Is Technology “Just” a Tool?

A recent Tweet featured a graphic from the World Economic Forum┬áthat appeared inside a more complete article that asked the question, “What skills do graduates need to get a job?”

While the article focused on European data, there are probably some striking parallels with similar concerns in the United States. If the presupposition that we are educating our students in order for them to become gainfully employed as a young adult is true, then we should give some thought to this question. (I fully understand that it takes more than a good job to enjoys one’s life, but I haven’t met a lot of unemployed or underemployed people who were all that happy with their existence.)


Now, I teach 9th graders how to use their technology skills to accomplish a wide variety of practical tasks — including how to use them in their other content area classes. The chief measurement of my success (as far as my district is concerned) is their completion of requirements for the IC3 certification. The IC3 is a computer literacy exam normally used to assess and train adults in the marketplace and is heavily weighted on Microsoft Office, Windows and digital citizenship.

So when I saw the graphic shown above in a friend’s tweet, I found myself wondering how I could use my classroom as a proving ground for those skills and still accomplish my assigned curriculum objectives.

In my class, we are up to our knees in cardboard these days as my students use what they have been learning about how computers work to build cardboard models of computers. They are limited to cardboard, duct tape, yarn and markers. It’s impressive what some of them are doing. They learned about CPUs, motherboards and microprocessors. snip_20161128140337Now the are building them and assembling them in an appropriate facsimile of working computers. If that’s where it stops, it’s not so much. Let me introduce you to a young man named Aslan (not his real name). He came to me this morning and described how over the Thanksgiving holidays his mother caught him taking apart the family computer. When she finished yelling at him that he had “better be able to put it back together or he would be buying a new one!”, he smiled and explained that he told her, “No problem. I’ve got this, Mom.”

“How did that work out?” I asked.

He smiled again. “I didn’t know I could do it. I couldn’t do it before, but I’ve learned stuff and it feels great.” It was my turn to smile. “Go learn stuff” is kind of our class motto.

Now, I doubt that he will ever get a job building cardboard computers, but think about what he said, and consider the list in the graphic above. How many of those skills did he demonstrate in the process of taking his computer apart and putting it back together — with confidence?

In the right hands, technology is “transformational”, according to George Couros in The Innovator’s Mindset (page 141). In the wrong hands, it is just an expensive electronic pen and paper, substituted for the “old school” real thing. This is why it is so important that all educators understand the concept of not using tech to merely substitute for other tools, but to allow it to enable us to redefine what we do in our classrooms. The SAMR model should be as important to pedagogy today as Bloom’s.

I write this as I conclude my participation in #IMMOOC — an author-led online course in which I joined several hundred educators in a study of Couros’ book. I write this as I continue to find ways to innovate by not just doing something new — but by doing it in a way that is better (See Couros’ definition of innovation, page 19).

If I seek to teach in a student-driven classroom, technology is the accelerator that enables an individualization and a personalization that were just not possible a few short years go.

Technology “just” a tool? No, not hardly. It is a transformation waiting to happen.