“Mastering” Technology

I love the  challenge of teaching about technology because it’s so different from other teaching I’ve done.  For me, it’s 90% teaching about how to *learn* about how digital tools can support teaching and learning.     I know that I don’t always respond adequately when students say that they want to feel that they’re “mastering” fewer tools or “master” platforms used in their districts.  I don’t always explain well why that’s never a goal of mine.  So I’m going to think out loud about that here.

And to me,  learning the tools themselves is the easy part.  (I know, I know. There’s a steep learning curve at the beginning, but it’s a learning curve that does begin to level off relatively quickly.)

The more challenging and more interesting parts are:

1.  Learning how so many of these tools function in similar ways so that you can do the same sorts of functions across platforms.  I think about the first time I demonstrated to current group of fabulous teachers how to make a link, and I see them now making links on their blogs and wikis and Google Sites without giving it a second thought.  They’ve “mastered” creating hyperlinks, even while they may not have “mastered” the platforms on which they’re linking.  They take hyperlinking for granted, yet it’s huge to be able to connect people to information scattered across the far corners of the internet and to make those intellectual connections ourselves in the writing that we do.

2.  Learning how to let the tools teach you.  I’ve tried (usually without having any choice about it, as I’ll be standing there in front of students as I notice that something has shifted and changed) to model how to use  the layout of the platform to find what you need to do.  Unlike textbooks, this medium is constantly shifting and changing.  That has to be part of the learning – not that you’ve “learned it” like we once might have learned Word ’84, but that we know how to learn from the tool.

To me, it’s a fascinating thing for teachers to learn how these platforms enable people to learn with little if any direct instruction.

3.  Seeing the very open-ended nature of all these platforms and imagining how they can be used to support kids’ learning.  Because we all know that there are many kids not learning using the paper and pencil to which they now have access.  And if we’re focused on “mastering” any one part of any of these complex platforms, we’re missing the chance to reach kids with things that are also possible in other parts of the platform.

4.  Learning how to use a network to find out what you don’t know.   I told my class about how, in another class, a student wanted to do a fairly complicated step in Photoshop and I’d been actively discouraging him from spending his time at that. The next time I checked in with him, he was working step by step from a YouTube video that someone had made demonstrating that exact step.  In ten minutes, he’d done exactly what he wanted to do (in a way that I, as a teacher of Photoshop, had never seen before).

And thus, is the biggest shift for me:

5.  Learning that these tools aren’t teacher driven. It’s about finding the enormously rich and generous network of people out there who are actively teaching and sharing information.  And then, teachers can focus on the “learning” part — what can kids learn about themselves and their work via these tools?

This isn’t about learning software.  That honestly is the very easiest part.  It’s about learning to learn and teach in new ways because we have new tools to support each.

That’s the more interesting part  and “mastering” a small set of individual tools will never get us there.

Thoughts?  Is is this either/or?  Or can we get to the “learn through play” parts in more direct ways?

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