Environment versus Tool

QUESTION: What makes it an environment rather than a tool?

Brain: "The advance of technology has brought us an even more powerful tool. Do you know what that is? Pinky: Ummm... the rubber band? - Pinky and the Brain

Start capturing your thinking about whether "tool" is a better analogy than "environment" when we think about ICT and Knowledge building ... [scroll down to the bottom if you want a squizz at what others think, or if you want to add a note about the page edit for the page history log]

Podcasting as a tool

I have just completed a research project looking at the effect of podcasting on oral language. My assertion was that podcasting had caused a marked improvement in my students abilities. However, through my research I found out that this was not the case. Podcasting was just the tool that I used. What had caused the marked improvement was the environment that was created when using Podcasting as a tool. This new technology supported a truly social constructivist environment and I now assert that it was through working this way (as collaborative partners, jointly constructing oral language for an authentic audience, receiving and giving feedback, making revisions on their oral language projects) was what made the difference. I think that Podcasting was the ICT Tool which supports a constructivist Environment and the two together enhanced the knowledge building.
Jane Nicholls.
In our ict_pd clusters we are driven/ guided/ captured by two key questions Jane,
What are the conditions of value in teaching and learning with respect to .......(fill in your own tilt)? and then How might ict enhance or betray these conditions of value? The betray bit is very important - the intervention of technology in learning processes is not always positive - and we should be alert to this possibility. Your comment reveals that your understanding of podcasting, and the ways in which you used the technology is aligned to these questions. [And your podcasting blog ICT U can! is very cool]. But then I can find other ict based interventions that seem more like an environment or ecology for new thinking than a tool . So I still don't know what I think - Nothing unusual then Arti'
I was initially very sceptical of the valorising of podcasting for enhancing oral literacy - why should getting students to read text aloud into a microphone be any more powerful an intervention that getting them to read aloud to residents at a dementia center thinking? I questioned whether the enhancement in oral literacy if it occurs is worth the energy and expense of the technology? But then I saw the ict_pd faciltator for our activ@eden cluster cluster Louise - she has done some powerful podcasting exchanges where Dominion Rd School podcast their questions in response to podcasts of students questions from Pinkney Elementary in the USA. This seems to me a unique facility that ICT can bring to student understanding through innovative use of oral literacies (Pam) [3/9/2006]

Just a tool thinking

I have difficulty with the term tool to describe an e-learning process or environment because it becomes too easily attached to the phrase "ICT is just a tool" ... implying that its value for learning is somehow diminished because it doesn't provide the whole learning experience. Do we say the same things about dictionaries, libraries, basketballs, or guitars? After all, they can be "just" learning tools. Yet, we would never look at a guitar as the single piece of equipment to provide complete music programme, then criticise it when children who have not been taught how to play come out no better off than when they started their music lessons.
The danger arises when ICT applications (hardware and software) are seen as a "complete package", or an outcome for e-learning, rather than the tool which they were intended to be. It is the appropriate use of these applications within a sound educational context with makes for authentic e-learning, and not simply using the tools as a means to an end.
Angela Page

Yo Angela! Lots more to pick away at the reassuring but totally silly use of the word tool. If we take artefact maybe - meaning the stuff, thing then we can ask, what is built into it, what are the assumptions of the folk who made/desgined it? None of these are normal/natural but reflect particular and likely different world views.
cj (11th Sept 06)

What makes ICT an environment rather than a tool - to me - is how you use it. A tool to me seems a bit archaic and straightforward - tools are usually designed for a specific purpose, with other functions as people get creative with it. But I guess the internet - to me - is more of an environment because I don't use it with a specific purpose in mind, I can explore its spaces, its different tools and different people... so many of my friends exist for me only through this environment (e.g. they live overseas and I see them less than once every 5 years, so really, I only know their internet identity(ies))... I guess the internet (as an example of ICT) has a mix of different systems and communities and interdependencies much more like an environment that even a very sophisticated, beta version (always improving) tool. I guess if you're talking about education and learning, an environment - for me - is more effective because I have learnt the most from random wanderings through environments, whether they are physical, digital or conceptual. I guess tools are helpful if you are wandering through an environment and come across a river you need to bridge... or something. (cK) [05/09/2006]

