Sunday, January 11, 2009


"Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all." -Thomas Carlyle

Patrick Higgins, a member of my PLN on Twitter, recently advised a follower to
"take the focus away from the tools. Ask them [teachers] what they want their students to do first, then find what best fits."
This is a message that I've heard - and used myself - before, but it bears repeating.

Too often those who are technically adept, or at least aware, try to convince others to try new technology tools, teach new skills, to their students. This may lead to failure for a number of reasons:
  • the listener is less knowledgeable about the digital world than the speaker
  • the listener perceives the tools as an add-on rather than an integral part of teaching process
  • the speaker overwhelms the listener with too much information
  • the tool is inappropriate for the task
Sometimes technology is intrusive. If the purpose of journaling is self-reflection, a simple, inexpensive, portable, composition book might be the best "tool" to use. When interaction and collaboration is the focus, then an Internet-based blog, wiki, or Google Document is a viable alternative, provided the teacher possesses the requisite knowledge of how to use these tools successfully and the students have access to necessary hardware and applications.

As with clothing, one size rarely fits all.

"A tool is but the extension of a man's hand, and a machine is but a complex tool." -Henry Ward Beecher

"Inside a Toolbox" by Siomuzzz


Gail Desler said...

Great post, Diane. In the 15 years that I've been dabbling with technology, it's a rare instance that I've seen tools as an add on have an impact on student learning. And it is so easy to overwhelm teachers with too much information.

The approach I am experimenting with this year with a group of 4th grade teachers is to present a writing strategy, such a summary writing, and then share examples of the tools and strategies other elementary teachers have used to extend that skill. Even though my workshops are part of a technology grant (EETT grant), the workshops revolve around specific writing skills.

Initially most of the teachers were pretty nervous about the grant and openly shared their fears and doubts about technology. As their comfort levels grow, and they add, for instance, podcasting as a tool for sharing book summaries, I'm hoping they will share my view that the grant is not really about technology at all. It's about teaching writing, using multiple media.

Hope it's ok to quote you,

diane said...

Thank you, Gail. Feel free to quote anything you find helpful.

I like your approach. As a relative newcomer to technology myself, I can sympathize with overwhelmed or confused teachers.

They do need to acquire some facility with these tools, however. Not to do so is a grave disservice to their students. Even when I don't use specific tools in class, I try to demo and explain them so that my class at least knows what is available in the wider world.

The key components missing in so many districts are time to explore and permission to make "mistakes."

Without encouragement and support from administration and the Board of Education, trying to integrate technology is more a negative than a positive for many educators.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Diane

I so agree with your point of view about (digital) tools. And you are so right to summarise the whole thing in saying that sometimes the tool is simply inappropriate for the task.

You've probably heard it said by pedagogues about elearning, that we need less of the e and more of the learning. This so fits with what you are saying.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

Patrick Higgins said...

Far be it for me to pull the "e" out of elearning, but the more I work with teachers and students, the more I feel we are missing the point when we "integrate" technology. The comment I made on twitter was directed at the idea that we'll get to a point, hopefully soon, where we once again just talk about learning, much as the blogger from Middle Earth stated.

On Friday, I made this very statement to a hands-on session I co-facilitated here in New Jersey, and you could feel every teacher in the room breathe a little easier. It's a relief to hear someone, especially at a technology conference, say that you don't have to use technology for everything.

TI said...

Diane, I think you bring up a great point. The goal of using new technology is to improve instruction and enhance the learning environment. One of the contributors to our TI-Teacher’s Lounge (link:, stated that his first step is to think of the “big idea” he wants his students to learn. If he can come up with a lesson where the new technology would benefit the student’s learning, he’d spend the time developing the lesson. If not, he goes with what he knows already works.

diane said...


I'm hoping for a blend - sharing information and resources in a fresh way. One of the biggest pluses of using technology is that it sometimes allows the students to take an instructional role - not all learners are teens or younger!