Random Thoughts

Don't try to control it

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A comment left by Dan Christian yesterday on my post about the changing landscape of blogging. Has me back here thinking about my job as an educational technologist.

First I think we need to understand how I view my job and what I think the job of an educational technologist should include.

First and foremost we are educators. Our job is to educate. Our students range in age from 60+ to less than 5 years old. Our mission is to teach them how to use technology to learn, create, be more productive or make a task easier. The only way we can do that is to have a solid understanding of what is out there, that tools exist both as part of the computer’s operating system and on the web that allow us to do our job easier, to learn differently, or connect us to people, thoughts, ideas that we never had access to before.

Our job….is to explore!

Our job….is to understand!

Our job…is to motivate!

Our job…is to change habits!

Our job…is to support!

Our job…(leave your thoughts in the comments)

So when Dan asked the question yesterday:

How do we keep from continually dividing/splitting off conversations?

Answer: You can’t! You can’t control the web, you can’t keep the conversation from splitting into different parts; into niches. That’s what the web is so good ate. Yes….having one big conversation would be great…but at the same time overwhelming. The splitting of conversations on the web allows each individual to choose the conversation they want to follow (aka network). On Twitter for example, you follow the conversations you want. You create your niche (or personal) network on Twitter. You don’t want to hear about the group around dogs….or maybe you do. Only you can decide that. Twitter allows the conversations to be split. We see it in the use of Nings as well. There is a Ning site for almost any niche in education. Sure we could all benefit from one large Ning, but then again…it would be to “noise” for me and I wouldn’t be able to find my place.

I don’t have the answers…but whereas I realize we need to be using
multiple tools as technologists, that is not such an easy sell to get
faculty, teachers, instructors on board with using yet more tools…

And this is the ultimate role of the educational technologiest. Our job is to know all of…or as many as we can…tools that can be used to further learning. Our job is to understand how these tools and technologies can be used so that teachers don’t have to.

We can’t give the tools to people when they don’t need them…there first needs to be a need for the tool.

The first question I ask any teacher is: “What do you want students to learn?” The second question is “What’s your idea to get there?”

As the teacher is talking, I (and maybe this is just me) can start to visualize what tool they are talking about. They might not be talking about a technology at all, but I can usually visualize a digital tool that can reach the outcome they are after through their idea.

Start with the idea and apply the tool.

If you start with the tool first…you have a lesser chance of effecting learning. This happens to me quite often. A teacher will come to me and say “I want to blog.”

OK, that’s great, but why? What are you thinking? Why do you want to blog? What do you know about a blog?

From there I try and understand what the teacher wants to do, what is the outcome they are looking for. Maybe it is a blog that is best, maybe what they really want is a wiki, or just to use Inspiration.

My point….don’t try to control the conversation on the web. Don’t try to control the learning in the classroom. Allow the thoughts and ideas to control where you go. You can’t force conversations to happen in a certain spot or in a certain way. You have to be able to build a place for conversations to happen. As an educational technologiest you have to be able to understand the tools and be able to teach those tools, apply those tools, and support those tools within your school. The more you know, the more powerful you become as a resource for teachers and students.

Don’t just learn blogs, wikis, and twitter…learn all of it! Your a technology person…go out there and learn it all! And by that I mean get yourself a network of like minded folks that know it for you. You can’t know it all…but you can build yourself a network that will know more collectively than you will ever be able to learn as an individual.

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. I’d have to agree that too often we get hung up on trying to control the conversations, the use of particular tools, the learning that takes place in our classrooms. One of my observations when it comes to the integration of technology into units of work and/or classrooms is that many teachers are scared of losing that sense of control, they’re challenged by the idea that maybe (just maybe) they’re not the be all and end all in the classroom.

    I’m a bit the same these days in regards to being able to visualise options as teachers talk to me about the activity they’d like to do. Getting deeper into the net and building my own PLN has been incredibly important in giving me the ability to support my staff that way.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Education done this way is messy. It often looks like chaos with students at various stages of their learning. The challenge comes in creating / guiding / coaching learning in ways that are meaningful. I always struggle when doing projects as to who is working and being productive and who is seeming to work while socializing and not being productive. I manage it, but when talking to other teachers, it is that being “scared of losing that sense of control” that surfaces as to why they can’t/won’t let students have control over their own learning. Having worked in a 7/8th grade classroom for the past 7 years in Maine with 1:1 iBooks I got a chance to see what happens with students and their learning. An early piece of advice was that we teachers did not have to know all or be all. We could turn to our students for help with applications. Students could be the teachers. This loss of control was scary to some.

