When technology takes precedence over learning: the importance of individual preference

The MET program requires students to use, navigate through, integrate, and evaluate new media technologies for communicating, publishing, and creating a number of digital artefacts. This is central to the capstone experience for this program since it is only through hands-on experience that one can truly appreciate the affordances of web tools and gain expertise. It has been my experience, however, that dictating to students which tool to use to meet a particular goal can have adverse effects on learning. This is because students come into the program with a unique skill set which is known only to them. Consequently, a one-size-fits-all approach may result in a great deal of time being wasted by students trying to climb a steep learning curve, therefore placing the technology at the center of the learning experience as opposed to the topic at hand.

Cmap – What do we know about how people learn?

The artifact above was created as part of the ETEC 512 course requirement. For this assignment students were asked to map out the various theories of learning as they were examined throughout the course so to understand how each was related or overlapped, as well as to demonstrate learning. All students were to use the same software: CmapTools. CmapTools is a cool piece of software that allows multiple users to collaborate on a map from a distance, and affords one-step web publishing, which is great for sharing your work especially in the case of online or blended education. It also provides users with a wide spectrum of design elements and tools, all the necessary stuff to turn a concept map into a work of art.

Although I considered myself to be tech savvy, I found this software to be extremely cumbersome, especially given the fact that the assignment required the map to be constantly altered as new knowledge was made available throughout the course. In all, the map was to be re-constructed 5 or 6 times based on peer / instructor feedback. Many of my colleagues shared the same frustrations, that is, having to spend so much time on the software itself and therefore neglecting other aspects of the course: reading and research. As much as I understood the educational value of concept mapping, I vowed never to have anything to do with digital concept maps, ever again. In the end, what resulted from all the hours spent on my Cmap were some 30 color-coordinated boxes that might have taken me a few minutes to jot down on a piece of paper. In hind sight, it is clear that in order to be able to engage in mapping the various theories and sharing them in a virtual environment, some kind of technology was needed. At the time the course was designed, CmapTools must have seemed like a reasonable choice for it afforded the required graphics and publishing capabilities. But I later wondered how my experience (and that of many others in the same course) might have been different if I had been given the freedom to choose a tool more suited to my skill level.

A few weeks passed, and as I contemplated having to use a mind map to illustrate the structure of my eportfolio, I found myself making eye contact with the CmapTools icon sitting on my desktop. After opening it and fiddling with it for some 20 minutes, I agreed that there had to be an easier way to do this so I began to look for another tool that might help me achieve the same goal without the grief. After a few Google searches, I came across Bubbl.us 2.0. It took just a few clicks to create the object I needed and made me realize how much easier editing was with this particular tool.

Lesson learned: While it may be necessary at times to dictate which technology students will use to achieve a particular goal (an LMS for example), giving students the freedom to choose a prefered tool might just prevent technology from taking precedence over learning. For other assignments, I was given ‘carte blanche’, and I recall looking for, and using, whatever technology afforded the path of least resistance precisely because the course content / objectives remained intuitively at the top of my priorities. What’s more, who better suited to match my skill set to a particular tool but me? Stephen Petrina contends that technologies are complex instruments of learning. He states that technologies ‘augments, enhances, extends or magnifies our senses’. He also asserts that technologies are literally a part of us. The relationship between the ‘cyborg’ and his creations then, can be exemplified in a more simple analogy: the artist and his tool. Only the artist knows what tool is required to obtain a particular result because each artist’s perception of the finished product is unique, and so are his / her skills.

In my opinion, and based on personal and other cohort members’ forum discussions, personal preference should be at the heart of any framework or model of media selection, however, personal preference and individual skill sets are seldom addressed in such frameworks. A perfect example of this is Bates & Poole’s (2003)  ‘A Framework for Selecting and Using Technology’. Although Bates & Poole acknowledge at the onset that ‘it is impossible for any single teacher to stay abreat of new developments in technology’, the basis for their framework does not reflect this crucial truth to technology selection. On the one hand, letting students choose a tool they are comfortable with will optimize the quality of the finished product (learning), and will serve to educate educators as to what’s new in technology since today, the Web offers a myriad of free tools, new ones being developed at warped speed. And the only ones who are truly active in exploring the new real estate called the Internet are the ‘digital natives’ themselves.

Works Cited

Bates, T.  & Poole, G. (2003). A Framework for Selecting Technology. In Effective Teaching with Technology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Petrina, Stephen. (in press). Curriculum and instruction for technology teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


2 thoughts on “When technology takes precedence over learning: the importance of individual preference

  1. Thank you, Nancy, for such an eloquent reflection which summed up completely how I felt about Cmaps. All the frustrations I encountered with Cmaps, yes – I wasted so much time on it. What I love is how you’ve found a great alternative in Bubbl.us2.0 – that’s got to be the way forward for me, as I feel I’ve been ‘scarred’ by concept mapping, too! Bravo!

  2. nancycastonguay says:

    Thanks Paul. Relating my experience with CmapTools to my own teaching allowed me to understand the importance of individual autonomy when implementing technology into the classroom. In the end, it matters not what tool is chosen, but rather, whether or not learners met the set goals according to their own skill level and the resources available to them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s