Monday, August 17, 2009

Putting the tool before the purpose, illustrated

My visits with schools this fall has been permeated with my thoughts on mistakenly putting the tool before the purpose in education, and how this is the wrong way to go about things.

Case in point, straight from me. I spent a day last week working with a district about the Iowa Core and 21st Century Skills. In the afternoon, I had a session giving teachers resources and examples for using blogging and Google Docs in the classroom. After a quick bit of introduction to concepts with the whole group, I had them break out and work on topics that were appropriate to them, be it "how the tool works", "how do you assess with the tool", "how to supervise student use", and so forth.

As I was floating around to visit with teachers as they worked, one teacher asked me to help clarify whether blogs or wikis would be best for her classroom. She explained that she wanted students in literary groups to collaborate in a back-and-forth discussion over questions posed by her, and that she wanted this easily assess-able. After visiting with her a bit, we found that what she was truly looking for was a nested discussion forum, and the tool that was the best fit by far was Moodle. After an impromptu demonstration of Moodle, she was then psyched and eager to get started.

Again, starting with a set session on "blogs", or "wikis", or "insert your tool here" when the teachers don't have the purpose of integration or the place in their curriculum picked out is a waste. Had she continued to set up a blog and try to force her educational lesson into it, it would have done two things: 1) wasted her professional development time, and 2) frustrated her, possibly to the point of becoming jaded about the use of instructional tools.

This old trend is hard to get away from, as it is the old mindset for professional development. Get away from it, we must, however.

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