Random Thoughts

At some point it's about the technology

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As the graduate course I teach for Plymouth State University starts up again I’m reminded of the fact that at some point it’s about the tool.

Sure I understand that it’s really about the learning, but it is also about the technology. It’s about all the “How To” videos on YouTube. It’s about the team at CommonCraft making a living out of the “How To” part of technology.

And at the end of the day, 90% of the PD I offer here at my school is how to do different things with technology.

Yes, at some point it is about the tools. You have to make sure your Ying is with your Yang.

Why we use these tools is just as important to support is how we use these tools. Some teachers need/want to know WHY we use them before HOW to use them. Others want to know HOW to use them before figuring out WHY they use them.

Is there a right or wrong way? I don’t think so, we’re all different, we all see things in different ways.

I’m a HOW person personally. I sign up for something, test it out, figure it out, and then answer the question WHY you would use this tool.

That’s just me….I start with the tools and answer the question WHY.

It’s the old Ying and Yang approach. One thing that has always rubbed me the wrong way is consultants who come into schools, talk about WHY you/we should be doing all this stuff, but not take the time to offer a session on HOW.

Take RSS for an example, I’ve been to many a session and believe personally that every educator should learn to use a RSS Reader. I know WHY and hear consultants/presenters all the time talking about WHY we should be using an RSS Reader. But HOW?

And trust me “Just go sign up for one” is not helping/supporting educators. It’s more complicated than “just signing up for one”. For us in the tech bubble we know what “just sign up” means. For those not in the tech bubble it is a lot more complicated than that.

We’re almost half way through the school year and I still have teachers who struggle with HOW to upload pictures to our Flickr account. They understand WHY they should, but the HOW takes a long time to learn. Because it’s not just uploading pictures. It’s uploading pictures, creating a Set, organizing them in a way that is easy to find, and naming them in a way that we know what the picture is.

At some point it’s about the technology and it should be. We live in a technical world, and the HOW is just as important as the WHY.

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. The need for the WHY and the HOW relate to the Roger’s Innovation Adoption Curve. Majority of the educators we work with are the early and late majority.

    They have totally different needs for hearing the Why and have a higher level of support needed compared to people who are innovators and early adopters.

    Regardless of who you get in to offer the PD running one off short workshops aren’t going the meet the needs of most educators. While RSS is an important skill, it does take time to understand and we need to be looking at considerably longer term development of their skills.

  2. Wayne Basinger Reply


    Your point about why is well taken, but most teachers are so frustrated with education theory (that is all we ever seem to get in credentialing classes and professional development) that they crave practical tools that they can implement tomorrow in the classroom. I have recently done some PD sessions and got rave reviews because I just focused on how to rather than giving the “bigger” picture. But I will think about how to incorporate the why question in to my PDs as well.

  3. Thamks for the perspective Jeff. You are right- it is not either/or it is both/and… I have made mistakes on both sides. I have taught tools or provided time to play with tools and found months later no one remembered how to use them. The exposure was good because at some point some teachers asked for another lesson- But practical hands on learning needs to be ‘just in time’ learning and sometimes that means answering the why first.

    This is also why I choose a set of tools and stick with them rather than chasing the latest new thing. We do need to provide long term support for our staff and many of them want to learn some basic tools they can implement without going through a new learning curve all the time. The innovators will explore on their own. Others want to get at the teaching and need tools with learning curves they can handle, tools which become transparent overtime.

  4. I’m always frustrated with the lack of HOW. Especially in slick speeches which basically tell me my life is going to change through use of XYZ. But there’s never a specific, practical HOW.

  5. Carl Simmons Reply

    What a brilliantly balanced post – I love it when I see articulated a thought that’s been floating around in my brain for a while. I think at times we are all HOW and WHY people at different times, and often simultaneously once we get going with something new.

    • I agree that we are often simultaneously in the why and how stage. They need to be taught together and “just in time”.

  6. If I want to be able to teach, communicate, and network with today’s learner, I need to understand the tools they are using. This is the HOW. I may never understand their WHY, but I am trying, that is my WHY.

  7. www.quranreading.com Reply

    You are absolutely right most of us are in condition why and how.But i want say something different.We should adopt the technology, improve education policies and teaching method.This is your great post.I congratulate you.

  8. I heartily agree that we need both “why” and “how” and just in time. Two challenges I have found are that often people hear about something and then must do it. Dreamweaver is a great example. We have lots of folks who take the Dreamweaver courses my organization offers when what the really need is something like Google Page creator (Which I am still upset they have dropped by the way) They take Dreamweaver because they have heard of it not because they need that level of complexity. The other side is when people want too much how. They want step by step detailed instructions for an essentially immersive experience. Some want us to hold their hand through every step of subscribing to every blog the choose to put in their reader, when they would do better ‘just signing up and trying it out’ There really needs to be a balance between the to and especially the ‘just in time’ help. Because we need both a reason to do something new, skills to accomplish our goals, and support along the way.

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