Mark Brown's 4Waves and "integrating ICT"

Referring to the paragraph below: I don't think that teaching and integrating are the same thing. Maybe "integrate" should be put up for debate. "Teaching" even. =P (cK) [08/09/06]

Think you will enjoy the thinking of Christopher D Sessums on these ideas - I much enjoy making new connections from his blog writing. Try this on integrate - (Pam) [9/9/06]

  • Integrating the Internet and social software into the classroom is a complex and multifaceted process. As we stand today, there is very little research regarding which technology is most appropriate and effective for particular tasks. In my mind, this is a good thing. This is where creativity steps in - and this is what education is all about (i.e., trying out ideas, experimenting with software, making mistakes, reinventing, etc.). More importantly, effective and appropriate use involves the competent and committed involvement of people. To this end, Internet search engines and social software such as weblogs, wikis, and social bookmarking sites provide a rich and resourceful environment for educators and learners of all ages. The Internet serves as a robust and active ecology to connect, collaborate, and aggregate numerous ideas and contributions of others, which permits people to further their understanding and share it with others. In this sense, social software contributes to peoples' ability to co-create knowledge that they can continue to draw from, reflect upon, and further refine. The challenge of implementing technology in educational environments is enormous, and yet so are the potential benefits. Consequently, the only real limit is the human imagination. Christopher D. Sessums :: Weblog :: Is there a community with this text? Building a new view of teaching and community.

Am going to play Devil's Advocate: why are we obligated to teach (sorry, integrate) ICT in schools? It is extremely expensive, difficult to implement and keep up with, and has a plethora of barriers. Why are teachers feeling like they must jump on the bandwagon? We don't teach students how to drive a car and yet it could be argued that the development of the car has changed society as much as the development of the computer has. Why are teachers forced to teach something that they don't "integrate" into their day to day lives!? It's not a necessity to know how to use a computer, just as it's not a necessity to know how to drive a car. Surely if hardware and software are well designed we wouldn't really need to be having these conversations? And, seriously, is the integration of ICT at schools authentic? Are the students really using ICT as a tool? Think about how students use the computer at home (social networking etc) and think how schools just aren't too keen to incorporate those sorts of activities into the classroom because they are not "safe". Consider what is happening in the US at the moment with the DOPA (Deleting Online Predators Act) law on the table. (Cheetah - the curmudgeon) (7/9/06)

Yay Cheetah! First up the notion that one can generalise about anything as being good for better at, most suited to a particular task is a hangover from the old what is better chalk or a whiteboard silliness. The good question for school is... if you removed computers from all schools tomorrow, would anyone notice? This is all lookin at the trees and missin the fact that some bugger has gone and messed with the forest big time. But let's reassure parents, pollies (not kids- they are way smarter than that) that having this junk in schools is somehow going to prepare them for the forest. Wait for social software literacy to hit schools when someone identifies it as a problem that needs to be fixed. Ask for the evidence (remember this is the world we live in now) that any of this stuff..and it is late 70's we are talking about here (remember the Poly?) has made the lsightest bit of difference. All it has done, IMHO is to take our gaze from the real game. cj 11.6.06

Go Cheetah!, Go! - At last a fellow curmudgeon on the wiki.

Something is up Cheetah - when was the last time you saw an advertisement offering to teach the elderly how to use mobile phones, or pre-schoolers how to use a Playstation. Attempts to *integrate* ICT into NZ schools has been a 30 year history of promises - of Rescu(e) myths and futile endeavour.

