Digital Tools As The Gateway Drug To Real Pedagogy?

Jose VilsonJose

On Sunday, I spent some time with the good folks at SMART Technologies (yeah, I can’t believe I’m saying that either, but more on that later) for the annual ISTE conference, a mega-large education conference hosted this year in Atlanta, GA. SMART Technologies asked me to give some words of wisdom to their partners around student collaboration, one of my personal passions. They neither asked me to restructure my remarks nor ignore social justice issues, which if folks invite me somewhere, they should know that’s also where my heart is.

At some point, I got the chance to go to exhibit hall, and I should have taken a motion sickness pill. The dizzying array of tech tools and labels made my eyes cross. As I walked quickly through the halls, dodging salespeople left and right, I stopped every so often when I heard a company give a presentation about their particular product.

It got me thinking, as I always do, whether educators have made any real progress when it comes to thinking about pedagogy in the 21st century. Is it really the tool that’s the driver or the teacher? If, for a second, districts think that a product ought to be the focus of the pedagogy, then we again concede that a teacher’s expertise is only second to the dazzle and pizzazz of an attractive thing when it comes to student learning.

If, on the other hand, we put these tools in the hands of expert educators with supportive school systems, then that might make the shift more real. Any tool that we put in a classroom ought to center around actual student learning, and not the tool. I often find that many so-called 21st century schools spend far more time on training students and teachers on how to use the technology than trying to integrate the tool into a well-planned school system.

Central to that system is whether the teacher can teach, and if the tool can fit with the ebb and flow of a teacher’s day. Are teachers willing to learn something if it engages more students? I’m sure. But if, after trying the tool, neither the students nor the teachers adapt well to the tech, then that’s something to consider too.

Yet, if the pedagogy is there, then teachers can keep making mistakes without … a glitch. Err, a hitch.