Technology: More than a tool, a new skill

dumptruck
by corykrug

I’m dumping another technology phrase that I think its time has passed by. A few years ago I stopped using the phrase 21st Century blah, blah, blah. You name it we were calling everything 21st Century. I haven’t missed that phrase in my vocabulary as I believe it is just the way things should be now that we’re 11 years into it. I was thinking about this phrase again the other day as I was talking to seniors…who were born around 1994 and who started their official schooling sometime around 2001. Why are we still using the phrase 21st Century this and that when for our students….it’s always been the 21st Century. It just is their world. That brings me to the next phrase that is going to leave my vocabulary. The notion that

Technology is just a tool

I have heard this said way too often-to the point, I believe, that some educators are using it to hide behind when it comes to using technology in their classrooms. 

Is Technology a tool? Yes.

Is it JUST a tool? No.

Technology is a Skill

The more I’ve been rolling this notion over in my head the past couple of days the more sense this makes to me. If we call technology a skill…then a skill is something we need to teach, something that needs to be learned. If we call technology a tool then it’s just something we use.

The problem is you need to have the skills to use a tool before you can use it propertly and have it effect your life in positive ways. 

A car is a tool, it gets us from point A to point B. Now we could load the car with people and have someone push it down the road. That’s using the car as a tool for transporting people from point A to point B. But once we learn the skill of driving the car it becomes a lot more efficient. A lot more practical.

A pencil is just a tool, but until you learn the skill to hold it correctly it doesn’t do you much good.

Viewing technology just as a tool never allows us to get past the substitute stage of technology innovation. A stage were we just continue to subsitute one tool for the next. Quil and ink for pen and paper for word processing. The skill of writing an essay remains the same the tool just changes. No new real skills are needed when we subsitute one technology for the next. 

Model TYou buy a new car and it works just like your old car. Sure buttons are in different places, newer, faster, easier….but at the end of the day the same skills you had driving your old car fit into the new car nicely (which is why we haven’t seen any radical change in car design since…..hmmm…the Model T).

If we view technology as a skill then it allows us to look at what needs to be taught and understood by a generation that is growing up with it. The skill of evaluating digital open content, the skill of organizing your digital resources. The skill of creating graphics. The skill of digital content design and web design. If you are looking for a good starting place the NETs for Students is a pretty good place to begin. 

Technology skills in many schools are not valued and I think it is due in part to this notion that technology is just a tool. There might have been a time when it was just a tool, but it’s a life skill today. A skill that all students should learn, that should be embedded in all their classes, and should be more important than the content that the teacher took off the web to begin with. 

We spend way too much time finding “stuff” for kids on the web and not enough time teaching them how to find it themselves. Why?

“It takes them too long, and it’s not good information” as one teacher told me recently…and they’re right. If a student has never been taught how to find good information then the information they did find probably won’t be very good. 

I can make sound come out of a flute (tool) but until I’m actually taught how to do it properly (skill) it’s going to be a horrible sound. 

Now, I don’t want you to think that these skills I’m talking about are program based. I get asked quite often about when should kids learn Microsoft Word or when should we be teaching them Microsoft PowerPoint. Skills tied to specific tools do not need to be taught. Much like when you get a new car you can sit in the drivers seat for a few minutes have a look around, turn some knobs, and you’re ready to go. Progams are much the same way. Give kids 10 to 15 minutes with a program and they’ll figure out all the button stuff, or at least enough to finish the task.

The skills I’m talking about are skills of organization, of building research systems, and meta-cognition. Skills that go beyond the tools and deep into the learning process. 

So that’s if for me, no more technology is JUST a tool. It’s not….we’ve moved beyond the tool and expect a whole lot more from all this stuff. We expect kids to learn with it and from it and in order to do that, we need to be teaching them skills that allow them to learn.

28 Comments

  1. GREAT post, Jeff! I am right there with you when it comes to “21st Century blah blah blah!” I think you really hit the nail on the head with this post and am going to share it with all my teachers…maybe then they will get the connection/ understand the importance of technology integration. Thanks for sharing…

  2. Jeff, you’ve summarised in a few words what so many teachers try to explain with furrowed brows, agitated had gestures and fear in their hearts.

    Has your thinking become more defined over time or is this what you always meant in the first place?

    • Great question,

      I don’t know…….I think it’s what we’ve been talking about but we’ve been stuck selling “technology as a tool” to get technology in to schools. Now that it’s in schools I think it’s changed. Now that the technology is basically everywhere we need to think of the skills we and students need to use these tools…..or something like that. :)

      • Yup, and that means that as a recognised skill, it needs to be supported by the attitudes and strategies of the school.

        So, constructive rules of when certain devices and applications are not permitted rather than outright banning; appropriate social areas devised, plug socket outlets absolutely everywhere, active education about being digitally open yet selective.

