I have a Yoga 12 touchscreen laptop and a Samsung smartphone; despite these tools, I carry around a pen and small flipbook. Why? I’m not a technophobe. It’s because when a thought strikes me, whether it is to pick up broccoli for dinner, research the origin of the term “flabbergasted”, or mark those 12th grade essays, it is quicker and easier to use a pen. It’s the right tool for the right job.
Just like a carpenter wouldn’t use a band saw to sharpen her pencil, we shouldn’t become so enamoured with devices because they are new, or flashy, or cool that we lose sight of whether they are useful or not.
When it comes to using devices in the classroom, the same principle should apply. Of course, that doesn’t mean banning technology. In fact, it is imperative we provide access to various devices, not only to level the economic playing field but also to help students re-evaluate the scope of possibilities.
The truth is we need to encourage students to evaluate each situation and determine which tool would work best. At the core of the evaluations are the age old questions of writers: Who is the audience? What is the purpose?
I write on paper when I am the audience—no one else needs to decipher my chicken scratch. When I provide student feedback I either type comments or record a video, depending on the needs of the particular student. I ask myself: What do I want them to see? What will help this particular student to see this?
In the classroom, this isn’t an easy task. Students often ask “How do you want it? How should it be formatted?” In return, I ask them about the audience and purpose: “What will help your audience understand your purpose? That’s the format you should use.” In the beginning, students are frustrated. Quickly, however, they catch the point: a tool is just a tool, if it doesn’t help you achieve your purpose then it is an ineffective tool for the task, no matter how flashy.
It’s a simple mantra, but even adults struggle with it. The saturation of
horrible PowerPoints is a prime example.
As teachers, our job isn’t only to encourage students to evaluate the right tool for the right job, it’s to model that evaluation ourselves. Let’s stop using the Hadron-Collider to calculate 2+2. Our fingers do the job just fine because they are the right tool for the right job.