Technology as Process, Not Product
Written by Thomas Tran
When is technology, not technology?
From my observation, technology in education has been generally viewed in a specific way, often being defined or tied to products, devices, apps, electronics, robotics, etc. So when we ask teachers to explore the consideration of integrating technology into the classroom, this thought can be troubling to some, while engaging to the enthusiasm of others.
It is quite easy to think technology may be aligned to devices, apps, electronics, robotics and products within these areas. If we look at the greater consumer industry, these are the things we constantly hear moving towards advancement and progress. The advent of artificial intelligence, robotics, smart devices and more are growing at a rapid pace and these fields/areas of development have much surpassed the progress of other fields at a more constant and consistent manner allowing it to claim the common thought of how we may view ‘what is technology’, while shadowing other fields such as fiber material studies, medicine, food development, and more that may also be making groundbreaking advancements.
Where we’re going, we don’t need… pencils
If we stepped back to eras where advancement and progress were a bit far and few in between, we may notice that technology had a much broader, general, and inclusive definition. When Conrad Gessner invented the pencil, that tool was more than likely an innovation and tech to script at its time. Whether invented by Henry Ford or Ransom Olds, the assembly line was also a valuable addition to the lives and progress of its era. Even the premise of Burdock seeds clinging to coats that inspired the patent of the hook-and-loop fastener (Velcro) by George de Mestral brought on incredible applications. While all quite different in terms of ideas and not necessarily ‘tech’ as we know it, the commonality with these inventions/ideas was that they were ‘new at its time’ to the people of those eras and were applied in a manner inclusive to many fields and sometimes beyond their functions.
Simply, technology is something new to us and if we define technology in that manner we will have the daunting challenge to learn and deliver endless content as the world of technology continues to change and produce. But with this definition, we may also realize it may be more beneficial to understand how technology fits within our day, our needs, our goals and so forth, transitioning our mindset from product/result to process centric thought. Technology then becomes that process of understanding the adaptation or translation/application of the ‘new’. If technology were to be taught more importantly as this process, we give students and ourselves, as educators, an opportunity to have more unique explorations of skills/tools and their utilization within various areas to create engaging activities and new experiences. No longer will we be the consumers of tech, but the creators with tech.
Technology which grows with the student
With this thought, technology for a Nursery or Pre-K student may very well be things like paint brushes, utensils, household goods while at Grades 1 – 3, the introduction of devices like tablets, computers, and other items being more relevant. As STEM and STEAM becomes more of a trend to the education space, we will continue to see even more tech tools to consider, but we should be cautious of what is necessary and what to consider. We should understand that the tools we offer and create experiences with should also allow students the ability to create to demonstrate their learning compared to just solely to consume content.
Some of the EdTech tools I’ve seen offering a more universal scalability across multiple age ranges and content have been been 3D Doodler Start Pens, Blue-Bots, the Makey Makey, and some others. I say universal scalability because as we define the learning goals or skills that we want to accomplish, these tools often can be pin pointed to add engagement or enhance the activity beyond or even below the age ranges they target and the specific content they were made for.
Let’s take the Makey Makey for example. The Makey Makey, a circuit styled device often entangled with many wires, alligator clips, and cables paired with conductive materials and functioning from a computer (and Scratch Programming) is typically targeted to Upper Elementary or Secondary School (Middle School and High School) learners for content such as science and coding. This device is ‘new’ to most but after a little while of play one may understand its general functions and principles (often around electricity, coding, etc.).
If we think about the tool with those general functions/principles in mind only we often limit the Makey Makey to conductivity/electricity lessons or activities, coding, and/or general play without pushing its boundaries of what the device can be utilized for. In addition, a tool with such a technical aspect may create a situation of teaching the tool vs. teaching the learning objectives you would like to accomplish. While we must teach the tool to some degree, after a simple understanding is established, we may begin to understand how we can utilize those general function/principals to create unique Makey Makey experiences. Students may be able to create their own museum exhibitions, interactive story telling experiences, music ensembles, math games, etc. utilizing the principles of using conductive materials, programming and so forth. As an educator in the classroom you may even utilize the Makey Makey to create a buzzer to potentially establish an engaging environment for answering questions similar to variety game shows. In all these instances we focus less on the tech tool itself. The tool just becomes a gateway to engage learning or demonstrate it.
Blue-Bots & 3D Printing Pens
With things such the Blue-Bot, if we think beyond the function of coding/programming we may see that the importance of the Blue-Bot is not in the coding/programing aspects, but the grid it travels across and the endless opportunities you have with it. It offers the opportunity to create learning activities from spelling, mathematics, reading, etc. Similarly, if we can consider 3D pens in that same manner and realize its purpose beyond the arts we may notice its opportunity to serve as a tool to refining fine motor skills at early years while allowing more engaging ways to do typical writing activities or add engagement to the classroom for older students.
Technology is daunting, but usually scary things can shift our focus. If we can see technology less as a product and more as a process, we may more easily understand the opportunity of the tool and how it is we can apply it to the learning we’d like to offer.
Director of Innovation Center
Stamford American International School