Not to dismiss both the efforts put into the organization of the day and the value of hearing our guests speak and of being inspired by them - I greatly enjoyed what I heard! What I heard, however, was not what had been planned, because the day unfolded like this:
The speakers scheduled were Daniel Pink and Alan November, both known for their strong opinions (and written works) on the need for a more global approach to education. Pink explains thoroughly the necessary balance between left-brain and right-brain tasks, while November emphasizes empowering students with technology (as opposed to empowering technology with increasingly gadget-dependent teaching? - the question will soon make itself clear). And so it was, as can be read in the Burlington Free Press.
Now, our superintendent (I believe) was very invested in the simulcasting of these talks, which were taking place over an hour away, because, as he said, and I paraphrase, "We're not talking about technology in schools, we're talking about the way technology is changing the entire world." He referenced Thomas Friedman's catch-phrase that technology has "flattened" the world, creating an even playing field for global economic competition. This trend has shifted the structure of the global economy so that there are more tangible connections between countries. However, despite these connections and the resulting opportunities, dialogue between countries today are dominated primarily by tension and conflict. All of this puts new demands on our schooling system and on the education we provide our students. (This is how I understood his introduction to the speakers.)
With that, as he was expressing these thoughts, the signal for the simulcast was lost and the guest speakers, thus, - poof! - disappeared, not only from the room (they were only 2-D images anyway), but, by default, from the agenda. Hah! Fancy that! Technology is changing the world, but only as far as the signal will reach. No need to fret, though, for a few promotional videos had already been cued up AND an iPod Touch was to be raffled off at the end of lunch, so stick around ...
I had to feel bad for the guy - he had apparently been planning this event for the whole summer and obviously believed in what he was saying. I admire that. And I think there was a great deal of truth in what he was trying to express and in what Pink and November would share in their talks. I had to remember back, though, to a saying my stepfather is known for in our family:
"Man is a tool-using animal."
Now, this piece of wisdom was usually pulled out at a dinner table of finger food before it was ever a statement on technology, but it has stayed with me throughout my own examination of how we use technology.
Do we truly use technology as a tool? Or have we become the tools of technology?
At the graduate program I began at IslandWood, I was required in one of my classes to write a so-called Technology Position Paper, stating my position on the use of technology in education. I struggled and thought about it and struggled some more before I came to my honest opinion:
I do not consider technology any sort of evil in the classroom. It is, indeed, an area of my own learning that I am continuing to expand and deepen as best I can. At the same time, I seek to deepen my students’ imagination and sense of what knowledge and learning can be ... [when based] in their person and in their interactions with whatever resources may be available. After all, the value of any tool is only as great as the technique of the practitioner. From my position, I focus more on the practitioner than the tool.
As unfortunate as it was not to be able to see the speakers, I still took a lesson from the day: If we truly are tool-using animals, then we truly are practitioners. If we are practitioners, we are the ones in practice, not the tool; the tool exists only because we - in our practice - developed it. How fascinating that technology returns the favor, developing us as we develop it! But what exactly about technology do we want to teach in our practice? Are we going to rely so heavily on it that the value of a lesson is eliminated when it doesn't work?
Let's not forget who's who in this match - or perhaps, specifically, who we are and what role we play in the development of technology and in the culture of its usage.