Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Chicken or the Egg, Which Comes First

Something has been on my mind as of late and I feel compelled to write about it.  I am grappling with why technology is so often pushed to the background into a supporting role.  I know, I’m biased right, I’m a technology advocate.  It’s true but that is not why I believe technology should always be first when considering an activity, a way of working, a way of learning, and a way of teaching others.

Way back in 1985, my wife and I got married.  We planned a honey moon trip to California.  We bought some paper maps and had access to, yes, an atlas!  We figured out our general plan then as proud BCAA members, asked for driving maps to be produced.  We studied and followed those maps carefully all the way down and back over the next couple of weeks.  Now fast forward to 2015, we are planning a trip to Spain.  iStock_000019171659XSmallShould we use the same approach with the same tools (technology) to plan a trip?  No of course not.  We are using Google Maps and other Internet resources to plan things out, much faster, in a far more informed manner.  The other day while using Google Earth I ‘visited’ Ronda in the south of Spain from where we will be starting a week long bike trip through the country side, village to village.  I was exploring the city and surrounding landscape, viewing crowd sourced photos, and ‘walking’ the streets, etc.  If I had used the traditional tools, this would be impossible to accomplish and experience.

When people set out to build houses 80 years ago, they had basic technology consisting of hand saws, hammers, nails, and wood.  It was a very manually intensive task and they had access to very little options in terms of materials.  Fast forward to 2015 and the saws are electric, come in many shapes and sizes, nails are ‘pounded in’ with nail guns, wood is screwed down with cordless battery screw drivers, and because of technology driven ways of using, creating, and manufacturing materials, they had amazing diverse materials available to them.  Go through the list of trades, business workers, medical practitioners, and other occupations and you see technology at the forefront in every case in a modern society.  Work practices and procedures are designed and planned with technology at the core – the technology is primary and the methods are wholly dependent.  And, what they are able to accomplish, would be impossible without the technology.

I remember (vaguely…) my high school years (1980-81) and how all knowledge and information was obtained from encyclopaedias, books, and our teachers.  We learned what we were told.  There were no other options or sources available to us.  We wrote papers, did worksheets, solved problems (on paper), all to satisfy our teachers and to get good marks on our report cards.  Fast forward to 2015 and classrooms are starting to operate differently for sure.  Teachers are adopting newer technologies, albeit slowly.  In most cases I encounter, the new technologies are still quite optional, are afterthoughts, are add-ons, are reserved for special projects, etc.  I don’t recall from 1981 that our books, encyclopaedias, and our teachers were optional, afterthoughts, add-ons, or reserved for special projects.  So why are new technologies treated so differently?  I think things are backwards…

I still see tweets, blog posts, and hear people say that pedagogy is first and foremost important and technology should be considered for ways it can support the pedagogy.  Pedagogy is really just a tool, a technology itself, used to teach and to cause learning to take place.  But how one teaches today should be fully if not now, when - questiondependent on the technologies available.  Why are so many schools still hanging on to the use of textbooks when not one of their students will ever use a physical book again as a reference or tool for learning once they leave school?  Why would a lesson be designed based on the absence of information technology and then add in that technology to enhance the lesson?  Doesn’t it make more sense to design lessons based on all the technologies at ones disposal, to the point where the lesson could not exist or be used without the technology?

It is true that technologies fail, let us down, and can be difficult to learn to use.  But this is changing rapidly.  I think the time is now to start with technology first and change-20272_1920consider everything we do from there.  Technologies bring game changer opportunities, better ways of doing, and open doors that were never before imagined.  In our work and in our learning, we need to maximize the use of the tools (technologies) available and keep our eye out for new ones, all the time.  The alternative is to wake up one day and discover that what we knew and held on to as our ways of doing have become rather obsolete.