Saturday, December 3, 2011

10 of the best: Technology as a tool, skill or goal?

Here's another post in the 10 of the best series, where I reflect on past posts that have received a lot of readers.  Today I decided to repost this one after a number of conversations I've had with teachers about the role of technology.  Is it just a tool?  Should it just enhance or reinforce what teacher are already doing.  I think not!  This was first posted last May.

Today I had a conversation with someone at school today who told me that technology was "just a tool".  I know it isn't, but found it hard to sum up what my objections were to this phrase so I sent out a tweet asking how I should respond.  The first response I had was this:  "oxygen is only an element" from @librarydonna.  Of course it is - oxygen is everywhere but we can't live without it, and as I have read before technology should be like oxygen:  ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.  But I'm also asking myself why I feel so strongly that technology should not just be considered a tool.  Here is what I have come up with:

  • a tool is something that carries out a particular function, perhaps it has one or two things it can accomplish (for example a pencil, a hammer, a flute) whereas a computer, laptop, iPad, iTouch, Smartphone etc have thousands of different uses - for research, brainstorming, writing, collaborating, publishing, multimedia, viewing, problem solving, communicating, organizing and so on.
  • If we say technology is not a tool, it's how you use the tool that is important, we are then talking about skills.  If we take the analogy of a flute then the skill would be being able to read music and knowing how to play the notes.  The skills involved in using a computer could be wordprocessing, data handling, file management or accessing a database.
  • If we are not talking about technology as tools and skills, but we are referring to what we can do with the computer we are talking about goals.  If we take the analogy of a flute then the goal would be to be able to use it for a musical performance, perhaps alone, perhaps in an orchestra or band in collaboration with others, perhaps even to be able to compose music that communicates an idea or an emotion.  The goal is to create something.  When we use technology in the PYP our goals are that all students should be able to use technology to investigate, organise, collaborate, create, communicate and be responsible digital citizens.
  • The power of technology is not just using it as a tool or a skill.  When teachers focus on these things it downplays the importance of technology as a goal, as a way of doing things that were inconceivable before.  When technology is used as a tool this is what Alan November calls automating, what in the SAMR model we refer to as enhancement of the learning.  When technology is used to create new learning environments this is using technology as a goal.  It's informating and transformative.  A tool and skill is what we can use the computer for now. A goal is looking at the potential - what we can possibly do with technology in the future and how it can transform teaching and learning.
Photo Credit:  Rachel Playing by Dave King AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 


  1. Fab fab fab! I concur ! @tjgolding

  2. I agree that technology is not just a tool. Perhaps it is the high stakes testing in high schools that makes it seem that way though. If the point of school is really just to memorise material for an exam then all technology can provide is an easier way of doing that.

  3. Technology is a tool but it's not just a tool. Technology is not independent of the tasks that we do and the tasks that we do are not independent of the technology that we have available. There is dependance on technology, content and pedagogy. The power of technology is in its use.