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From Technology to Learning - Time to Shift the Conversation

A few months ago, a nagging feeling started: maybe I've been doing this all wrong! More specifically, as 2016 came to a close, I began to wonder if we have been having the wrong conversation. No matter what happened, it felt like everything kept coming back to the technology -  whether it worked or didn't work; whether the students could use it or would be distracted; whether or not the teachers felt comfortable with the devices; and whether the parents understood the purpose of technology or saw new devices as high tech toys.

Admittedly, I started getting really weary of these conversations: devices distract students; devices might impair students' ability to develop social skills; devices cause kids to be addicted to screen time. And, frankly, that is where this journey began: the screen time debate.

I found it incredulous to blame my phone for my inability to focus on a conversation or my laptop for preventing me from completing an assignment in a reasonable amount of time. Technology consists of inanimate objects (at least for now), so why do they always take the blame for our - or our students' - behaviors? In The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education, authors Daniel Goleman and Peter Senge describe three essential skills for surviving in a society increasingly dominated by internet-enabled devices: focusing on ourselves, tuning in to others, and understanding the larger world. As I read that book, I kept coming back to that idea of screen time.  It dawned on me that instead of talking about technology we should shift the conversation to the social behaviors that we hope to foster in our students.

A similar revelation struck as I grappled with the promise and the peril of blended learning. On multiple occasions, I spoke with principals or educators about their use of technology to change classroom practice only to hear, "We're blended--all of our teachers use Google Classroom/Edmodo/Schoology/Canvas/Moodle (insert your favorite learning management system)." However, in each instance, as I dug deeper into what this may mean, I would discover that most teachers - though certainly not all - had merely digitized existing content and classroom procedures instead of leveraging the available tools to innovate their classroom practice.

So, I come back to this idea that maybe we have been doing things all wrong. Instead of having conversations about technology and devices and ways to "integrate" new tools into the curriculum, we should be discussing what we want student learning to look like. How do we want our students to interact with each other, with us, and with their broader community? What are the behaviors and skills that we hope to foster? Maybe 2017 should be the year that we stop talking about technology and start really talking about learning.

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