Wednesday, December 6, 2006


Is technology a tool or a mindtool used to enhance thinking in learning? Over a decade ago, Jonassen (1996) argued that computer applications that require students to think in meaningful ways and critically engage the mind could be considered “mindtools.” He recommended that educators provide students access to mindtools or a set of intellectual tools to facilitate critical thinking and construct knowledge. Those who believe in constructivist approaches to teaching and learning would agree that students learn from thinking in meaningful ways which could include the use of mindtools. What do connectivist (knowing and learning by making connections) theorists believe?

I would like to argue that today’s technologies provide opportunities to improve both constructivist and connectivist approaches to teaching and learning. Today’s students have access to numerous emerging technologies that seem to change on a daily basis including computer applications and various technological devices. Educators need to continue questioning whether the applications or devices are in fact mind tools that engage students in higher order thinking skills, construction of knowledge, or learning by making connections. Maybe we need to coin a term that combines both theories or perhaps we can still use the term "mindtool." (construct + connect = ?? mindtool)

When considering the use of emerging technologies, I believe we need to ask some critical questions:
Does the technology amplify learning?
Is the technology a cognitive tool that engages learners in deep thinking?
Does the technology stimulate learning by making connections?
What are indicators of a mindtool that supports constructivism and connectivism?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Youth Advisory Circles

I have frequented many blogs but never felt I had anything important enough to say to write my own. Today I decided it is time to begin sharing my thoughts with others! I had one of those serendipity moments that made me want to write and share some ideas. I attended a session the other day when Dr. Gray talked about youth advisory and encouraged technology leaders to take a moment to listen to the youth in our own circles.

We visited with my brother, sister-in-law and two teenage nieces over the weekend and thought this would be a perfect opportunity to take Dr. Gray’s advice. As soon as we entered the house I didn’t even have my shoes off and noticed by five year old son quickly made his way to the family room and sat next to one of my nieces and started to play a video game. My other niece was sitting at the computer that is strategically located in an open space in the family room. I decided to sit next to my niece to see what she was doing on the computer and to inquire about her use of technology.

She began by telling me that she was on MSN chat and conversing with friends online. I could see the message threads and noticed she was replying very quickly and opening and closing multiple windows. As she was answering my questions and explaining how the program works, she was simultaneously responding to questions posed by her friends, in addition to responding to conversations that she entered on behalf of her sister (who was still playing video games with my son). I was amazed at her ability to engage in multiple online conversations as well as her coherent responses to my multitude of questions. I was amazed at the number of people from her school that were online at the time – Saturday afternoon. As we were talking, windows were continuously popping up in the bottom right hand side of the screen showing who was going off line and who was online.

In one of her conversations, a friend asked if she could call her for a voice conversation. My niece proceeded to respond that in our culture it is not acceptable to talk on the phone when family is visiting and so she should not call at this time. I thought this was interesting! I guess it’s acceptable to have online conversations while family is visiting but not voice conversations. In talking to my brother about this, he indicated that the phone doesn’t ring anymore. Before getting high speed Internet they had to resort to using their cell phone as their home phone line was always busy. Now the phone doesn’t ring. My father and mother were also sitting at the dinner table during this conversation and reminded us how they had to get an additional phone line when we were teenagers to deal with our use or perhaps overuse of the phone line! I forgot about that!

So, back to my niece who has keyboarding skills that are unbelievable and is able to multi-task like a 21st Century learner should. Marc Prensky talks about digital immigrants and digital natives. She is definitely in Prensky’s category of digital native – it just comes naturally to her. When I last asked her what she would like to do after high school graduation, she says she is interested in being a teacher. We often have conversations about current teaching practices and how we both wish things would be different and dream of the possibilities. Let’s say in eight years she continues with this dream and enters her first classroom. I have to wonder….
…Will her university teacher advisor be open to possibilities?
…Will the teacher next door that takes her under her wing and provides mentorship during her first year teaching be open to possibilities?
…Will her school principal that walks into her classroom and sees non-traditional practices be open to possibilities?
…Will she be encouraged to soar by reflective leaders and reflective practitioners to provide incredible learning opportunities to her students?
My hope is that through work in the area of technology leadership, we develop leaders of the future that are flexible and open to the ideas, knowledge and enthusiasm of the digital natives that will be our teachers of tomorrow. I encourage you to take time to “sit with” or “sit next to” someone in your youth advisory circle and explore the possibilities!