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What's the Point? (Part I) - The Missing Alphabet
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What’s the Point? (Part I)

Mad PadMany years ago, when school districts were first becoming infatuated with technology in Texas, I was asked to help many of them write grants to obtain computers and other digital devices. My first question was always, “Why?” To me, a new computer was just a new tool—neither positive or negative—like a pencil—but certainly much more expensive. My thinking was and is, “Why get a computer if a pencil is all you really need?” Also, as a former grant reviewer for the Texas Education Agency, I knew a big budget item without sufficient educational justification was just a red flag. Finally, I had consulted with many schools who had beautiful programs on CD’s that no teacher ever used. Before loading up on technology—just because everyone else was, a school should first think deeply about their students and the needs and strengths of those students. The big question is “Technology–what is the point?” Here are my own reasons for wanting kids to have digital tools:

  • Word processing goes faster than a pencil or a pen. As both a left-hander and prolific writer, I struggled with getting down my ideas all my childhood. I had ink smeared from my pinkie to my elbow. A computer keyboard can keep up with me and my thinking. I can erase mistakes as easily as I make them. (They didn’t even have white out when I was growing up!) Likewise, editing is so easy—cutting and pasting, inserting, deleting, spell-checking, and so on. For me, a computer keyboard is a creative tool that I truly need. Less important but also helpful are the spreadsheets and calculators that help me write budgets and figure taxes.
  • Information is at your fingertips. When I was in graduate school, I spent long hours in dusty libraries and searching through microfilm to find even a starting place for my research projects. Today, if I wonder about anything, even something trivial, I can look it up. All the encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesauruses, guides, monographs, and even novels, poetry, songs, movies and images I might want to use are available to me. Now libraries themselves have incorporated digital media of all kinds.
  • Many devices allow me to communicate far and wide. Last week, I was presenting at a conference in Guatemala via Skype. Since it is difficult for me to travel anymore, technology helps me keep up with professional colleagues and personal support groups. Pen pal has a new meaning in the digital age. Teachers I have worked with from Latin America have opened the world to their own students in rural areas by having video conferences from the closest cyber-cafe. MOOCs and other online courses even require peer interactions and evaluations between thousands of people from hundreds of countries. Today, you can not only know about the world—you can interact with other people from everywhere.
  • Portability has become incredible helpful. Devices have gotten smaller—easier to carry with you—so you can often take advantage of them no matter where you are. You don’t have to be tied to an office or school room or even your home to be able to communicate, investigate and express ideas. (I know much of the world does not have these but they are becoming cheaper, as well as more and more available and ubiquitus.)  
  • Many apps can support creative work. Not only is word processing there for all, but everyone with a device has access to many low cost and free apps and programs that allow them to take photos and videos, record original sounds and music, create animations and multimedia productions, invent electronic games, and so on. Note: In the photo, Latin American teachers and I are inventing phonics games with “Mad Pad.”

If computers are just to be used like expensive worksheets, then I’m not interested. But if technology is there to serve creative thinking, learning, play, creation and investigation—well, then, technology has a point!

Leave a Comment:

3 Comments

  1. Tamas Simon
      

    Thanks Cynthia

    I much enjoy your blog and always learn a lot.

    With regards to technology… my take on it is that technology is going to impact children’s life in the foreseeable future.
    The rate of change is speeding up exponentially.
    A six year old child starting k12 today will live in a whole different world by the time she finishes high school.
    People smarter than me are doing great work in spotting what technology trends are on an exponential growth curve – and they actually teach how to spot it 😉
    I think it’s our duty to introduce kids to these technologies.
    The question is how.
    I like to compare this to the use of a DVD player.
    One does not need to know how laser works or how a moving image is encoded into bits of zeros and ones in order to watch a movie.
    But can learn the applications.
    And maybe the best way to learn it is to playfully explore the new creative media each new tool or technology enables.
    Just think about 3D printing for instance that has approached a price point that is affordable in some schools and created a “thing machine” where what we imagine in a 3D model becomes real and tangible.

    • Cynthia Herbert
        

      I agree completely. We are colleagues with the NMC (New Media Consortium) who publish the yearly Horizon Report on how technology is being used by education and the trends that are most likely to emerge in the new future.

      • Tamas Simon
          

        The NMC report is going too slow for my taste. For example putting IoT on a 5 year horizon when you can pick up a LittleBits kit today and start tinkering.