AmusED

Amy's Whimsical Musings

#rawthought: And Our Tools Shape Us

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One of my favourite lines from media theorist and muse of mine, Marshall McLuhan, is

“we become what we behold. We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us”

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While he was undoubtedly talking about the involuntary submission to our technological “extensions”, I wonder what it might be to submit freely? Like falling into a wave and allowing one’s body to be carried hither and thither in the surf, what would it mean to give oneself over to a device or app, and let the tool dictate the path of our creativity?

The accepted rhetoric in education  – and in particular the “ed-tech” world of conferences, keynotes, and workshops – seems to be

“it’s not about the technology – it’s about the learning”

While I don’t disagree with this approach altogether, I am wary of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Why?

Because I like to play

I feed off serendipity and chance…tinkering with something and exploring ways to maximize its potential. And I almost never like to use an app or any kind of tool in the conventional way.  I want to squeeze out the latent whimsy…I want, like everything else –

things to stop taking themselves so seriously

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So what if we flipped the pedagogy > tool scenario and used tools like artists did –

to inform creative choices?

to tinker with?

to hack into a different purpose?

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What could students invent if they didn’t come with pre-conceived notions of what the app or device was supposed to do? A looooooong time ago, I wrote about “What Comes First- The Story or the Tool?”. I still think there is much benefit in noodling around…or even using the tool as a springboard. In my classroom, I had a giant poster called

“Apps for Creative Makery”

When a new app emerged on the scene (I remember this with Vine, in particular), I introduced it to my students in the first three minutes or so of class. Why not? New apps can change culture (especially creative culture), and potentially could play a significant role in students’ lives (like Snapchat, which seemed to replace all SMS texting). I encouraged students to propose educational uses for the app – how could it enhance the curriculum? When we discussed cinemagraphs and apps to create them a student suggested they would be perfect for our “Emotion as a Way of Knowing” unit in our Theory of Knowledge course. The challenge was to shoot video, “erase” parts to make it a still photograph, save for one segment which would accentuate a particular mood or emotion.

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The poster was for students to act as curators (of course you can do this digitally with a wiki or Google doc, for example). They would list new apps or web tools / platforms and annotate them a bit. Moreover, they spotlighted intriguing people to follow on Instagram, Vine, YouTube, and other social media (even Reddit!). These creators were wonderful examples to emulate – particularly when we were doing projects like vlogs or stop-motion animation. The bigger picture of course is that students were co-creating the toolbox for learning in our course. When they were faced with a creative task they could access this peer-developed resource and choose their preferred tool.

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I’ve mentioned before that I am convinced that the highest form of demonstrating learning is Remix.

So why not do a Hackstorm instead of brainstorm?

Use divergent thinking…fantimagine different ways of using a particular digital tool (or any tool for that matter)?

We need to ask questions like

what can I do with this that is different than what it is meant to be?

how is this tool diff than pre-existing tools – what makes it special and unique?

how can I force the topic / curriculum into the tool rather than vice versa?

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So while it is honourable to privilege good teaching practices over (ephemeral) software and hardware, I encourage everyone to on occasion use the tool as the canvas rather than the paint – let it be a launching pad or spark of inspiration rather than an afterthought for mere facilitation.

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This entry was posted on April 7, 2016 by in rawthoughts and tagged , , , , , , .

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