        ..something like that

        I’d like the vocabulary for this in a way that I can make the Bosses pay attention.

        • Thanks…and I like your thinking…..technology as a skill needs to be supported….however I’m not sure it really needs to be assessed….it just needs to be.

          We teach kids to be safe, to not talk to strangers…though I don’t see that on a report card…they are just skills kids need.

          I see these skills much like that…skills kids need….sometimes we can assess them…other times maybe not…but we’re always talking about it.

  3. You made me think. I’ve been guilty of using those terms – 21st Century, technology is a tool…. Technology IS a skill that needs to be taught. If you think about it that way, then teachers need to teach it – there should be no excuse. For those who didn’t grow up using these tools and thinking that way, it’s tough. It is a change in the way you think about teaching – that’s harder to do than learning a new tool. As an administrator, I need to start thinking about how to support those teachers. Still thinking…

  4. In agreement :-) However, don’t forget about the prerequisites for those skills you mentioned. IMHO, those prerequisites are the student’s intrinsic value for the “content” the student is collecting, organizing, curating… For example, if I go up to my 16 year olds room right now, Sunday morning, I’d wager to say the clothes, shoes, books, empty smuggled snack packages, will be scattered all over the floor. Another example, if I crack open his backpack, or a binder in his backpack, I’m liable to find loose papers, and no apparent organization. Granted he will tell me that he knows where everything is, but occasionally the missing assignment will turn up all crunched up at the bottom of the backpack! Now I may be exaggerating a bit, but my point is those skills come much easier to students when they value the content, or “stuff” they are collecting. If I crack open his MacBook, All his music, class notes, ebooks, etc. are very well organized. Why he diffence? The tech helps, but more importantly is that he values the content within that environment.

    • Like it John……purpose…and value are huge….two things I think we need to consider with every lesson in schools. You have me thinking……

  5. Jeff – I couldn’t put it into the words that you just did. Thank you! Doing what you suggest is a shift in how we think about technology and even deeper in how we think about education and teaching. What I believe would help in this journey is when teachers actually see it in action and to be able to dialogue about what they see, ask questions. Role modeling this might look like a facilitator stopping to share their “thinking bubble” – the reasons why, expected results and what’s next. Even the term “integration of technology” drives me a little insane as it also implies that we do regular work, then add a tech component and call it integration and differentiation. Thanks for helping to clarify.

    • Hi Janet,

      Agreed “Technology Integration” is another term about ready to leave my vocabulary. Agreed that it makes technology seem like an add-on and not just is. I think you have your own blog post there. :)

  6. Fantastic post Jeff! Re-tweeting this now!

  7. I heard a phrase at the recent #Ulearn conference that I attended.

    “I don’t teach hammer- I teach carpentry.” We don’t want to get hung up on one particular piece of technology and keep our eyes on the bigger picture.

    “The person who buys a drill doesn’t want a drill- they want a hole.”

    Thinking about what we are trying to do with ICT is what counts, not the tool.

  8. I have never quite thought of technology in this perspective, but you are correct! While technology can be used as a tool, it is no good,however, if the operator does not possess the skill to adequately function while using a particular device. Thank you!

  9. Great presentation today Jeff, thanks. Interesting that Phase 3 of the ACARA curriculum has two separate subjects, Technology and ICT. If ICT is a skill, then why will there be a separate “subject”. It seems that ICT should be for teachers rather than students so that teachers can feel more empowered about the best way to help students develop skills that support their learning.

    Very thought provoking!

    • Thanks….glad you liked the talk…and totally agree with where you’re going!

  10. Jeff, as others have said, this is a bit of a shift in thinking and semantics. Calling it a skill does indicate that some explicit teaching of those skills is required. Teachers require training, support and modeling before they can pass this on to their students. Because we are working with kids who have always grown up using technology, it can sometimes be a bit more difficult to do explicit teaching on things such as productive searching (for example), when they may already feel that their method of Google searching is acceptable.
    The next step is assessment of these tech skills. We are currently working on writing tech performance indicators, and assessment is a part still in need of assistance.

    • It is a shift…and do we need to assess it….that’s I’m not sure. It’s a skill kids need to get to what we really want which is the deep thinking..the analyzing and evaluating of information as they create something new (bloom’s taxonomy) the skills they need to do that we need to be teaching……yes! Do teachers need those skills…..yes! There are very few teachers who know how to search well……teach them how to search so they can teach their students….and we start the cycle.

      My theory….if we teach kids to search…then we have them do the searching for us…..we then spend less time searching and more time talking about the information in class (all this is reverse instruction) that leads to deeper learning, deeper discussions while the kids are in front of us in person…..which is where the real learning should be happening and that’s the learning that should be assessed.

