Classroom of Distinction: Tools vs. Learning

Classroom of Distinction: Tools vs. Learning

Last Week, I was at the Intel Classroom of Distinction Interactive Forum. Technically this was a technology conference about the future of education, but I have learned much more about 21st century learning by listening to NECC, TIE, SXSW, and many others on my iPod.

I have been hearing from so many educators (Wesley Fryer, Steve Dembo, Paul Allison, David Warlick, and others) that all of the learning comes from the conversations, not the sessions. They are absolutely right. In the hallways we were talking about pedagogy and authentic learning with people who have a vision for education, but in the presentation rooms, we only discussed a well formatted agenda for specific (always proprietary) tools.

After going through all of the motions of this day, I have decided that gadget wonks are of no value to me. Although I see that they are disconnected from the classroom, that isn’t what bothers me. Many people who aren’t in the classroom have great ideas for the future of education. What bothers me is that they have can’t see the entire vision. They can’t see the affect of reflective practice, of piecing together the scattered collaborators into a movement.

The entire vision for School 2.0 is of desperate importance. It is the only way that the learning environment will change. Gadgets do not create change, people create change.

If I really believe that, I need to stop asking myself how I can get more gadgets into the classroom. What I really need to start asking is how I can get more people into the classroom, through collaboration.

I want to cram as many people into my classroom as possible. I want parents, students (both mine and others’), teachers, community members, and anyone else who has something of value to feel as though they are a part of my learning environment. They should not feel like a foreigner in my learning environment. But, how do we do this? How do we start to bring in all of the rich voices from the outside world without the dependence upon gadgets and proprietary methods? How do we stop teaching for tools themselves and start teaching for learning?

It may sound like I am making a semantic distinction, but I feel, especially after spending an entire day at an extended sales pitch, that our students will never transfer learning if they believe that they can only do it on one tool, or in one classroom. We need them to know that learning happens everywhere with every person they know in a key role. The only way that they will learn is if the people they are connected to learn with them.


  1. I think one of the best ways to get more people into our classrooms, as you’re wanting, is through videoconferencing. I have been making arrangements today for the first virtual field trip / videoconference in my home school district EVER, as far as I know. This will be a traditional H.323 videoconference with NASA– actually we are going to do five connections. It is a first step. I am so much more enthused about desktop videoconferencing with programs like Skype and iChat than traditional, room-based videoconferencing, however. The technical obstacles are there either way, but skype makes things much easier. I am wanting to help promote the cause of global collaborations in our classrooms in the next year– I think the conversations which ensue during those connections and afterwards are some of the best ways we can tangibly promote the school 2.0 agenda.

    As David Reynolds of Fablevision has said, we’re part of the 200 year project that is called “school reform.” That agenda is advanced one conversation at a time! Good thoughts on this, thanks for sharing. And keep the conversation going! 🙂

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