Saturday, January 31, 2009

Icebery Theory of Educational Technology (Thanks Papa Heminway!)

“People don’t want quarter-inch drill bits, they want quarter-inch holes”, quotes Pip Coburn in The Change Function.

In his famous "Iceberg Theory" explanation, Ernest Hemingway discusses the balance of words for effective prose. He places the responsibility on the writer to know their readers. He warns, however, that omissions from lack of knowing makes the writing "hollow". Likening writing to an iceberg, he illustrates that an iceberg shows only 1/8th of itself above the water while the rest is below the surface.

Much of the time, I feel the same about educational technology. As teachers we must know our students, their experiences (or at least let them be part of learning), and solid strategies for teaching. If we omit any of these for not knowing, the tool is "hollow" or has a great potential to be hollow. If a tool's experience is hollow, my belief is that the learning will be equally as hollow.

Looking below the surface of a tool, just as we are required to do in much of Hemingway's writing, we see meaning. In an educational technology tool, I believe beliefs/values, epistemology, pedagogy, learning, personal learning networks, history, culture, network, support (technical), and any school/district/local issues are the indicators that give the tool meaning.

Much like the iceberg, though, this meaning and these things are below the surface. They aren't visible to the naked eye; easily, they can be upstaged by what is apparent - the tool. Despite being below the surface (out of sight, out of mind maybe?), their impact is far greater than the technology tool itself.

So what does this mean? I think approaching educational technology from this perspective provides for more authentic, more resonating learning experiences, better selection of appropriate tools, and greater chances of technology adoption. VoiceThread comes to mind. VoiceThread can be a powerful and fun means to tell digital stories and construct meaning. But does the creation of a VoiceThread automatically constitute the depth and quality of learning our students need? Or is it what's below the tool--our beliefs/values of teaching and learning among the other factors--that ultimately frame our usage of it and the quality of learning?

Look out below...

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