What Does Technology Have to Do With It?

Technology, circa 1980s & 90s

Technology is just a tool, not an end.

I used to think it was more. Technology was novel and cool and I wanted as much in my classroom as I could get.

I asked the essential question, “How can I use technology as a tool to improve student learning?”Ā  I learned that mantra from the Intel Teach to the Future program I was a part of at the turn of the century. (I love the sound of that…turn of the century. I used to think of automobiles and electricity coming at the turn of the century. Now it has a whole new meaning.)

Most people in the year 2000 didn’t know about using technology to connect and collaborate with people in other parts of the world. The technology I used was really just an enhancement of typical curriculum. With all my cool technology — and it was cutting edge — my classroom was still teacher-directed. We had a projector, the Internet, a laptop cart with Microsoft programs, yet, it seems I was still up front a good portion of my day.

My Student Sample, Circa, 2000

In the Intel program I took my second grade rocks and minerals unit and enhanced it with technology. I created student samples of a PowerPoint and Publisher web page and newsletter, all with content and links from the Internet. It was high-tech, and, in theory, I was to bring it back and have my students create PowerPoints, web pages, and newsletters using the Microsoft programs. It was powerful and intimidating, difficult and unwieldy. We tried in second grade, and we did some amazing things, but in many ways it just ended up being a “cool” way to share the same content that I had always taught. I think it was some of the most innovative and cutting-edge use of technology in the classroom in 2000, but I didn’t quite get the vision. Most of us didn’t get it.

Twelve years later and now I know that technology is just a small part of it. Today, my mantra is “How can my geniuses be empowered to connect, create, contribute and collaborate in an ever-changing world?”

It’s not about technology. Here are two reasons why.

  • The tech has lost its novelty. Kids have been raised in a digital age. (Not the same as “they all know how to use technology” because they don’t. Some of them love technology and take to it naturally. A few don’t like technology, and they think they would be happy to avoid mastering all the programs and possibilities.)
  • We like to get our hands dirty with the real things — good old “analogue” rocks, for instance, in my rocks and minerals unit. (Can I use that word “analogue” as the opposite of “digital”?) We’ve all figured out that we can’t and don’t want to do everything on computers.

However, it’s a little bit about technology. Since I became a connected educator, the technology has done something radical to my students and me. Though it’s not everything, technology is vital. I found that the Internet has been a catalyst, a fuse, a fire starter connecting me with other like-minded, fiery educators, amazing innovators and educational reformers who I otherwise would not have met. These people (aided by technology) have launched, spurred, carried me to a whole new way of learning, thinking, and teaching (and a great bag of mixed metaphors).

My students have experienced the benefit of my transformation. They are truly geniuses, empowered to connect, create, contribute and collaborate in an ever-changing world.

It’s not about the technology. It’s about the learning. I’ll say it again and again, you are going to become irrelevant if you don’t become the chief learner in your classroom. (However, I do still think technology is cool.)

16 thoughts on “What Does Technology Have to Do With It?

  1. You inspired me to write my first blog entry since Oct 8th. Admitting our own “fears” of what we do/are doing might just be a step in the right direction. So thank you.

    1. Dear H. Lye,
      Thanks for reading, and I am so glad you were inspired! Yes, I have many fears and questions, but I am so convinced my students are happier and actually learning more this way.


  2. Denise,
    Thanks for another great post! I agree that is not about the technology; tech is a tool to encourage inquiry and collaboration, not something that should be “added” to our day. However, I also absolutely agree that it is about technology in the sense that we are helping students (and teachers) to engage in their own learning and in a global classroom.

    You are so right about not all students wanting to jump head first into the new ways of learning and sharing. I share your frustration about some students not being able to “unlearn” the old ways… But your own creed is inspiring! I wish I could see your classroom in action!

    Take care,

    1. Beverley,
      Thank you for your kind words. I’ve actually been thinking about your last line all day. During my crazy classes today, I wondered what if Beverley were here. (Kind of like What Would Jesus Do? only not exactly!) I would hope I could be proud if you were here! Wouldn’t that be fun to visit each others’ geniuses?


