Technology Shifts Practice

I’ve been thinking a lot about what our response to technology driven change should be.  For instance, is it reasonable to just carry on with our traditions and practices while ignoring important changes brought on by new technologies?  I don’t read status quo in this  definition of practice.  I see ample room for practice to be a shifting phenomenon over time as the environment we live and work in is changed.

prac·tice (noun): repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency: Practice makes perfect.

Last week I wrote “[b]y adding technology to an environment and not changing current practices, we have the proverbial round peg in a square hole problem. To provide real benefit, technology in classrooms, used by students and teachers, must change practice (eventually)”, Learning at the Speed of Change.  A teacher colleague of mine emailed me to share that a few teachers had taken exception to this and other related comments about practice in my post.  It certainly was not my intent to offend or criticize the work of teachers so please do not read that into my comments.  The more time I spend learning along-side teachers, the more I am amazed at how they are able to influence young lives.  Teachers are critically important to developing future generations of adults and they do an amazing job at this!

Technology is designed to change things – by adding technology to an environment, I think intuitively we should expect change to occur.  Change is a naturally occurring phenomenon in nature so it is something to be embraced not feared or resisted.  When we resist change, that’s when we most experience stress.  It is exciting to embrace and experiment with new tools and methods.  Technology, when adopted intentionally and thoughtfully, brings tremendous opportunity to our lives and work.

I do think that we all, regardless of profession, need to be alert and aware of the influence, impact, and disruptive power of technology on our way of imagelife and our work practices.  When things are changing exponentially sooner than previously, the time to adapt is even shorter.  I don’t believe we can ignore the reality of these pressures.  What worked well before will not necessarily serve us well in the future.  It would seem to me that that our educational practices should always be adapting and evolving to match our culture, tools, new knowledge, and that new practices would inevitably be the outcome.  When we lived in an era of slow linear change over time, we didn’t need to change much.  But as the green curve in the graph above reflects, our time window for change is no longer linear.  Things change much faster and they’re speeding up!  Isn’t education purposed and designed to change people and thus shouldn’t educators be leaders of continuous change in sync with our changing world?


Take a simple example, the book.  In the 1400’s the Gutenberg Press, a new technology, completely changed the game for storing and communicating information and knowledge.  It significantly disrupted a time tested labour intensive elitist method of transmitting knowledge.  It eventually put hundreds of monks out of work but think about the quality of life, jobs, and enlightenment it produced.  The accessibility to knowledge was expanded to everyone who wished to engage rather than limited to an elite few.  It took hundreds of years for this opportunity to change practices world-wide.  We’ve grown to love “the book”.  I have a book shelf full of interesting books in my office, they’re a conversation piece.  I’ve read them all.  I used to make notes in a binder and underline / highlight text in the books.  It is difficult to access that meta-knowledge of what I’ve read.  But, I’ve shifted practice.  For the past few years, since I bought an iPad, I buy all Kindle e-books.  The reading, note taking, highlighting, and sharing experience is far superior to a physical book could ever be.  Iimage have a personal website where my Kindle books are listed with reading status and my notes and highlights available to anyone who cares.  When I change the reading status, it automatically shares this via twitter which spreads the awareness of these books.  I can copy/paste highlights and notes from the website to blog posts, presentations, emails, tweets, and other writing I might create.  When I come across a book title, I can check it out online, then if I want it, go to my iPad to buy it and have it immediately delivered.  I can learn of a book and be reading it within minutes.  No driving to a store, no ordering on line and waiting weeks for it to be shipped (incidentally, both of these options impact the environment more so than the digital method).

Another interesting change I’ve experienced with reading is sharing what I read via twitter.  As I’m reading a blog, web article, or book I will often tweet out a portion of text I find interesting or provocative.  Increasingly people engage in real time conversation with me about what I share from my reading.  I often find myself reading and conversing about it at the same time with people around the world.  This is very different.  I find that these new methods help produce much deeper learning.

Shouldn’t our students also be exposed to new ways of engaging with knowledge and in conversations with others about it through our networks and digital tools?  For that to happen, those involved in education would need to be regularly exposed to what’s possible and experimenting with new technologies to evaluate their applicability to learning and teaching.  The outcome, I believe, will be a continual shift in practice.


  1. Nice post Brian. I wonder if we can look at technology as just an extension of early man's first tool creating? How far apart really is the first spear and a modern cell phone? When you look at your 3000 year chart certain patterns emerge.

    1. @crudbasher - thanks! I would say all tools, regardless of when in history, are technologies. When I refer to technology today I generally mean information or digital technology. I always refer to exponential change but not to imply it's something new. We've always been, I believe, on an exponential change trajectory. It's just that we didn't know that for 1000's of years. In the early time line of exponential change, it very much seems quite linear. Things plod along for 100's of years. Beginning in the last couple hundred years, it feels different. Each decade, heck each year, now feels very different in terms of the pace, volume, and complexity of invention and change. We've surpassed the knee of the curve and are now living exponential change. That's the real pattern :-)

    2. I agree. I'm waiting for the Singularity. :)

  2. The marriage of technology and education begs an uncomfortable question. Does the technology transform the old paradigm, or just make it faster, and/or more engaging? You can pimp a car to make it faster and prettier too, but it's still a car. When you add a propeller and wings, or water-proofing and a propeller, NOW you have something transformational. These kinds of alterations allow for a deepening experience of what it means to move.

