Using Cool Tools: Don’t “just do it”

(I wrote this last week at the New Literacies Institute and shared it at our site, but thought I might share it here, too.)

I’ve been thinking about this issue in light of the Cool Tools sessions in which we have gratefully been given time to learn and play around with a technology tool. For many, this may be a first introduction to Voicethread, Glogster, Jing and more. Once you get past the initial technical barrier (sign up, bandwidth, etc.), it’s easy to get immersed in the technological tool and then use that “wow” moment to want to integrate that tool into our Inquiry Projects. (Spend a few minutes building a wall at Glogster and you will see what I mean — here is a book review that I did on Glogster about The Socially Networked Classroom that I look at now and think, there’s too much going on here.)

I suggest a cooling off period, first. Let the “wow” moment pass and then think clearly about:

  • What are the aims of the project, lesson or professional development concept? What do I want my students/teachers to learn?
  • Does the technology enhance the learning experience?
  • Why am I using this particular tool and not another?

In other words, use the technology as a tool for learning and not just to use the tool. One mantra that I use with my students (but also, with myself) is: Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it. It’s easier to say the mantra than it is to enact it, but still, I try.

I suggest there are a few reasons why you would want to step back and reflect before forging ahead with a tech tool integration:

  • Students may become distracted if they, too, get caught up in the technology. Make sure the technology complements the learning you are aiming for. Provide focus and structure and clear expectations of your students. Again, is the tool the right fit for the goal? Remember: it is not the tool that is important, it is the learning (there I go, sucking the fun out of school again)
  • We should always be wary of advertising on sites we bring our students to. Glogster is one that has lately become bombarded with ads. We use Firefox, with Adblock Plus add-on (you should, too), but the last thing we need are schools to become yet another place where our young people are forced into the role of economic consumer
  • Web 2.0 sites die all the time, or get revamped, or change unexpectedly. This is a fact of life in the unsettled connected world. We don’t want to put all of our eggs in one basket, or one application or platform. (Corollary: always have a back-up plan for days when a site is down or the filter unexpectedly decides to kick you out.)

I don’t mean to suggest that you don’t integrate technology (I’d be at the wrong conference for that — perhaps the Luddite Convention down the road?) but I do recommend thoughtful integration, with the backwards design model of where do you want your students to be at the end and what tools can help engage them to do their best and most creative work along the way. Keep in mind: What affordances does the technology bring to the learning experience?

Meanwhile, the best way for us teachers and educators to figure all that out is to “play” with the tools ourselves. Put yourself in the role of your student (or your teacher, if your aim is PD) and work with a variety of tools to determine the best fit. This takes time, but it is worth it. Your own experience “creating” goes a long way to understanding the possibilities and limitations of whatever you choose to bring to the classroom.


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