Kwok Wing Lai describes Brown's 2004 "myth of change" present in a 30 year ict use in teaching and learning - a 30 year "same old same old" cycle of Expectations>rhetoric>policies>limited use, followed by Expectations>rhetoric>policies>limited use, followed by Expectations>rhetoric>policies>limited use, followed by Expectations>rhetoric>policies>limited use, followed by …(in eLearning Communities teaching and Learning with the Web Otago University Press) He unpacks four main waves in last three decades
1. instructional wave (computer as tutor) 1975 to 85
2. problem solving wave (students teaching the computer) 1980 to 1990
3. mind tool wave (computer as a tool) 1985 to 95
4. media wave (connected computers via internet)1995 to present
Kwok Wing Lai’s analysis means that I can predict that, despite the valorising rhetoric in "Enabling the 21st Century Learner", NZ will not be rescued by e learning in the near future. Singaporean educational researchers Chee-Kit Looi, Wei-Ying Lim and David Hung (2005) ask "why the adoption and appropriation of good ICT -enabled pedagogies have proven so difficullt. How is it that businesses such as McDonalds is able to counter cultural and social differences and franchise its product, process and even its culture successfully across the globe whilst the adoption of good (ICT enabled) practices in education seems sluggish in comparison." p244 Towards sustainable and scalable educational innovations informed by the learning sciences. ICCE2005 Conference Proceedings (Pam) [7/9/06]

Hodas (1993) (thanks cj) is an interesting read on this same issue
  • "For nearly a century outsiders have been trying to introduce technologies into high school classrooms, with remarkably consistent results. After proclaiming the potential of the new tools to rescue the classroom from the dark ages and usher in an age of efficiency and enlightenment, technologists find to their dismay that teachers can often be persuaded to use the new tools only slightly, if at all. They find further that, even when the tools are used, classroom practice--the look-and-feel of schools --remains fundamentally unchanged. Indeed, the last technologies to have had a lasting impact on the organization and practice of schooling were the textbook and the blackboard." [Pam17/9/06]

Merging one way of doing stuff with another way of doing stuff

When I check my Artichoke del.icio.us tags I find that I have been talking to myself about whether the "computer is a tool" for quite a while - am just about at the point where I can argue ferociously with examples either way. For example I challenge anyone who has seen how Excel spreadsheets are currently used in primary schools to create pie charts and graphs, to describe EXCEL as anything more than a brutal and unthinking tool that should come with a cognition warning watermarked across the screen. I can go Yes Tool/ No Environment/ Yes Tool/ No, Environment/ Yes Tool/ No, Environment like something out of The Monty Python Argument Sketch- Check out the Artichoke Blog on The computer as a tool, and the computer as a system. and
Ummm ….the meddler in the middle? Our MoE certainly describes it as a "tool" in their Digital Horizons position papers/ documentation.
  • Research into uses of ICT in education lags behind what is actually happening in schools. Nevertheless evidence is currently emerging from studies in the UK and elsewhere that indicates improved outcomes for learners in schools where ICT is used as a tool for cognitive development in curriculum areas. (Ministry of Education, 2003, p.8)
At the moment thanks to some comments by cj I am thinking of ICT as new technology (or a way of doing stuff)trying to merge with the old established technology we call school - (another way of doing stuff) and coming off second best (Pam) [5/9/06]

Ooops. Got to keep those selfish memes in check goodness knows where they will end up and they don't discriminate what or whose mind they colonise.... the coming off second best idea has been about for a long time but what I find remarkable is that folk wander into this space/field -- assume that because the software of hardware is new that they can discover all the questions about IT and education anew. If we ran this in a meta school we could send em off to do their homework. A bit of detention reading: Larry Cuban (1986) Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920, Teachers College Press, New York. (the photo of the kids in the plane with desks is a real hoot); and Steven Hodas (1996) Technology refusal and the organizational culture of schools. in Kling, Rob (Ed.) Computerization and controversy : value conflicts and social choices, 2nd ed. Academic Press, San Diego, pp. 197-218. (cj 12.9.06)

