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What counts as technology?

I was meeting today with a group of teachers helping them plan out an Action Research project.  Their school had a requirement that the project had to use IT.  The project we were outlining was going to use graphing calculators on their own, and in conjunction with a wireless network.  One of the senior teachers became concerned that graphing calculators might not be “technology”, and called down to the Ed Tech department to get approval for using the graphing calculators in an IT project.

  

The graphing calculator was blessed as being IT (phew!), and the planning continued.

  

I found the interaction amusing, especially in consideration of my own history in the research community where a decade or so ago the “ubiquitous technology” folks embraced the Palm and the iPaq but dis-graced the graphing calculator (somewhat more amusing as the Palm and iPaq don’t really exist anymore). I would, at times, at the end of a presentation have to deal with questions about did networked-calculators qualify as technology, rather than about the interesting things that had happened in the classroom.

  

Time moved forward and a more inclusive view of technology became the norm in the research community.  More importantly to me, many projects shifted focus from how cool the technology was to a focus on what pedagogical practices the technology enabled or facilitated in the classroom.

  

To me, this is at the core of what is interesting in research in the Learning Sciences.  Technology is a tool.  Tools can be used well and tools can be used poorly.  I can use a hammer to build my house, or kill my neighbor.  Either use, it is still a hammer.  Technology can be used to enhance the classroom experience, or to more efficiently let students know they are failing.  Either way, it is just technology.

  

So, back to the original question, what counts as technology?  That really isn’t the question, how are you going to use it, and what do you hope it helps the students to gain - those are the important questions.

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