Solving Real Problems

Education technology, whether it's a smart board, blended learning curriculum, computer, or iPad, is merely a tool. It's only as good as it can be effectively used to solve a need for a teacher. . .We need tools that solve real problems. (Read source)

A part of me balks at the idea of technology as a tool. Of course, I pandered to this perspective in my time...if we're going to see technology as fundamentally transformational, expanding our definition of a tool as something simply external to the human body, then "tool" may not cut it.

You know, that's a perspective worth playing around with. Even the idea of "mindtools" has been floated...but at what point do we achieve tool saturation? At what point is one individually over-run with available "tools," in infinite variety and limited only by imagination? And, what are the fundamental needs of a teacher that can be met by the right tool? There seems an infinite amount of tools available for a finite amount of teacher needs. Even if you factor in that problems are as varied as the students, technology as a tool to solve real problems teachers have eventually makes students into problems. "There's an app for you, apt pupil."

In education, we've certainly seen a wave of cool technologies being "shoved down the throat of educators," as one old colleague pointed out to me. In fact, I'm typing on an iPad right now, and I remember working on Palm handheld devices in the not too recent past (well, years ago, but still). I still remember one school district who, while cleaning out its storage room, stumbled on a whole bunch of Palm handheld devices--Tungsten Cs. "What?!? You found how many Tungstens sitting in their boxes, unopened?" was my shocked reply. Sometimes, it doesn't matter what kind of tool you have, whether you have access to it, if management of the equipment isn't up to snuff, then it just doesn't matter, right?

Since I'm a writer, all you need to make a device useful to me is to attach a keyboard. For example, a Palm handheld wasn't useful to me until the portable keyboard came in, same as the iPad. However, one of the powerful aspects of app-based learning is that tool-making is what we do as human beings...and, while I may not want to make apps to match the problems I encounter, I often don't know--in true writer form--what my problem is until I meet the app that solves it.

Finding the app that solves a problem I couldn't imagine before the app--a solution--is very similar to the writer who doesn't know where s/he is going until s/he gets there by writing through the ideas. The key is, finding ways to write that will yield value...sometimes, the value is in the trouble of development, not the end-product, although that may pay off, too.

Is the iPad I'm typing on solving a problem I recognized myself as having, or a problem I wanted to have, a tool to use, a solution for a problem I didn't have until I embraced the technology? Whew, what a convoluted mess. I clearly need to spend more time reflecting on this.



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