Archive for October, 2010

October 22, 2010


I attended my first Ed Tech conference today.  The Computer Users in Education of BC conference offered a great keynote by Jeff Piontek who spoke on the 21st Century Learner.  As a total newb to all of this, I was happy to find myself seemingly in the middle of the pack in terms of knowledge and comfort in the area of educational technology.  I came away with as many questions as I went in with – perhaps more.  But I was happy that the questions changed over the course of the day.  Areas that I covered in the many sessions that were offered included blogging, Twitter, ethics and responsibility and general refinement and exploration of the concepts of web literacy.  I’m looking forward to hanging out at SFU tomorrow addressing managing your web footprint.

October 2, 2010

Low Tech is Good Tech

It’s been a crazy September, hence the lack of activity here.  As with any school, the start-up mayhem is staggering.  This year, on top of the normal school startup routine, we added many new personnel and ways of doing things that have added to the fun.  A new Headmaster and a new IT Director plus the most new staff throughout the school have made this the month of, “OK, what happens next?”

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and reading about educational technology.  Our team of Technology Cohorts has been active setting up wikis, blogs and sites in addition to getting course work moved into SmartBoard-friendly methods of doing things.  The longer that I spend working with technology in the classroom, the more I’m coming to hate terms like “educational technology” and “technology cohort.”

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m somewhere between a digital native and a digital immigrant.  Maybe I’m second generation digital immigrant.  I am comfortable in the digital world having lived in it almost all of my life (I spent high school on a Vic20 and Commodore64 surfing bulletin boards and User Group Forums), but this isn’t the way my parents were brought up and, let’s face it, most calculators are more powerful than the computers I grew up on!  But what bugs me about the terms we use, is that they put the emphasis in the wrong place.

I don’t care about technology itself as much as I care about what one does with it.  Inevitably, if you get talking to someone about educational technology, you end up talking about the computers and the software, not what you are doing with it.  It’s like someone getting really excited about a hammer that they use to build a house.  Might be a nice hammer, but I want to see the house.

We should be thinking first about what it is that we want to do and then look for the right tool for the job.  Sometimes (often?) that tool doesn’t need to be plugged in.

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you will know that I’m a musician first.  I have taught music for 20 years and spend a fair amount of time on my computer in music notation programs and editing recordings.  We had a prominent composer come to my school a couple of years ago and tell the students that composing at the computer is bad.  I know that I felt uncomfortable with that statement and decided to explore it further.  My feeling was that if the notes are going to end up in Sibelius anyway, then lets start composing by opening Sibelius.  Seems to be an efficient manner of thinking.

The problem with this approach is that as soon as the program is open, your thinking moves into the how do I get the program to do what I want mode, no matter how comfortable you are with the program.  Sometimes, vast experience with the program is even more constraining.  You naturally start to think in patterns and sequences that work easily within the confines of the program.

I now much prefer to start my composing with a different type of technology.  I start with a pencil and piece of paper.  It might not even be manuscript paper.  I get the sounds in my head dow on the page.  Sometimes it might be a verbal description of what it is that I’m going after.  Sometimes it’s a drawing of the form of the piece.  Often there are snippets of melody, harmonic progressions or rhythms that will form the nucleus of the piece.  Once I have my thoughts together, then I can go to Sibelius and start entering notes.  At this point, I’m getting the tool to work for me, rather than having the tool dictate how I work.

Education is the same.  Too often we stumble upon a new piece of software or a cool gadget that we want to bring into the class.  There is nothing wrong with that as long as we are fully aware that what we are doing is exploring the tool, not using the tool to it’s fullest.  You have to play with the tool first to get to know what it does.  But when you get into the classroom, choose the right tool to get the results that you want – and it may not be the newest, flashiest thing you just spent $1000 on.  It might be a pencil and piece of paper.

One last thought from the world of music.  As a jazz musician, you spend a lot of time in the practice room developing ideas and skills.  When you get on the bandstand, the last thing that you should be doing is thinking about those exercises that you’ve spent so much time working on.  If those concepts are appropriate to the moment, they will come out in your playing.  If they are not, they are going to sound contrived if you force them into a situation that they don’t belong in.  Use skills and tools in the classroom that have become part of you through playing on your own.  When the time is right, they will become a natural part of your teaching.

Descending soapbox…