    I have stood beside the Lady of a castle, sword in hand, wrestling with the decision of whether or not to allow a stranger through the gates. My heart raced and there was sweat on my brow. My virtual friends could be slaughtered by a wrong decision. Until then, my appreciation of medieval life was as 2 dimensional as one who has only driven a car through the countryside. When technologies remove the limitations of our understanding, then they are transformational. Until then, it is just a tool that supports and perhaps improves the existing educational paradigm. The exception to this is when it is used in a completely creative way. I'll let this aritcle elaborate.

    1. @Gord Holden: Good point. I talk about preparing, enhancing, and transforming uses of technology and the concern that some may get stuck preparing or enhancing. Not that transformational uses are necessarily the nirvana state of tech use or required all the time but I think it should be a goal to reach some of the time.

      I would say that 3D immersive environments have the potential to be stuck at preparing as well. It depends on where people take it. The more transformational the experience the greater the investment in design, content, and activity required. It will take some time, one or two persons at a time, to create the educational ecosystem and expertise necessary within 3D learning worlds for their full potential to be realized. I'm glad there are some people starting to invest!

  3. Yes, absolutely Brian. Even in my experience with designing 3D immersive learning environments, the requests are usually to provide something that is either already being done, or could be done just as well with an existing technology. The challenge with technology is aways to ask oneself how it can be leveraged to do something that's not only better (which is also good), but different, innovative, deeper. We laugh now to think that electricity was once thought to be only good for magic tricks. The real magic was in the imaginations of those who stepped out of that mindset and acted on the possibilities. Virtual environments are beginning to go through that same process methinks, from entertainment, to very practical uses in both industry and education. Any technology is only a good and as innovative as the purpose for which it is used. (Hmmm...sounds like a good quote to me.) :)

    1. Yes, it's sort-of a natural law of progress and adoption. It used to take 100's of years, now things change in months. I wonder if we humans are capable of sustaining the pace of change that's upon us now?

  4. Are humans "...capable of sustaining the pace of change that's upon us now?" I don't thinks it's humans that are incapable of handling this new pace of change as much as the paradigms we've used to keep pace. While I could not hope to offer a perfect analogy the differing infrastructures of the wolf and the African Wild Dog packs leaps to mind.

    Wolf packs are of course seen as collaborative for many familiar reasons, but (for better or worse) the success or failure of the pack rests upon the alpha male and female. They determine the singular goals, the strategies, and the roles of their subordinates. In the case of African Wild Dogs, each member of the pack is tasked with the responsibility for being opportunistic in their search for an achievable kill. Their only other responsibility is to respond when another signals their success.

    Last year I recall searching for hours for the best screen recording software. My proud announcement of my "find" was quickly deflated. Several of my grade 6 "pack" responded that they'd found something better. The resulting consultation...I mean discussion, concluded with a vastly more successful result. Though I'm hopeful that this reflected a classroom practice I had already adopted, that day it became official. The wolf pack model of collaboration was abandoned for the Wild Dog one.

    Are you old enough to remember Alvin Toffle? I think his true genius is only now emerging. Largely discredited in recent years, his flaw was that only that he was too far ahead of his time. He spoke of how the future belonged to emerging "adhocracies." How bloated bureaucracies would be unable to keep pace with the smaller, less structured companies. I see this with families I have worked with. How the children are able to bring transformational change and success to family businesses. Institutionalized competitors will need fundamental changes in their infrastructure if they are to have any hope of keeping pace with the innovative power and flexibility of such adhocracies.

    In my new position, I was given the option to have students, or not. To me, there was no option. My ability to thrive in this era of change depends upon the enthusiastic assistance of my pack. The strength of the bundle of individual sticks, is greater than the strength of the board. Together, we make each other more powerful and successful.

    So, "Are humans capable of sustaining the pace of change that's upon us now?" I believe some will be capable, and others will not. As with our institutions, their success will depend upon their willingness to abandon the "alpha" mentaIlity that strangles the creativity, insight, and potential contributions of their subordinates. JMHO. :)

  5. Sorry for the typo...Alvin Toffler, author of "Future Shock" and a raft of other newly relevant books on the 21st century.

  6. @Gord Holden: I can always count on a deep thoughtful thorough comment from you Gord :-) I have used Toffler quotes in presentations and posts. I like his insites. Adhocracies - I like that descriptor. I read an article yesterday forecasting the fall of the US (as a country, not just an economy) by 2017 and of the EU by 2013 due to untenable complexity. Bureaucracies take on lives of their own and out grow their purpose. I see it all around us in our society. Red tape is everywhere with rules and regulations that have become entangled with unworkable processes. Radical change is needed for sure.

    I also like your "better together" inference. Minds mixing are greater than their sum. I think we are at a critical juncture where we shift practices in many places, not just to adapt to technology, but to restore a sense of reasonableness to our institutions and society! Here's hoping...


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