    Our niches, our PLN, and our colleagues all bring us to the conversation, what ever and where ever it takes us. I too would be over whelmed if everything was in one place. I’m a grazer. I pick and choose. I like new ideas.

    Thanks Jeff and Mobbsey for the ideas.

  3. Thanks for this post it has come at the right time. I also struggle as an edtech coordinator as to my role in the education process. Knowing the potential of technology tools and seeing possibilities of curriculum integration everyday keeps me excited but frustrated. Most teachers and admin still think of edtech as PowerPoint and Excel. I make it clear that I am not a PowerPoint instructor, but if you want to learn more go to the school wiki where I have posted links to helpful tutorials. This then starts a discussion about wikis and soon teachers are asking me how they work and can they get one.
    Jeff, I agree that starting with the idea/goal and then applying the tool works best. Many wikis are being underused because the tool looked cool but no thought about how will a wiki help me/students reach the goal more effectively.
    I am now working with the supervisors to develop better communication tools, this then will spill over to the classroom.

  4. “you can’t keep the conversation from splitting into different parts; into niches” Tell me about it!

    There’s this book that wants me to write it. I started a conversation thread with all the old school friends that I’m in touch with via Facebook, asking for info and anecdotes about X person, only to have just one response that was on topic before they all went skedaddling off at a gazillion different tangents. It was a most wonderful conversation, but it didn’t move my book forward by more than one page!

  5. Hello

    I saw your comment on Steve Dembo’s blog, you are right about making your posts more interesting by adding pictures and links. Before I didn’t do that stuff but now I am and my blog has became more successful.

    Thanks for the advice!

  6. Hello Mr. Utecht! I am a Gr.6 student in the Comox Valley and I saw your comment on Mr. Dembo’s blog and I totally agree with your theroy on adding a picture to posts. When you see a colourful picture at the top of a blog it really catches eyes! Your contribution has really helped me inprove my bloggong over the past 2-3 months! Thanks!

  7. What do the students want to learn? That is an interesting question when I as a teacher am required to teach them specific things, in my case modes of essays and research techniques.

    I have been frustrated recently because I used a classroom blog to introduce low income students to the power of the internet and found it to be very successful. But when I tried to implement it with a more 2.0 group, it bombed.

  8. Jeff:
    Our job is to know all of…or as many as we can…tools that can be used to further learning. Our job is to understand how these tools and technologies can be used so that teachers don’t have to.

    The first question I ask any teacher is: “What do you want students to learn?” The second question is “What’s your idea to get there?”

    As the teacher is talking, I (and maybe this is just me) can start to visualize what tool they are talking about. They might not be talking about a technology at all, but I can usually visualize a digital tool that can reach the outcome they are after through their idea.

    Thanks Jeff for the follow up posting here. I think you are right in that one of the main roles that an effective educational technologist can fulfill is to keep abreast of, review, and sort through all of the tools out there…putting the most promising ones in one’s toolbox. Then when it comes time, one can listen to the needs of the faculty, teachers, students, etc. and reach into ones toolbox for the appropriate tool(s). My father-in-law has a great array of tools to do almost any kind of homebuilding project. Similarly, I think educational technologists need their toolbox as well.

    But a somewhat related though here is… “How many monkeys can we expect to put on the back of teachers, professors, instructors?” i.e. how many tools do they need to know? Can they know and still be up-to-date within their disciplines (along with the other duties they carry out)?

    When it comes to creating and delivering effective learning content, can one person do it all anymore? I doubt it. The bar is rising to high and too quickly. There will be an increasing push towards using TEAMS of people to build and deliver content. One of those team members will be someone with technological know-how, but there will also be instructional designers, writers/editors, programmers, videographers, digital audio experts, simulation designers, interactivity designers, etc. Thus I predict the use of consortiums and/or pooling resources. The other possibility is what I call the “Forthcoming Walmart of Education” (see calvin.edu/~dsc8)

    Student engagement is an area I’m concerned about…with K-12’ers growing up around such a media-rich environment, will it become more difficult to keep them engaged? Perhaps with the status quo … yes. But I think if we turn more control over to students it may help. Perhaps they will create the courses of the future.