  11. Great post Jeff. I’m in total agreement with it all, especially leaving the students to have a play around with new web 2.0 tools. I find I save myself a lot of time now by showing students what I have stumbled upon and let them have 20 minutes or so to explore. It quickly comes back as an “awesome too, here’s how to us it” or “not as good as….” These students are beginning to be great educators in their own right when teaching each other about new skills learnt.

  12. When you say, “The skills I’m talking about are skills of organization, of building research systems, and meta-cognition. Skills that go beyond the tools and deep into the learning process.” it reminded me of a post I made a few years back:

    link to gnuosphere.blogspot.com

    I don’t aim to have students memorize the 5, 6, or 7 steps it takes to perform a specific task. I teach menus, how they are organized and thus, where they would likely find a sought after function in any similar application. This is not to say that memorization does not occur – of course it does. But most of that memorization occurs unconsciously and is secondary to conceptual understanding.

  13. One of my favorite analogies to give to parents was the horse in the coral. “the tool” was the horse and we used it to make our life better and to do all sorts of wonderful things. Teachers were fairly aware of all the options in the coral. Just like the library down the hallway, teachers could tell you which books to research and where to find them. The information paradigm has changed. Now we are trying to prepare kids for going outside of the coral and most of the time we are not with them. They are still using a tool but our responsibility as teachers as changed. We must enable them with better frameworks and scaffolding for understanding and working with the information that they find on the internet. They will usually find the information they are looking for in new and possibly unknown places. They have to judge the information and begin making a case for what needs to gathered or reinterpreted. And how that information is shared or reinvented or let go makes the task of the teacher very different. The information is so available, gathering it demands that teachers really think hard about the purpose and the kind of cognitive level of thinking we should encourage and enable.

  14. spelled corral incorrectly. a couple of other typos too. sorry about that

  15. This topic is so relevant to one of my classes in which they are creating a video on using the distributive property. My rubric is based upon the skills necessary to create the video; planning, using a storyboard, research etc, and not on how to use movie maker. Students know how to use the technology, but they still need the skills, the planning, to create a decent product. Thanks for the support!

  16. Hi Jeff,

    My name is Bonnie Gaudet and I am a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama, where I am studying Elementary Education. Your post really summarizes everything I have been learning in class thus far this semester, and the attitude that I have developed over the last several months toward technology in the classroom. (I am ashamed to say I hadn’t given it much thought before this semester started.)

    I definitely agree that our role as teachers is to facilitate the skills necessary for our students to begin to think critically for themselves and to really know how to find the information they are looking for, showing them how to use it effectively and responsibly. Our roles as teachers are changing dramatically, but I can’t wait to see how things pan out in the next several years.

    Thanks for your post!
    Bonnie Gaudet

  17. Jeff, this is a great post and, judging by all the comments, one that has been welcomed by many.

    Yes, we need to get beyond the thinking that digital technology is just a tool and work on skill development, but I think this discussion needs to go further still. As you, and others, have mentioned we need to have students develop an understanding of how to organize themselves, research properly, and think about their thinking. Really this is thinking on a more conceptual level and this should broaden student understanding of how we use any technology. For example, if we were talking about the concept of communication then it forces us, and our students, to ask questions like:

    What message am I trying to present?
    Who is my audience?
    What skills do I need to learn to communicate better?
    Which tool would work best in the circumstances given?
    Why is it important to communicate this message?

    If our students are asking the above questions, they will direct their learning to ensure they have the skills to complete the task properly. One only needs to look at YouTube, Vimeo or other forums for sharing to see how people, with or without teacher guidance, have communicated their understanding.

    Thanks for a terrific post that helps to move the discussion forward.

  18. Definitely students and teachers alike need to be skilled in technology. This goes way beyond being able to find information on the internet. It includes different types of technology uses with different types of technology equipment, computers, projectors, connecting one to the other, making and using presentations effectively. Developing a comfort level on a computer allows one to try new types of learning using electronic devices or programs. Teachers have a degree of responsibility in getting students ready to explore in depth independently and safely.

  19. I think what you’re saying about technology being a skill is similar to some of my thoughts on are need to make students entrepreneurial learners. Unfortunately we get so caught up in the content instead of the skills we want to develop that we suffocate our student’s internal motivation. I’ve written a blog on this topic if you’re interested in checking it out at:

    link to learnedleadership.org

  20. On reaching almost the end of COETAIL COURSE 2 has definitely made me realize the fact as very rightly pointed by you that Technology is a skill and not a tool and how we learn to master the skills is actually up to us on how much dedication and devotion one can give in it to excel in it. I really agree with the fact that understanding the NETS has been very useful in understanding and correlating with but I wonder if I see you in the drivers seat will it actually be a old modeled car or a car in which is flying in the air …. .

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