The Bible writing monks weren't very good at learning how to use the printing press. They were just swept aside by history. We should learn and teach ICT because it is becoming the new dominant medium of communication.
(Bill Sep 10)

Yes it is but doing what we do with it in schools is the worst thing we can do--kids need mature, inisder forms of practice not the silly pretend stuff that goes on in classrooms. (cj 12.9.06)

Hey Arti, where did you put the stopper for that bottle... the genie is nowhere to be found. (cj 12.9.06)

I am blaming the duck - haven't seen the stopper since I mislaid my left ear and any matching socks I might remember owning several hours ago - Manovich's soft cinema project asks - What kind of cinema is appropriate for the age of Google and blogging? Automatic surveillance and sel-guided missiles? Consumer profiling and CNN? At the heart of the project is custom and media databases. The software edits movies in real time by choosing the elements from the using the systems of rules defined by the authors. Would be interesting to ask the same questions about teaching and learning - would need a total rejig of how we view schools as institutions of control - might allow us to learn in paradoxical environments where arguments for *freedom from* and concealment are exceeded by those for *freedom to* and exhibitionism (Pam11/9/06)

"Computers are such great tools that even neo-Luddites use them to redraft their critiques of computer cultures. While School and neo-Luddites continue to conceptualise the computer as a logical machine then the computer and the curriculum will continue to evolve in harmony, but at the expense of learning.

It is more forward thinking to use non-logical metaphors of the computer. One of my favourites is the rorschach. Different people will use the computer in their own way, to explore their own interests. Another favourite is the mirror. Every now and again you catch a glimpse of yourself in the computer, especially if you are using it creatively.(Turkle, 1996)

Non logical metaphors of the computer create a tension between the computer and the curriculum whereby the computer becomes the medium that carries the quality and the curriculum becomes the technical instrument. The computers becomes an evocative, flexible medium that invites immersion. Computer games are addictive and fun (as the neo-Luddites point out). It needs to be added, however, that some of the best computing software is an invitation to immerse yourself into a microworld where significant learning is likely to occur, provided you have a teacher who understands how the software is meant to be used. Counterposed to the neo-Luddite critique of mindless play is the constructionist idea of hard play."
(this is from an essay I wrote in 1997, Invitation to Immersion)
(Bill Sep 11)

"It's really quite simple. When people are made powerless, when they are given little or no say over what, how, when or why they should learn something and then threatened with measurement of their performance, real or deep learning does not occur. What are the alternatives?" (Invitation to Immersion Bill)
Ahh Bill what are the alternatives? What are the alternatives? Will ICT really rescu(e) us (Pam)

Has anyone tried to read this page from top to bottom!
Try making a classroom newspaper and distributing it without the tools.
Try getting a book out of the library without the tools.
Try talking across the ocean without the tools.
Try communicating with a wide audiences simultaneously without the tools.
Try finding the latest articles without the tools.
Try getting information from the Ministry without the tools!
The only thing that stops natural integration of ICT's into our curriculum is access and probably ignorance!
I think that using ICT''s is a necessity in our day to day life... how else do I actually GET my pay!
Environments are where people live and work and play and survive! So I guess the internet is an environment afterall!
Slightly scared to click save!

Ahh Rich so glad you clicked save - you can always come back in and delete this response - Think tools are overrated as a metaphor - For example have you ever tried, really tried, to get information out of the Ministry with the tools? Misinformation maybe, but information, well information requires quite a different approach. Our very own free thinker about ICT's Mark Brown has a nice piece on this - the computer is not a neutral learning tool - in "Telling Tales out of school" in the Otago University Press book e-Learning Commiunities edited by Kwok Wing Lai.
In the same volume but on a slightly different angle about thinking abt the computer as a tool - why should technology be used in the first place Kwok Wing Lai cites Ragsdale(1982) "If you give a hammer to a two year old, suddenly a lot of things need hammering." 'If you give a computer to a teacher suddenly a lot of things will need computing' (Pam 12/9/06)