Yesterday, I wrote a post about thinking about the right tool for the job. I wrote it because after working with teachers on a variety of tools like wikis, blogs, document sharing, etc., I am often asked “How do I know which one to use?”
The real answer is not a formulaic pros-and-cons chart, but a deeper understanding of the tools and what they do. Think about other tools we use. When you’re getting ready to write something, you inherently know whether the best tool is a pencil, a cheap stick pen, a fancy fountain pen, or a word processor. Why? Because you’ve used these tools all your life, and you really understand at a deep level which is best for what kind of job.
The conclusion I keep coming to is that we have to use these tools ourselves, both for professional and personal use, to gain a deep appreciation for how they can best be used.
In having these conversations with folks, I often conclude by saying that if we could get kids to grok the tools to the point that they could choose the best tool for the job, then we’d really be doing our job as educators.
I feel this way not only about tech tools, but about other tools as well. I do a lot of work with writing and different tools for prewriting and writing based of the form, genre, and audience of the piece of writing. Often, though, kids are unable to decide for themselves what tool (or approach) will work best for the task at hand. They rely instead on the teacher telling them what tool to use (or what genre or tone to adopt) or failing that, they use whatever tool or format was last assigned in class.
So I’m thinking about all this in the context of teaching real 21st Century skills and then I read Vicki Davis’s post on Google docs this morning. In it, she says:
- “When do my students and I wiki and when do we Google Doc?
When we want to collaborate and edit, we use the wiki. But, when we’re under a tight deadline and need to “crank out a document” or “hash things out quickly” we move over to Google Docs. It just makes sense.
But then again, when we do projects, I don’t really TELL students which tool to use. If it is a project, they are to pull from all of their previous tools or find new ones. We focus on getting the project done, not on the tool used.”
That gets right to the heart of it. This line of thinking also implies some potentially uncomfortable things to consider:
- Everyone doesn’t have to use the same tool for the same task. (differentiation; choice)
- The teacher doesn’t have to have mastered (or even be knowledgeable) about all the tools students choose to use.
- We probably need to rethink how and what we are teaching. Knowing how to evaluate and choose the best tool for a job, being able to learn new tools as they go (without pedantic step-by-step instruction), and learning how to learn independently are skills that will bring students future success.