Random Thoughts

What's your focus teaching or learning?

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So many times we use the phrase “Teaching & Learning” but really we need to be asking ourselves:

Are we focusing on teaching or learning?

This came up in a discussion with Kim earlier today, (BTW….the two of us in a room for longer than 10 minutes is enough deep conversation to keep me going the rest of the day) that what we are focusing on is not necessary student learning, but instead teachers teaching. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and take our eye off of what we’re really here for.

As we continue to support teachers using technology tools in their classrooms we need to realize that teachers’ use of technology is not the same as supporting teachers teaching with technology. In these early days I’ve been supporting the use of technology. Answering questions about SmartBoards, Entourage, Office 2008, OSX 10.5, etc. Although it’s important to support teachers in the use of technology it’s much different then supporting teachers teaching with technology.

Supporting the use of technolgy

Supporting the use of technology focuses on the tool itself. Not on the learning or the students. When we support teachers by helping them with a SmartBoard Notebook file, or teaching them some new trick in Office, we are supporting their use of the tool, not their use of that tool for learning. One can easily get sucked into supporting the use of technology full time (such as I have lately) and not make a true impact with technology in the classroom as a learning engine.

As long as we continue to think of technology as a tool for learning we are going to get caught in this circle of supporting teachers use of the tools, rather than focusing on student learning.

Technology as a tool worked when the impact on learning was small. I think of the use of Word or any Office application for that matter. It was a tool that we used to replace a way we had/have always done things.

Technology for Learning is Bigger than the Tool!

Technology for learning is about connecting students to information and using applications that allow students to manipulate data, ask questions and interact with information.

I think of the use of Google Earth…not to study the Earth being round (using the tool like a globe) but instead using Google Earth with an overlay of migration patterns to talk about why people migrate (a lesson I did last year with 5th graders). Then having student interact with data by having them create their own migration pattern, and share that information with others (connecting information) to create an understand of why students in international schools migrate and where they come from.

I am continually reminded of the Marc Prensky article in edutopia where he states the different levels of technology use.

  1. Dabbling.
  2. Doing old things in old ways.
  3. Doing old things in new ways.
  4. Doing new things in new ways.

To me using technology as a tool is still dabbling with technology and not really affecting learning in a deeper more meaningful way….I mean it’s 2008!

When a new technology appears, our first instinct is always to continue
doing things within the technology the way we’ve always done it.

Technology as a tool.

What we’re talking about is invention — new things in new ways.

Technology as a connector to information allows us to look at data, to interact with learning like we have never been able to do before and connect with people, places and things in ways we were never able to do prior to the Internet.

What I find when I talk to teachers it that this is a HUGE jump! Thinking beyond replacement into a world where you can create, invent, and think about information and learning in new ways does not come natural to many educators. (Ouch!)

Let’s focus on learning, let’s focus on creating an atmosphere in which technology is more than a tool, but is an embedded part of our classrooms, our own thinking as we plan lessons, and a gateway to inventive teaching. Let’s stop using technology as a tool and start using it as a way to connect ideas, to create new and interesting way to learn and interact with information in ways that were never possible before. Let’s use technology as a way to make learning meaningful and authentic to learners.

It’s more than a tool….it’s a connection creator!

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. Hi Jeff

    I am new to blogging and have enjoyed reading your posts. I agree very much with your comments. Many of us are still spending a great deal of time helping others learn how to ‘use’ these tools instead of focussing on how these tools can be used in the learning process to challenge, connect and engage our students in meaningful ways. I like your notion of ‘embedding’ as opposed to ‘integrating’ – I hadn’t thought of it like this before. Lina 🙂

    • I don’t have a problem helping teachers use technology, we just need to remember that by focusing on the use of the tool we are not moving, but instead spend our time in a circle of learning that goes nowhere.

      Teaching the use of a program is different than understanding how a program changes learning in the classroom. Most schools do a pretty good job of teaching how to use programs but not how it actually changes learning in the classroom. We need to move forward otherwise we’re just spinning our wheels with a new operation system, a new Office, etc.

  2. Really nice post, Jeff! Sometimes I think we “advocates for technology” get too caught up in plain old technology. We need to think about what kids need to learn (ie. how to read, fundamentals of math, collaboration, career skills, media literacy, the Constitution, etc.) and then use technology to make learning those things more exciting and meaningful. Technology for the sake of technology ends up just being about teaching how to use tools. Am I making sense?

  3. Hi Jeff
    this is something that I have been wrestlling with over the last 2 years and still to get to any real conclusions but observations are:
    Some teachers, as you say, tend to get caught up in the skills of using technology. I don’t think this is Necessarily a bad thing. The bad thing is when they get stuck at this level.
    They also tend to be the people who fail to reflect on what they do.
    I think this is the reason they fail to develop in anything they do.
    A culture of learning and reflection (and therefore a culture of change) at all levels become essential. No matter if its reflecting on the use of Technology or reflecting on a class ineraction or anything else. Its the act of looking back and changing thats vital

  4. Suzanne Shall Reply

    Your post clearly articulated what everyone in a school should be focused on–student learning. Now matter what kind of professional development is being offered, the leadership should always ask, “What level of impact does this have on students’ learning?” If the answer is little or none, we should simply move on. As an instructional coach, I find that I can quickly get caught up in the paperwork or filling teachers requests, but if I make my daily priority list based on this philosophy, I suspect that the results would be even better. Thanks for the focus!


  5. Hey Jeff;

    Great insight. Sometimes we forget that just because we use technology does not mean we are using 21st century tools. I too was one that answered the questions about the smartboards and projectors just to have teachers use them as overhead projectors. The major issue in education in my mind is that we are telling teachers to use technology in the classroom but we are not providing the training required to use technology to teach in the classroom. All too often a lesson using technology is the same old lesson just with some wow factor thrown in.

    Look forward to more of your musings.


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  7. Jeff, the idea of using technology to not only do things differently but to do different things is something that just came to light for me in the past week and it is mind blowing. I like the way that you said that the technology needs to be embedded in our lessons and ways of teaching so that learning can take place. “It’s more than a tool, its a connection creator.” Great quote, and great perspective on how best to use technology. I have a question for you, how would you recommend getting the average teacher to the point where they are confident enough with the technology to use it as a connection creator. Should we do away with textbooks and pencils and papers and only utilize technology so that we are forced to do things differently? Is there any other way to get teachers to make the leap?

  8. I have seen exactly what you were talking about at work this week at my school. Our principal has joined up to the Quia website which is a fantastic tool to get quizzes, activities and information online for you class to access both in the classroom and at home. Unfortunately a few of the teachers who are just learning about technology in general have completely forgotten about the importance of learning being the driving force behind what they are doing. They are so focused on getting information onto this website that they have forgotten what the point of it is! Like Ian said earlier, the problem is when teachers get stuck here. I am hoping that next week we can all refocus and move on to utilize this fantastic tool to help our students learn more. I also agree with Ian that reflection is the key to everything we do as teachers and as human beings! Without reflection we don’t even realize when we are stuck!

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