Technology Is Now As Much A Part Of Learning As Reading & Writing

by Terry Heick

iPads are the worst technology students will ever use.

This was a useful idea I saw hanging for a moment in my twitter feed from Jamie Casap–useful in that it helped me see education technology as a principle rather than a tactic.

Modern arguments around education technology tend towards binary positions–usually for or against; this “position taking” makes the design of education technology inaccessible because we’re not considering design, but rather positions. There are few compelling arguments against technology as learning tools, though even that depends on what students are learning and why. But if we’ll accept, if only for a moment, that:

A) “Technology” is a relative term, and

B) It allows previously impossible or unimaginable learning–in terms of process, product, pace, and content–to be possible

–then we’ve suitably altered the conversation from a matter of positions (check yes or no) to a matter of design (audience, purpose, and possibility).

We usually think of technology as a progressive thing, but any technology dates itself immediately through its form. Electricity, the wheel, paper, the printing press, metal working, mass transportation, masonry, and more are all forms of technology. Technology isn’t a leading edge, but a human practice.

And, as such, it can both extend our humanity or reduce it based on its application.

Design: Audience & Purpose

On a day to day basis, human processes are based on prevailing local technology. That is, we usually use what’s available to us to express our collective humanity (for better or for worse). To solve problems, reduce inefficiencies, or create opportunities, we turn to the technology that is accessible to us, usually in the form of tools and processes.

Philosophically, this is important because, by design technology is an artificial process or product intended to circumvent natural limits or defies natural processes. This creates spectacle that is addictive. Are Icarus and Prometheus and the Luddites heroes or cautionary tales?

Wikipedia defines technology as “the collection of tools, including machinery, modifications, arrangements and procedures used by humans.” Oxford dictionary offers up a similar take, defining technology as “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry,” going on to tell us that the word technology comes from the early 17th century from the Greek word tekhnologia–‘systematic treatment’, from tekhnē ‘art, craft’ + -logia.

Art. Craft. Design. Humanity. Somewhere between and across these ideas there are glimpses of where technology is taking us, specifically within the “fields” of teaching and learning. The iPad is the latest node in a constantly-expanding concept map of shared experience. New technology builds on old technology.

Properly paced and scaled, we’re in control of this hyper-cycle the whole time, but unfortunately the designers and producers of technology design produce in isolation from their applied use, which makes audience and purpose considerations–prime matters of design–impossible.

But if we zoom out some, this isn’t so much about how iPads can function in a classroom, but the iPad as a matter of sequence. Technology never peaks. As students in 2015 grow and read and write and learn, technology will continue forward at breakneck speed because it evolves in isolation by standards of its own.

The iPad sales have recently stagnated after a mercurial rise that began April 3, 2010–only four and a half years. Wearable technology is among the threats to iPads as successful consumer products, but in education, Google’s slick cloud-integration is making them a more streamlined choice for many classrooms.

Education Technology As A Principle

But more significantly, the life-cycle of the iPad in education emphasizes the incendiary, remorseless tone of technology.

Arguments for or against iPads in classrooms is a bit like arguing Romney/Obama. It’s over, and holding that argument dates the arguers. I get why some teachers are against technology in education. Powerful learning models can be designed without technology because knowledge is the ultimate technology.

But if we think in terms of learning design, the argument that technology is already there and we’re simply arguing for a certain technology level can be useful. It’s not binary edtech-yes-or-no, but do we want old tech or new?

If we think of technology as a matter of sequence, then technology isn’t so much a teaching strategy or educational tactic as it is a principle of learning.

When today’s elementary students are 40, they’ll remember iPads the way (many of us) remember cassette tapes. It will be funny that we used to hold large, heavy glass rectangles in their hands and had to open up apps separately.

And had to know which app did what. And had to ‘Google’ information.

And sometimes weren’t even connected to the internet because WiFi signals were unreliable.

And didn’t have the information that we might need pushed to us before we even knew we needed it.

And we had to type! We had to actually touch a screen or keyboard made of little plastic squares to make words—crazy times!

iPads and other existing mobile technology will be remembered like symbols–markers for a time and a place in their lives. This usefully decenters education technology as some kind of spectacular edge, and frames it as a fundamental principle of modern learning.

Reading and writing have generally been regarded modern formal education. The ability to do each underpins the ability to make sense of an article or report, write an essay, memorize facts, evaluate cause and effect, conduct scientific experimentation, perform complicated mathematical calculations, and create poems and plays. These are the activities that actuate modern K-20 education.

And increasingly, it is technology that actuates each of these activities.

image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad; previously published at



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