Monday, March 9, 2009

Does a Pen Have a Point?

When people ask me what my organization does, I typically say that we are educational technologists. We use the most innovative technology to develop engaging lessons that prompt students to think about important ideas in critical and creative ways.

Given the incredible array of Twenty First Century technology, I sometimes find myself wondering if a pen still has a point. The answer is "it depends." Indeed, this may not be the right question to ask. Remember that a pen is simply a technological tool.

Why should we start the question with a pen in mind, instead of with a task in mind. For example rather than asking, "What is the point of a pen?" you could instead state, "I want to accomplish X, Y, or Z. What is the best way to do it?"

As I write, I'm sitting in my favorite morning bagel joint, Einsteins. Somebody is sitting at my favorite table, the only table in the restaurant with an outlet. My computer's battery is low. So, what was I to do if I wanted to write this post. I'm writing this note as an email message to myself, on my Blackberry, that I'll later send to myself and post from my laptop. I could post the blog entry directly from my Blackberry. But, I'm not certain how to do this. Furthermore, does it really matter to my reader, how I write the article? It's simply a matter of my convenience.

As an educational technologist, however, I recognize that there are some things for which there is no substitute for the most advanced technology. For example, paper maps have become obsolete. There is not a advantage that a paper map has over an electronic map, such as Google Earth. Sure, there might be times when people don't have Google Earth in their cars, when they need to navigate somewhere. Correct!! But, then they would have GPS.

Of course, the argument could be made that not everybody can afford GPS. Absolutely true. But then again, there are people who cannot afford calculators. Do their children still learn with abacuses? As educational stakeholders we have a responsibility to ensure that all students can learn with the most advanced technologies when appropriate and only when appropriate.

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