Computers are magic. Well to a few people they are. To others they are annoying and useless pieces of hardware. At least until you add software. I was reading Audrey Watters’ post on “How Steve Jobs Brought the Apple II to the Classroom” recently. It is a prime example of someone finding the magic in the box and assuming that, if not everyone, a lot of others would also discover the magic. This idea never seems to go away and yet it seldom works out that way. For everyone who teaches themselves there are a great many others who need a teacher.
For some people, I confess I am one of them, discovering that a computer can be programmed and used to do interesting things is enough to get one hooked. This doesn’t seem to be universally the case though. The great majority of people need more out of the software to find the computer useful let alone educational.
This is not limited to computers either. A few years ago it seemed like everyone was buying Flipcams. Workshops and presentations abounded at ed tech conferences on the amazing things that teachers were doing with them. The reality turned out to be boxes and boxes full of unused Flipcams in schools all over the place. It turns out that just giving people the cameras did not make magic happen.
Time after time some new technology is touted as being a sort of silver bullet. Apple computers, digital cameras, Flipcams, iPod and iPads, Chromebooks and tablets of all sorts. Without a doubt some teachers are able to do awesome things with these devices and their students. But they seem to be the exceptions. Some teachers are naturally creative and combine that with a fearlessness that let’s them try out of the box projects. Other of us need a bit more direction. Some education and sharing of ideas of what works for others is needed to get things started. Teachers also need administrative support even if that support is in the form of benign neglect. :-)
Too often I get the question “we just bought [latest gee-whiz technology] can you tell me how to use it to teach [subject of the day.]” If you have hardware and need to ask about software you have, in my opinion, don’t things backwards. Find the software (be that computer software or curriculum materials) and then find the hardware to run it on.
We shouldn’t start with a solution and go looking for problems to solve with it.