‘Messing Around’ More

This post is a result of my work in my COETAIL course and is cross-posted from my blog over there.

Over the weekend, a lot of my tweeps were at 21c Learning Hong Kong. If I were going, one of the main reasons I would have done so would have been to see Punya Mishra from MSU. He is a driving force behind TPACK. During Mishra’s keynote, Jabiz tweeted:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/intrepidteacher/statuses/170433850911105024″]

This immediately reminded me of Messing Around. In their whitepaper, authors boyd, Ito, et al. write the following:

When messing around, young people teachers begin to take an interest in and focus on the workings and content of the technology and media themselves, tinkering, exploring, and extending their understanding. [p. 20]


It is important to recognize, however, that this more exploratory mode of messing around is an important space of experimental forms of learning that open up new possibilities and engagements. [p. 23]


we see [messing around] as a necessary part of self-directed exploration in order to experiment with something that might eventually become a longer-term, abiding interest in creative production. One side effect of this exploration is that youth teachers also learn computer skills they might not have developed otherwise. [p. 25]

(Obviously, the strikethroughs are my edits!)

In my role as technology facilitator, I spend a lot of time with teachers, either in a one-on-one, small group, or workshop setting.  While there is an obvious willingness to learn something new, that desire to ‘mess around’ is usually missing from the teachers. There’s a huge list of legitimate reasons why this is the case: lack of time, too much marking, planning, other  meetings, to name a few. I get that. But as teachers, we must be willing to the behaviors that we want to see most in our students: curiosity, self-reliance, inquiry, stick-to-it-tiveness. To me, that is what ‘messing around’ is all about.

As teachers, we all have expertise. We know our content areas (Content Knowledge) and have been trained (or have learned on the job!) in teaching pedagogy (Pedagogical Knowledge). Historically, the best teachers have been the ones who lived inside the intersection of those two realms of knowledge.

With the increased pervasiveness, ubiquity and infusion of technology, there is a third realm that defines the best teachers: Technological Knowledge. The TPACK model of technology integration helps teachers think about the intersection of these the knowledge areas when developing and delivering meaningful learning experiences for students. I believe that it is only through ‘messing around’ and discovering new possibilities within the context of one’s own Content and Pedagogical Knowledge can teachers begin to truly harness the transformative power of technology in learning.

How much ‘messing around’ do you do? When do you find the time? What keeps you from doing it more?

Image Credits:

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.