The Strength of Weak Ties

Everyone participates. Everyone contributes. Leveraging the power of digital networks to connect people, resources and ideas to drive creativity and innovation forward...and actually accomplish something!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Telling the New Old Story

When I think of the effective application of technology to student learning, I think of two very basic things:

1) Does the use of the technology support a fundamental literacy that the educational institution believes in?

2) Does the use of that technology extend the learning to a new place, make the learning more effective, or support higher student achievement in the context of the fundamental literacy?

In my opinion, high achieving schools are grounded in fundamental core competencies. It’s that simple. In English, it’s about writing and literary analysis, in Science, it’s about inquiry through the scientific method, and in Math it’s about problem-solving. I could go on but you probably get the idea. It’s about fundamentals-not sexy, I know, but still critically important to effective schools and high-quality student learning. So, can the application of new technologies to these core understandings make learning more effective? Yes, but to do so, we have to believe that it is possible, even beneficial, to do old things in new ways.

I recently read Dean Shareski’s account of the technology integration projects in Saskatchewan and about how doing old things in new ways doesn’t move anyone forward. And I agree with Dean about the use of technology to create a poster. I’d personally like to outlaw posters, brochures, jello or sytrofoam cell cities, paper-mache exploding volcanoes and other types of ridiculous student products. However, I’m not willing to totally dismiss doing old things in new ways. Sometimes old is good, and sometimes old is entirely appropriate.

Consider all the new, hot learning technologies. Consider digital storytelling. That’s about writing and visual literacy. It’s about project management. We’ve been doing that kind of stuff in schools for years-but engaging students in the process of digital storytelling makes learning those fundamental core literacies more effective. By doing digital storytelling, we are asking students to do something old in a new way, and if you have teachers and kids that become good at it, it becomes an incredible learning experience. Why? Now the audience is global, the product is visual and can carry multiple levels of meaning, and the student develops a competitive voice in the process. Old literacies-you bet. A new way of achieving those, and in fact, a better way? Yes. And should we throw it out and not consider it because it falls into “doing old things in new ways?” Of course not!

What about Flickr? I’m 47 years old and I’ve got baby pictures. Taking pictures isn’t exactly new. But package those pictures in a new interface that promotes social interaction such sharing, discussion and the delivery of photostreams through RSS and now all of a sudden you have 118 million photos in slightly over two years in a single interface. Face it, Flickr is something old packaged in a new way.

Blogging? That’s about writing.
Podcasting? Recorded lectures, recorded discussions. Add some music.

Something new? Not really. Packaged and distributed in new ways? Yes. But these are effective because they apply something we’ve always done within a new context-and that’s about the ability of everyone to do it, everyone to have their say, and to engage in a conversation, potentially global in nature.

Douglas Rushkoff, in his book, Get Back in the Box, says this:

“The most innovative eras in our past, in fact, have come to be regarded as renaissances—literally, the “rebirth” of old ideas and values in a new context. Core values renewed from the inside out.”
I’m a big fan of doing old things in new ways. And that's my new, old story....


  • At 9:33 PM , Anonymous Jeff Utecht said...


    Man I get it. My digital stories on YouTube was new way of doing old things. I agree that there is some use of this with technologies. But if that's all there is then why am I pushing teachers to use their laptops for more than word processing? More then creating PowerPoints? If that was all there was we're spending a lot of money just to be "cool". It's a good starting place and I think that's where we are overall in education...but how do we move beyond this? How do we get to doing new things in new ways. Is it even worth pursuing? Worth the time and money it takes to get there...including the man power it takes to get there? It's a tough sell.


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