. Wikis might work better than blogs for a group project. Twitter might be a better back-channel than adding ideas to a shared concept map. Taking a camera snapshot of the board and then listening might work better for a student than Evernote would. That's a good thing. We should all have the permission to choose different tools to accomplish similar tasks. 

Here are a few thoughts on how teachers can encourage students to get into the hacking mindset:
  1. Permission: Teachers can create options for students as they work on projects and assignments. It might be as simple as saying, "This might work in iMovie, Garage band or Keynote. Choose your method and then explain why you chose that particular tool." 
  2. Examples:  Teachers can show examples of tools being used in ways they originally weren't intended. 
  3. Model the Process: It might be as simple as saying, "I'm wanting to highlight text and add comments to this article. What kinds of tools would enable me to do that?" Students need to see that the learning drives the task and the task drives the selection of technology.
  4. Understanding of Tools: If students use blogs but they never know what it is exactly that makes a blog a blog, they aren't as likely to use blogs in divergent ways. Let them know what tagging is and how to organize pages or the power in commenting and reaching a larger audience. 
photo credit: scottwills via photo pin cc