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The Secret To Learning With Technology Is Not What You Think. It's Why You Think.

Educated By Design Blog

The Secret To Learning With Technology Is Not What You Think. It's Why You Think.

Michael Cohen

When I was eight years old living in Southern California, my parents bought a video conferencing system to talk with my grandparents in Philadelphia. To this day I could never figure out how my grandfather, set it up on his end. The mammoth devices used a combination of wires to connect to our house phone and television delivering a blurry 200x100 image of my grandparents whose movement was delayed by 45 seconds as they their voices echoed through the telephone. It was at that moment through a mixture of “Hi Michael” , long pause, and a 45 second delayed handwave, that I realized technology was what I was going to use to change the world. That is because for me, having the latest and greatest tech was less about staying on the cutting edge, but more about trying to figure out ways in which technology could make people's lives awesome.

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So whether it was in the world of design, marketing, event planning, or education, I am constantly looking at how I can help others do amazing things because of not what technology an do, but because of what they can do with it.  

So how do we help others master technology, and believe that it is a tool to help others do great things? 

When I was a Director of Educational Technology, I thought stumbled on something amazing. It was 2011 and I was sitting in a packed conference room with 400 plus educators, learning about “100 apps for the English classroom”. As I sat there, I tried to discover the purpose, the magical essence of why anyone would need that many apps, methods, or approaches to anything in life, especially something so specific. That's when it dawn on me, that in life, and in education we cannot use technology because of what it does, but because of what we can do with it. It's about purpose and value. That's how you master anything. 

“There's an App for that”

This catchphrase represented something pretty amazing in 2011. The idea that technology could allow us to engage, share, or create digitized experiences on just about any topic was amazing. As the years progressed and technology advanced, the question that I started asking is "why"? “Why do you need an app for that?” WHHHY!!!!??? Why do you need to digitize EVERYTHING?!?! Technology is a tool of productivity and efficiency. Digitizing our lives can actually make them more complicated, confusing, and delayed. The truth is that for real technology integration to occur, you must understand why to use a tool in the first place and what can be achieved through its use. One way I have found to be extremely successful when discussing the idea of integrating technology in a classroom is to challenge educators to think about familiar and so to speak “safe” technologies that we know and love. Think about a typewriter, a calculator, and yes even a pencil. They are familiar, timeless, and their singular functionality leads to expected results. What makes these devices so trusted? Is it the device or what we do with it? Remember when you learned how to drive? What excited you the most? The appreciation for how the gasoline powered the engine? How the differential properly distributes power to the wheels? Like most of us, our focus was not so much on the inner workings of our automobiles, but all of the awesome places we can get to.

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You want to master cutting edge technology? What's the purpose? What's the value? I do not mean knowing how to use technology. I mean literally mastering the ability to output high quality content through technological means.

Now I don't write about technology because I have all the answers, or because I found some magical (and easy) solution to classroom management woes. I also don't write because I believe technology is THE answer. I do however believe that technology is like a garment. No matter how classy you look in that garment, it won't change who the person wearing it truly is. That’s why it is a bit of a paradox. On one hand, technology clearly can make things awesome, yet at the same time it can't be about technology. In the end, I believe that when any technology is harnessed properly, it has the ability to engage, enrich, and enliven our learning and our life. In education, we view technology as an external process that is added to teaching and learning. If we take the 20th century education practice, and simply slap on 21st century technology to be "cutting edge" what do we get? We get a horse and carriage that's equipped with rockets and roller-skates.

Check out Seymour Papart's book Mindstorms that uses a similar horse/carriage and jet engine analogy to technology. 

Check out Seymour Papart's book Mindstorms that uses a similar horse/carriage and jet engine analogy to technology. 

 So when looking at technology’s role in your classroom, the first question you must ask yourself is - Why? Why should I use technology in my classroom, and what will it do for me and my students? It is a hard question, because it might result in a realization that technology might prevent learning from being successful. So before we figure out how technology might magically solve a problem or make an experience amazing, let's look at areas in which technology can help us. Remember that car? Well it won’t do much for you if you are trying to get from New York to London.