  3. Denise, remember when we had to set tech goals, but it could be a lesson using the overhead projector? šŸ™‚

    I totally agree – once again. We use tech to learn – sometimes. I use tech at home to help me help students become lifelong learners. It’s the tech that helps ME become educated – because I’m connected to teachers around the world who care about their students.

    Thank you, Denise! Keep blogging!

    1. Thanks, Joy! I never would have met you without tech. Enough said!


  4. ” (Can I use that word ā€œanalogueā€ as the opposite of ā€œdigitalā€?)”

    instead of digital, try virtual. The “analogue” to that is, of course, physical – as in your rocks and minerals to touch.

    1. Thank you, Barry. I’ll try to remember that for next time.

  5. Hey Denise- Just ran across your blog (and am glad!).

    I think back to 2003 when SARS hit. I was teaching in Hong Kong at the time and our school needed to go “virtual” for five weeks. It was such a nightmare.

    We went 1:1 in 2009 and have LOVED it. The biggest lesson has been this: Focus on content. Students (even 10-year-olds) can Google questions to application issues. As you said in your visual, empowerment is key.

    My biggest questions to students have to do with content – and whether the “bling” to which they are continually attracted supports or detracts from their message.

    I try to explain my classroom to non-teacher friends. They don’t get how different teaching looks now…

    Janet | expateducator.com

    1. Janet,
      Thank you, thank you, for your interesting and lengthy comment. I’m glad you found my blog, and I have enjoyed looking at yours today today.

      You have a great story about trying to go virtual in 2003. I’m guessing there were lots of glitches compared to ten years later.

      I have a huge question, though. When you say, “Focus on content. Students (even 10-year-olds) can Google questions to application issues,” I’m not sure I understand. Would you mind clarifying for me, please?


      1. Yeah, that was a fuzzy comment. When my 10-year-olds first play with a program, a couple things happen that need to be dealt with.

        1. Some students start asking for help on things they could solve for themselves. I want to foster independence by showing them how to Google specific questions or use the ‘help’ function on programs.

        2. Some students become enamored with the ‘bells and whistles.’ For example, they want to put sound effects and strange visual effects into their iMovies. I have to walk them through the process of deciding whether or not the effects add to or detract from their intended message.

        What I want to do is stay focused on the knowledge and skills students should be demonstrating. For example, when they made movies for Parent Night (http://wp.me/p1Dq2f-JF), the teaching points didn’t focus on technology. The teaching points were as follows:
        – research what they will learn in the year and why they will learn those things
        – identify audience and their needs in order to determine writing voice
        – organize nonfiction writing
        – speak clearly and smoothly
        – revise/edit for meaning

        There is a place for teaching tech skills. But once students have a grasp of a program, my focus is on the curricular outcomes, not on the technology. Students learn to come to me with curricular questions rather than tech-related questions.

        1. Yes, Janet, thank you. I am sorry. I forgot we were discussing the technology! Of course, that makes sense now. I agree, the content of the iMovie and presentation is more important that the transitions and sound effects. Something I have to continually remind students to work on too. It’s too easy to plagiarize!

          When I initially read your post, I guess I thought of something totally different, which has been on my mind lately. In your sentences, I was thinking the words content and application could be switched.

          In a class like government, for instance: “Focus on application. Students (even 10-year-olds) can Google questions to content issues.” In class, I would rather spend my time focusing on the application of the Constitutional amendments, rather than memorizing the order and numbers of them, which can be easily Googled.

          Does that make sense? I just had that on my mind lately. But, of course, your comment was about using technology in the classroom, and it makes sense. Thanks for clarifying.

          Thanks again,

  6. Hi Denise,
    I was just having this kind of a conversation the other day. As much as I love technology, I don’t feel like the kids always feel the same. There are definitely some who really gravitate to it, while others use it reluctantly. Still, overall, the learning has been enhanced for so many because of it.

    There is still nothing like getting your hands dirty! Looking at rocks online doesn’t quite compare to actually handling them. But thinking about how my student who had quadriplegia could access the lesson through technology makes me realize the importance of technology today. Access is key in this world.

    I can’t imagine teaching without the technology and thinking about all the people I have connected with makes me realize the value that technology has in my profession and life.

    Because you are so wonderful and share your stories, I have nominated you for a Liebster Award. Check it out: Teaching is Elementary

    So happy to have connected with you Denise!

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