Tech: tool or environment?

Technology integration, we’ve been going on about it for a while now, but what does it really mean? Are we there yet? Can we move on?

How can we define tech integration?  The definition used by wikipedia and boil it down to the following,

Technology Integration is the use of technology tools in general content areas in education in order to allow students to apply computer and technology skills to learning and problem-solving. Generally speaking, the curriculum drives the use of technology and not vice versa.

However, is this the best definition? Does it just mean the use of tools? And do we only apply those tools?  It just sounds like something we do to learning, bring out some tool use it and then put it away again. I’m not sure how many times in my tech careers I have seen teachers cart out the computers to type up a story, to publish books.  The students sit with the finished story in their lap and with one finger and their tongue out, searching and pecking at the keys.  This I might add is the story that they have written, had it checked by the teacher and peers, edited – multiple times, and only when it is perfect do they type it out. The computer in this instance is being use as a ‘tool’ much like the handwriting pens that I had at primary school, just a tool to make their work look neat.

In Cofino’s article, “It’s Not Just a Tool, Technology As Environment” this idea of a tech tool is further explored.  The example of the glorified handwriting pen can easily be adapted to use the computer as much more, and I am sure that I am preaching to the converted, word processors are the ultimate editing tool.  I have suggested to teachers that the can have the students do the planning and first draft on paper and then to use technology for the rest, generally with good results.  Cofino’s article really made me think about what tech integration is and what it looks like in my teaching and in my school.  I love this idea of the tool vs the environment.  She sums this up perfectly with a few definitions, making parallels with technology and the pencil:

what is a tool?

  • something I use when it suits me
  • something I control
  • something I don’t need or want around me at all times – only when it’s necessary
  • something small, manipulated by it’s user

what’s an environment?

  • something that’s all around us, in use all time
  • something we can not directly manipulate or control
  • something necessary to live, and ubiquitous, like air
  • something we are immersed in, even if we’re not specifically thinking about it or intentionally “using” it

That’s a big difference. What does this say about the different ways that students and adults might be perceiving the world around them? What does this mean for education?

What amazes me it that I see teachers live in the tech environment personally, smartphone in hand, but there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to the classroom and there is still this idea that tech integration has to be big, has to been a lesson in it’s self.  I was very fortunate to job share as a homeroom teacher last year and when technology was just lying around the classroom and was readily available the students navigated towards it, picking it up, using it, popping it back – all very natural.  These children live in a tech environment – its just a part of life.  The question is how can we harness this?

As I think about the level of tech integration that happens around it shard to judge.  I found the levels of technology integration presented by Hertz a good start.  They are easy to use and perfect to start a discussion about how people can move up the levels.

  1. “Sparse: Technology is rarely used or available. Students rarely use technology to complete assignments or projects.
  2. Basic: Technology is used or available occasionally/often in a lab rather than the classroom. Students are comfortable with one or two tools and sometimes use these tools to create projects that show understanding of content.
  3. Comfortable: Technology is used in the classroom on a fairly regular basis. Students are comfortable with a variety of tools and often use these tools to create projects that show understanding of content.
  4. Seamless: Students employ technology daily in the classroom using a variety of tools to complete assignments and create projects that show a deep understanding of content. “

Perhaps these are a good precursor to the TPACK or SAMR models.

TPACK graphic: “Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by”

I found the following video helpful in explaining TPACK:

YouTube Preview Image

After thinking about my own teaching I would suggest that I can be fairly balanced.  I love to use tech in my teaching and find it an excellent tool to aid my teaching life. However, I must admit in my current teaching load, Visual Arts for grade 1 & 2, I am perhaps a bit to over reliant on my technical knowledge.  I have been working a lot with my students on computers and a few weeks ago I got some paints out and a student said ‘ah, we are doing real art today!’ – it did make me laugh, but I did take the opportunity to say that digital art is a growing market and, although we may not know what kind of jobs students might be doing in the future, I think using technology in art is going to be around.  I would like to move to a point where I set a lesson and have tech available as an option rather than focus, but I see this as being tricky with younger students as often there need to be some discreet lessons to build skills.  I think that my favourite thing about teaching the iB is that there is the room to allow for front loading then assessment is centred around conceptual understanding, not how well a student can use a tool.  This prompt students to approach teachers and ask them if they can use technology.

I have to say I found it difficult to really evaluate my teaching against the TPACK model, as it depends on the topic, the lesson the learners and the technology available to me.  I think that the SAMR model was a little more straight forward.

Within this model I feel that my teaching can fit into a different level depending on the day, although I would say that I am more comfortable straddling between the Augmentation and Modification levels, however I still see teachers using tech as a substitution – which to me seems time consuming and pointless.  I had to think long and hard to see if I could fit anything into the redefinition level and I was happy to say yes – as I really fell that this is along term goal for tech integration and the thing that gives teachers the most satisfaction.  This quarter rather than grade 1 students writing stories or, god forbid, typing them, they are making them in Scratch Jnr.  I can’t imagine that without technology we would have even got remotely close to the fantastic animated ideas that these 6/7 year olds are coming up with.

So tech integration, its happening but slowly – however it is still closer to a tool than an environment.

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