12 February 2011


There is constant sense of push and pull with my job when it comes to talking about "stuff." And by that, I mean things like computers, document cameras, smartpens, and other hardware; as well as particular software tools, such as PowerPoint, blogging, or YouTube. You can't talk about integrating tech into the curriculum without the stuff---and yet, the stuff is not the goal...just a means to a aligned learning end. At least it should be.

The techevangelists think the stuff is enough. (Just put an iPad into the hands of every child and we'll revolutionize schools!) And while this stance hasn't changed over the years, what has happened is that as more "stuff" made its way into schools, educators have viewed the technology in a different way than hardcore enthusiasts wanted. Technology was an answer to a problem they didn't have: connecting kids with learning goals. Instead, the tech stuff has just become one of my kinds of instructional strategies a teacher might choose from.

Recently, I've begun to sense a real tension between the Integrators and the Aligners---the Integrators being focused on tech for the sake of tech and the Aligners being focused on helping students learn (no matter the instructional strategy). After all the years of being experts, the Integrators have found themselves in the interesting position of being challenged by the Aligners. They now know enough about tech that they are no longer willing to blindly swallow what the Integrators spout. The Integrators are unhappy. They proposed a revolution...and nobody came.

This is going to be an interesting little fight to watch, because it is happening at the classroom level. It's not a policy issue. It gets at our most basic philosophy about learning as educators. If you had to choose, would you want kids to hold 3 unifix cubes in one hand and 5 in the other hand so that they can feel differences in numbers...or would you want students to swipe a finger across a screen? Do you want students to grow plants from seed and understand the time and conditions involved through experience...or do you want them to watch a timelapse video on YouTube? Integrators will tell you that a touchscreen and projector is best. Aligners will tell you that you choose whichever one best suits the needs of the student.

Me? I'm an Aligner immersed in a world of Integrators. I've been doing a lot of thinking about what this means---and whether or not I can stay with such a disconnect. I don't feel like I have the energy it will take to fight them off---or at least bring them closer to the middle. And yet, every time I make an Integrator think twice about doing something for the student instead of the stuff, I feel like it's worth the effort.


Unknown said...

Why not both? Why not watch the plant grow, then show the time lapse video. Why not cubes in the hand, and then the virtual representation? Unless you have seen the reality, the virtual pixels mean nothing.
40 years ago, the children who then stayed in school and went to college were the ones with involved parents, who got these experiences at home. Now we have all students staying in school: they have not had these formative experiences. There is no point offering virtual simulations until students have experienced reality.

The Science Goddess said...

Personally, I'm all for options. But I have to tell you that there is a large contingent of people out there who do not agree---they want all-digital all the time.

A textbook in print form? They gag. A textbook in an eReader? They celebrate. Format is far more important to them than how it will be used and who needs it.