Tools, technology, and magic: technology in education

I was thinking about technology the other day at a Learning Series Alliance conference put on by Intel in Las Vegas.

Teachers are at one time the biggest problem and the greatest asset for any transformation project in education. That’s simply because people are the biggest problem and greatest asset for any organizational change in any institution, and teachers are the biggest group of employees in most education systems.

When it comes to technology, teachers are all at varying levels of comfort and capability. The reality is, unfortunately, that many of the current teachers in North America and western Europe cut their teaching teeth on chalkboards, paper, and pencils … and technology (especially student laptop programs) takes that whole paradigm and flushes it viciously down the toilet. The pedagogy – science and art of teacher – needs to change when the kids get information and creation appliances. But most teachers haven’t been educated, trained, or raised in an information-intensive learning environment.

Which brings up tools, technology, and magic.

Tools are things we know, are familiar with, and don’t even think about. Think hammers, shovels, and pencils.

Technology is simply a conglomeration of all tools that were invented and popularized after we were kids. Think computers, flatscreens, and Tesla electric vehicles.

Magic is stuff that is so amazing we can’t even imagine fully understanding it and using it. Think particle accelerators, ion drives, and fusion generators.

See the similarities?

Scientist and author Arthur C. Clarke famously said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The problem in education is that too many teachers are in that phase.

Many people now view most technology – PCs, software, web apps – as simple tools. They are understandable, useful, and comfortable. That group, however, is dwarfed by the huge cohort that views that same set of of tools as technology: stuff invented since I was in high school that I use but that are not really, completely, and totally native to me. And, on the far side of the bell curve is a still large group – probably larger than the tool natives – who view this same basic set of technology tools as magic.

This is a key problem when introducing technology into schools.

Accelerating change in education to better use technology to enhance learning depends on at least two things:

One: critical mass
Moving a critical mass of teachers at least one step up this chain … so that the magic teachers are now tool technology teachers, and the technology teachers are tool users, and the tool users are expert engineers.

Two: pedagogy
Popularizing and standardizing the excellent knowledge, skills, and tactics that have already been developed for technology-rich education so that they are as standard and obvious to teachers and textbooks, chalk, and pencils have been for decades.