Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Broken Pencil: A Metaphor for Tech Integration

This past week in one of the classes I'm taking we were discussing the Law of Unintended Consequences and how it relates to educational technology. In particular, we were discussing how there are always unanticipated changes that happen pedagogically when new tech tools are introduced.

I shared the example of PowerPoint, and how so many students no longer think of taking notes as, "I will try and write down the key ideas the lecturer is presenting, so I will better remember them later on." Instead, most students now think of taking notes as, "I will quickly scribble down whatever is projected on the screen." While PowerPoint was (and is) applied to lectures as a visual aide, the visual aide has become the object of instruction. The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes!

Classmates brought up other technologies that have been recently shifting the way we think about teaching and learning: Bring Your Own Technology (B.Y.O.T.) programs, reliance on wi-fi Internet connections, and the "always on" nature of life with mobile technologies in our pockets. We had a great online conversation about how these kinds of technological tools bring about changes both good and bad in what "has always been done."

As we were talking about this, I brought up the point that this is why many educators fear integrating technology into their teaching practices--it forces them to change. "What if everything changes in a bad way? What then? Is it the end of education as we know it??"

One of my new friends and fellow doctoral students, Dave Lewis, shared this in response:
"When I am working with teachers new to a specific technology I remind them that when they were in Kindergarten or first grade and their pencil broke it was a major problem for them.  All work came to a stop.  Now if a pencil breaks they don't think anything about it; they adapt and move on.  We need to try to get our people to the same level of comfort with technology that they have with broken pencil lead."
I thought this was a helpful analogy.

Please hear me right: I'm not advocating for technology for technology's sake. (Ugh, that's a terrible thought!) But I am advocating for educators to be willing to experiment, explore, and perhaps expand their view of what educational technologies can do, even though your teaching practice might not be "the same" after integrating new technologies.

After all, the pencil was once a revolutionary educational technology too.

Image By Wolfgang Glock, via Wikimedia Commons

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