Tool or Toy? The Blurred Line of a Computer

Andy Torris is back writing again after the New Year’s break and his first blog post about computers being a toy has me wondering about the blurred line between tool and toy.

The fact is that the students are, in our 1:1 program, really enjoying having full, unfettered use of their computers.  I believe the same holds true with the teachers.  The students have loaded on their own music, began building their own photo libraries. They have added bookmarks, tabs and links to the multiple browsers they use on their machines.  They really like their computers and have “fun” using them to learn, to communicate (formally and informally). They use them to create artwork, movies, podcasts, reports and documents. They use them to research, learn, comprehend and create new understandings about their world.  In short, it is a great learning toy… er… tool.

Flickr ID: clemsonunivlibrary

Flickr ID: clemsonunivlibrary

I just hate it when the lines between formal and informal learning are blurred…and when community members start complaining that students are having ‘fun’ with what is suppose to be a learning tool…well…that just makes me smile. 🙂

I remember those days curled up with my high school math textbook and a big grin across my face because I was having so much fun! NOT!

When we give students a computer and allow them to personalize it, it’s going to become a toy….but it’s not their fault….we all do it.

In the last couple months I have helped a teacher start a personal website (with her school computer) I have helped a teacher edit personal photos (on her school computer) and I’ve helped a teacher learn how to take video, condense it and upload it to e-mail because she’s taking her daughter on college visits in a couple months. I’m starting to wonder if teachers ever do any work on their computers.

….and don’t even get me started on how teachers personalize their computers, with stickers, fancy covers, different stands, and protectors. I’d bet there are maybe 10 teacher computers in the elementary school that have not been customized on the outside….and yes….these are school owned-must give back when you leave-computers.

You see, computers aren’t a tool anymore…they are part of us. I quit using the term 21st Century Learning a few years ago and I’m really close to giving up talking about computers being “just a tool”. At one point they were just a tool, but we’re pass that point. Computers are now our telephone as Skype just passed 12% of all international calling traffic. They’re in our pocket, they go on vacation with us, and keep us connected and organized. They are our calendar, our diary,…..our lives.

For many of us….and I would argue for most of our students….if you told them technology was just a tool they’d look at you weird….you know that look kids give when an adult is trying to tell them something they just don’t get.

Yes….computers are fun, they are amazing learning tools, but they are so much more than that. They allow us to create in class and out, they allow us to communicate, in class and out. They allow us to stay organized in school and out….they are a part of us.

I’m sure someone out there is thinking “that’s really sad…that computers are a part of us”. I’m not saying we can’t live without them for a day or two. But your TV is a computer, your DVD player, your car, your cell phone, your GPS.

Computers are a part of our daily lives whether we’re in education or not….and the lines between work and play or tool and toy continue to blur, we’re going to have to adjust how we think of computers as they continue to become a part of our daily lives.