    Anyway, sorry for the integration of several topics here, but I think they are all somewhat related.

    Thanks Jeff!
    Dan Christian

  9. Jeff, It’s always nice when someone else manages to clarify your own thoughts for you and you just did that for me. You’re right it just doesn’t work when you teach the tool just because you want your students to learn the tool. They’re not engaged, there’s no purpose, there’s no meaning. Sure, it looks good. You can say “we’re blogging”, or “my students have a ning”. But the content won’t be worth anything – there probably won’t be much content anyhow.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  10. Pingback: Start with the idea and apply the tool | Musings on Teaching...

  11. I see another aspect of this. I train teacher using Windows Movie Maker and iMovie for video creation/editing. Many of them try to use these tools as PowerPoints slides. I am constantly reminding them. Use the right tool for the Job. If you want to create a slide with links and places for you to stop and talk then yes, go back to PowerPoint. If what you are creating is a stand alone playable video then it is time for MovieMaker or iMovie.

    Another challenge we have is we can get stuck in a technology rut. I have often criticized previous generations of teacher for ‘laminating their lesson plans’ Meaning they don’t change, but I myself have become so comfortable using PowerPoint (or other slide show style tools) that I find I am reluctant to branch into new tools. Thanks for the encouragement.

  12. “Start with the idea” This for me is the key to it all. The problem in a lot of cases is that the teacher who comes asking to “learn blogging” is not able to communicate what it is that they want to do differently. Unfortunately, sometimes they really do not want to do it differently at all.
    Take for example a high school maths teacher who works in one of the most artificially created positive feedback loops around. The kid has to score well at maths to have an array of choices at the next stage of education. The kid wants methodologies from the teacher. The teacher is happy to oblige with some board exercises on how to solve the trig problem and then set 12 similar practice exercises. Kid does these with some teacher support and then does well in the exam. Kid is happy, teacher feels as though they have done the right thing for the kid. Everyone happy.
    The teacher hears that blogging is a good idea for lessons and sharing. This teacher comes to the ed technologist and says “I want to do blogging”.
    I think that a lot of teachers, particularly high school teachers, are missing digital artifacts on how the tools make a difference for kids, particularly in the senior years. We need to build links to directories of these artifacts, particularly in the IB Diploma as it seems to me that the majority of international schools going 1:1 are IB schools.
    Are there links on the IB resources sites to digital artifacts for the Diploma?

  13. A teacher will come to me and say “I want to blog.” OK, that’s great, but why? What are you thinking? Why do you want to blog? What do you know about a blog?

    As a systems analyst consulting many small businesses I used to have the same discussion. Clients would start out with “I need a faster computer” or “I need a database”. They are the tools to achieve a goal, not the goal. What do you want to achieve?

    Once clients get back to business basics the outcome is obvious with a cost benefit analysis of different options. They don’t need to second-guess what technology is required, they just need to see if a proposed solution (that may or may not involve technology) can solve their problem from a business sense.

    This is all well and good when people actually ask for a solution, but there exists another set of teachers that simply do not know that there is a possible solution out there. From a consulting standpoint this would be the responsibility of the school to schedule reviews.

    From a more personal standpoint than barging in under the school’s insistence, we’ve set up a laptop club where we can lightly cover different technologies each week in a fun environment so that teachers at least know what is out there.

  14. Below is a posting from Michael Webb’s Blog — by mwebb02 — and it speaks to the splintering of conversations that I was trying to get at (but didn’t do a great job of):


    Twitter vs Blogs or Where have all the posts gone
    I’ve just realised that I haven’t posted anything since September. This is by far the longest gaps between blog postings, and I blame (or you can thank!) Twitter. In that time I’ve made made about 70 Twitter updates, which may seem a lot, but I’m hardly a prolific Twitterer compared to some of the people I follow.

    This seems to be part of a trend – here are a few other people who’ve made the same observation:





    and many, many more…

    So what’s happening? Is this a good thing? I’m not sure, but I’ve a sneaky feeling that this post would make sense more as tweet “Twittering more – blogging less. Is this part of trend?”.

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