Invisible

[I often say, “Technology must be ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.” I thought I’d take a little time to explore each item in that triptych. My first two posts were Ubiquitous and Necessary. Here is the third. — Chris]

Technology must be invisible.

In most schools, whenever the laptop cart is wheeled into a classroom, we say the kids are doing a “technology project.” But to say that is to miss the point. Just because a student uses a laptop or a tablet or some other piece of equipment that is new-ish to do their work does not mean they are doing a technology project.

It means they are doing their work.

We need to understand that until we stop fetishizing technology by making it the focal point of the work every time we pull it out of the closet, we will never move past the notion of “technology integration” to a place of “modern learning.”

The idea that technology must be invisible in school is simply this: Using technology to inquire, to create, to share, to research, to learn is not and should not be notable anymore. It should simply be a matter of course.

Using technology in school is not the point – learning is.

When technology becomes invisible, students take more ownership of their use of technology. When students use a combination of books, internet research and expert interviews to do a deep dive into a topic, technology is not the focus, research and inquiry are.

When a teacher says, “O.k. let’s get into our groups,” and one student opens up a Google Doc and three other students move their chairs, we can see a moment where the technology is not the focus, collaboration is.

When students are doing presentations, and rather than seeing thirty PowerPoint presentations, students use PowerPoint, Presi, videos and old-fashioned poster-board, but no matter what medium the presentation takes, students have a personal sense of aesthestic value and how to use a visual medium to communicate an idea, then technology is not the focus, presentation is.

That is how technology becomes invisible – when it becomes like the very oxygen we breathe. We don’t think about it every minute, but it is always there and always vital.

This doesn’t mean we never talk about technology, by the way. There are still moments when we learn about the technology itself, and that’s a good thing. Whether it is in a computer science class where students are learning to program, or it is in a technology infusion workshop where we help students to learn how to fully integrate the technology into their sense of themselves as a student and citizen, there are moments where we — student and teachers — make the invisible visible. That’s a good thing. Much like we have to be thoughtful about airflow when we build physical structures and machines, we should be thoughtful about technology when we build learning spaces and learning experiences. And both students and teachers should have moments of reflection of how the tools affect the learning. But there’s a big leap between understanding how the tool both is vital to and transformative to the work and making the work always about the tool.

When technology becomes invisible in a school, learning becomes the focus. That should always be our goal, regardless of the tools we use to get there.

16 thoughts on “Invisible

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. My favorite class to teach at UArts was called Visual Concepts (at the time). Students were learning about line, color, expression, narrative, sequence, etc, and using Photoshop and Illustrator quite often to create the projects.

    There was never a “lesson” in Ilustrator or Photoshop. It was more like, “Here are some ways you could approach this problem using this tool in Illustrator.

    In the beginning of the semester, the students would ask, “Aren’t you going to teach us Illustrator?” or something similar. I would kick the question down the road by asking them to focus on the larger concepts. By the end of the semester, students had a grasp of these larger concepts and then would often note, “Hey, we also learned Photoshop and Illustrator.”

    Equally impressive, they all became natives with Photoshop and Illustrator. They learned to use the tool in their own way and not in a one-size-fits-all or prescriptive fashion. The work that followed was much more free when they used the tools. They learned that technology was just another medium to play with and explore. No need to worship at its alter.

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  7. Excellent point. Thank you. This is just the point I want to see being made during our ICT review process we are about to start at my school.

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  15. I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head. Talks in which students were obliged to use powerpoint for the sake of using powerpoint are a thing of the past. As you said the focus is now more on using technology to reach an end goal rather than just using it.

    I think that now the use of technology in the classroom has become widely acceptable and teachers are using it everyday in a variety of forms, we have moved into a new era in which we can talk about technology being invisible. I think that even a year ago this would not have been possible.

    In my work I focus on learning analytics which, unlike interactive whiteboards/laptops in class/Powerpoint/Presi/etc. has not yet reached the phase in which it has become mainstream so I’m very much looking forward to see what else is going to happen in terms of innovation in education (btw, NMC Horizon have published their outlook which is a very interesting read http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2013-horizon-higher-ed-shortlist.pdf)