As I develop as a teacher, I am constantly wrestling with ideas relating of technology, such as “what is technology?”, “is technology doing us any good?” and “how should we teach with and about technology?”. Here are some of my recent thoughts.

In 1980 Alan Kay (of Xerox PARC fame) said “Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born”, which neatly sums up one of our interesting, common traits as human beings: we are so good at adapting to change, that we don’t realise things have not always been as they are now. We take the level of technology at our birth as a baseline, a given, and only really consider new developments as anything special. As an ICT teacher I am particularly prone to doing this: I assume that technology=computer, when in fact almost everything we engage with every day represents technology (think clothes, paper, pencils, tarmac, cement, wheels). I am sure almost all school children do exactly the same thing.

Yesterday my wife showed me the following statement on the Candlebark School technology page:

It is important for us to remain in control of our own lives. But at the same time it’s good to look forwards, to investigate new technologies, to evaluate whether they will enhance our society. Teaching technology is not just about teaching the use of computers. It is also about microwaves, vacuum cleaners, bicycles, gameboys, chainsaws, telephones and cars.

But it is also about values.

We want students who leave here at the end of their secondary education to be able to ride bicycles and motorbikes, maintain and service bicycles and cars, use a vacuum cleaner effectively, shop for, prepare, cook, serve, and clear up after quite sophisticated meals, use a computer to do research on the internet or word processing or play games, maintain and operate chainsaws and lawnmowers, burn a DVD or download music from the net, use a sewing machine and a washing machine, use pumps and whipper snippers…

Students should be comfortable and confident with technology, but able to tell the difference, in terms of values and moral worth, between an automatic climate-control device for propagating seedlings, and a battery powered tooth flosser.

To me, this sums up an elegant, sensible and complete approach to technology in education, and it has given me much food for thought. As we move more and more to knowledge-based work, it is vital that we do not forget the many layers of technology that allow us to engage in worldwide, lightening-quick electronic communication and information manipulation. I think it is vital for students to be hands on, in terms of making, taking apart and tinkering with all sorts of technological hardware. As noted by Gever Tulley and his Tinkering School this kind of activity (and especially the “dangerous” stuff) has many educational benefits, such as improved confidence, common sense and risk assessment.

Next I need to start thinking how I can can turn my evolving vision into classroom practice.