#Edchat 06-09-2010 – How do we get from a “Tech Tool” mentality to a ”Learning Tool” mentality?

Yesterday, I had the time to participate in the weekly edchat after a long time. Luckily the topic “How to turn the Tech Tool mentality into a Learning Tool mentality” was one I had one or two cents to chip in, so it was a lot of fun and I had a great break out chat with Doctor Jeff Goldstein of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education which stands for what I appreciate the #edchat for. It gets you in contact with people from out of your field of expertise through a common interest, changing education.

But back to the actual topic. I think tech in education is overrated. Not that it was not useful, au contraire, but the general problem is that tech is mostly implemented in the learning / teaching process for tech’s sake. It is there, it is new, it is interactive so we have to use it.

I believe that the best tech in education is the one you and your students don’t recognize. I know, I am quoting this over and over again but “A thing only becomes mainstream when it is technically boring. – Clay Shirky”. Books became mainstream when the biggest part of the population was able to use them. That meant big supply and hence low cost + the ability to read. The same is true for tech. Only tech we don’t think about anymore because it is part of our daily life can be used in education naturally.

The fancier and the more cutting edge a tool is the more it will interfere with the message, e.g. the teaching. There are tons of tech tools, devices and applications, available that are technically boring already. There are PCs, mobile phones, chats, social networks, games and so on. Just take a look at some success stories like Mingoville, Panfu, Babbel, hello-hello and others. All of them are using everyday tech to the max and deliver an outstanding learning experience because the users can concentrate on the learning itself as the tech is no problem. It is only the distribution channel.

Which brings me to what I think is the biggest achievement of tech in education. It connects knowledge on a global level. In the beginning you needed to be physically around teachers like Plato or Cicero to get the maximum out of their knowledge or you had to buy expensive copies of their books. Later on the book print gave us a bigger choice and range of knowledge but still it was more a landscape of knowledge islands around a teacher, a university or a language. Tech tears down all those borders and the knowledge can merge into one giant melting pot on a global level. Even language barriers start to crumble with automatic translations that get better and better everyday not only text based but sooner or later even the spoken word will be translated instantaneously.

For digital natives tech is part of their life like the telephone and TV was part of mine, the book and radio for my parents and so on.They are not the ones who have a problem to learn with / through tech. The problem comes with teachers who think their students have the same struggle to get used to tech they had. Like Heinrich Heine said: “If the Romans had to learn Latin they would never had the time to conquer an empire”. Students are Romans. You don’t have to teach them Latin, it surrounds them. You need to teach them sentence structure and grammar.

So, what will happen? I’d say not much until the first digital natives will reach in masses positions where they can change the education system. By then those changes will of course again be behind the overall development but I think that is always like this in institutions. Today’s revolutionary ideas are cold coffee tomorrow. Until then innovative teachers will try their best to entertain and teach their students in the best way they can. The only difference today is that tech enables the distribution of more and more knowledge for free. Wikipedia is only one trend here, universities which are uploading not only single lectures but complete courses is another one. One of the key tasks will be to sort, archieve and curate all this content so more and more people will get access to more and more knowledge for free.