The tools I’ve been using in my classroom have been mostly static for several years now. While this might seem like an eternity in internet time, we’ve been successful with our model.

Blogs, wikis, google docs and open internet service as cornerstones. Many others on the periphery such as audacity, igoogle, flickr, youtube and delicious. While my teaching has changed in this time (and I hope improved) using these tools, the tools themselves haven’t. I’ve learned to use them in new ways, digging deeper with my students, watching for patterns of use and learning how to help them to use these tools to see new issues.

While not resistant to using new things, I’ve been careful to not chase after every new online service or website that has emerged. I’ve thought of this as the “shiny object syndrome.”

This year however I am hoping to add a few tools to my cornerstones. I plan on working with both diigo and the online community I’ve set up using buddypress at Hive Thinking. I think that these tools will add capabilities that we currently don’t have in the classroom.

And this has got me thinking. Does using new tools allow for new learning? Are there new tools that change the landscape of information that is available? Are there tools that are so significant that they allow students to learn things in new ways that would not have access to without them?

A few different examples. Open internet service allows students access to information they simply could not have with out it. But does access to this information equal new learning? I would argue that it doesn’t. Simply having access does not guarantee anything. It is the same trouble that schools get in to when they go to 1:1 laptop programs. They believe that putting laptops into classrooms will improve test scores and lead to deeper learning and then are disappointed, blaming the laptops when things fail to change. In the same vein, blogging will not develop your classroom into a community and giving students access to Skype will not connect them with the globe.

new teaching tools

They need models to guide them, a curriculum that makes use of the tools and an assessment program that honours the learning they have accomplished.

These things being said, I believe that the capabilities of our tools add dimensions to our pedagogy. We need to choose our tools carefully to ensure we have a full battery of abilities to share with our students.

More examples.

Email might be the most basic one. If our students have an email address and we allow them to access it during the school day and show them how to make contact with others to gain new information, their learning can be changed. They have access to people and information they do not have without it. Diigo can function the same way. Using diigo, students can highlight online text and leave their thoughts and notes behind for others. This concept of marking up and sharing online text is a new literacy skill that has only emerged from this tool and others like it.

If the literacies, skills and information we can access depends on the tools we use, does this make tools that much more important? Are our students missing out on possible learnings if they are not using certain tools?

While many edtech companies would like for you to believe that, I don’t.

First of all, most tools (if not all) are redundant; there are multiple services out there that allow for the same capabilities. For example, many video sharing sites allow users to embed their content. Free blogging and wiki sites abound. Image editing sites like picnik can be used in place of aviary or even free offline equivalents like gimp.

Second of all, the tools simply cannot come first. We cannot choose tools and then find ways to use them. We must consider the skills and abilities that we want our students to have and then choose the paths to help them get there. Our students do not need to know everything. They do not need to know how to do everything either. However, they do need to know how to access knowledge and skills when they need them. It’s the whole “teach a man how to fish” thing once again. Making choices about vital skills and knowledge is well… vital. We need to ensure our students have skills that will stand the test of time, that will be transferrable between pieces of software and that will help them to deepen their knowledge.

Ability to share resources they have found? Important. How to get there? Not as important. They might blog. Post on a wiki. Save to delicious. Share on a diigo network. Post on twitter.

Share their thoughts with a global audience? Important. Write a blog post. Make a video. Record a podcast.

What is not important is the individual software dependent skill. Click here. Then do this. Then that. Etc.

New tools are important. New tools give us access to information we wouldn’t have without them. New tools give our students the ability to share, to network and learn in ways they wouldn’t have without them. Choose your classroom cornerstones carefully. Expand on them. But don’t get caught up by the SOS (shiny object syndrome).

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