Transformative Tools in Education

By Pieter Mustard, licensed under CC BY NC ND
By Pieter Mustard, licensed under CC BY NC ND

“It’s not about the technology.”

This is the popular refrain that we hear constantly in the blogosphere and at conferences devoted to technology and education. And I agree: the purchase/use/integration of technology, in and of itself, does not imply learning any more than the purchase of books implies reading or the purchase of pencils and paper implies writing.

Adrienne is working on this cool Master’s program and, even though she is thousands of miles away, she’s keeping me thinking. In a recent post on OneNote in Schools, she comments

However, I like you, I am not sure about OneNote in terms of a learning tool. Sure, it makes some things easier. But transformative? Notsomuch.

Part of the problem, as we discussed it, is that these tools are not designed for education: they are really productivity tools for the business world whose purposes have been re-articulated to fit into an educational setting. I think this is what the EduPunk meme was all about: a revolt to the use of office-tools in the educational environment. The irony is that the education we are trying to provide using these tools is to enable students to work in fields that extend beyond the typical office!

Unless a tool/system is designed with educational pedagogy in mind it will almost undoubtedly fail to be transformative. All educational pedagogy interested in authentic learning must include, at a minimum, the following facets:

  • Collaboration, because societies do not function in isolation.
  • Connection, because this is now an immutable fact of life.
  • Construction, because the real world requires you to make your own conclusions.
  • Reflection, because learning doesn’t happen during the test; it happens before and after.

As I think about what tools we are using in my school in this manner, it’s clear to see that few if any of can have a transformative effect on education and student learning. It’s also clear why “It’s not about the technology”: because the technology is not about education!

The transformation of education is just itching to happen. But it is being delayed by the nonexistence of systems and learning environments – not tools – that will allow students and teachers to truly harness the technological power that we possess. These systems will not come from Microsoft or Apple or any other developer who is focused on the workplace. These systems must come from educators who understand that improving efficiency does not imply improving student learning.

2 thoughts on “Transformative Tools in Education

  • November 11, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Hi, Clint,

    I like the sentiment of your opening statement, ‘It’s not about the Technology’ – but I would phrase it differently. In 1988 my Presidential address was entitled, ‘Technology is not about Things, but about People.’ See my definitions at: and following pages.

    Your website is cluttered with the views of intelligent adults who do not need the supportive systems that are needed both in schools and for a much wider community of those who are less ICT-literate, disabled, slow learners or the elderly.

    What I have repeatedly tried to underline in my blog is the fact that unless an e-Portfolio can meet the needs of a variety of learning communities it is not truly an e-Portfolio.

    An e-Portfolio MUST be Lifelong and Lifewide. It must, therefore be portable from one institution to another and must remain accessible when the owner is ‘between jobs’. It must be adaptable, chameleon-like, according to the age and environment in which the learniner is working. Particularly with children, the e-Portfolio must have reliable security systems in place that control who sees what. Again, in schools (and speaking as a teacher/technician) the e-Portfolio system should not incur any extra work-load on an already overloaded staff. Above all, the format and organisation of what is presented should be in the hands of the learner and not imposed, either by the ‘technology’ or an institution.

    See my blog for more at:

    Best Wishes,
    Ray T

  • November 12, 2009 at 11:30 am

    @Ray Tolley
    Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the extensive comment. It certainly gives me (and everyone else) a lot to think about.

    While I wouldn’t necessarily call my blog ‘cluttered’, I do agree that most of those who visit are further along the technology adoption and proficiency scale than most. I take to heart your concern that we be considerate of individuals of all abilities when designing an ePortfolio solution that works for the needs of our community.

    I don’t think it is possible to create a culture of digital reflective learning – particularly at my school – without incurring extra work on teachers, partly because of the range of abilities that exist in the teaching population and because, for some, it is a shift in the understanding of what encompasses learning.

    What must be done, I feel, is give strength to reflective learning and ePortfolios by giving the one thing that every teacher needs more of: time. Do not add ePortfolios on to an already full curriculum. Give the process of portfolio creation specific time in schools so as to highlight its importance, to students, parents and teachers.

    We have just started down this road and I do really appreciate your thoughts and comments. I will be sure to keep documenting our process and hope you have time to add more of your advice.

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