Technology and Learning Outcomes

This is not the blog post you think it’s going to be.

Walt Crawford has a great post up on his blog about the choices he makes about technology for his own use.  It’s a great post not just because his specific choices mirror mine in many ways, or because his decision tree about whether to adopt a new technology or upgrade an existing one largely mirrors mine as well, but because he so clearly explains that decision tree.  Walt doesn’t ask “what can this new tool do?” but rather, “what do I want to do, and which tools will help me do that in the most efficient way possible?”

But the reason I’m posting about this is because in the shower this morning (really) I realized that his decision process about technology is nearly identical to the decision process we use to determine the learning outcomes for a class, course, or program.  Instead of asking, “what do we need to cover?” we ask, “what should the students be able to do at the end of this session/course/program?”

So for example, instead of saying “hey, I need a smartphone!” I ask, “what do I need in a phone?”  When the answer is “the ability to call for help and be reached in an emergency,” the choice is clear: my $8/month cheapie phone from Virgin Mobile is perfect.  But when I say, “hey, I’ve got a toddler, and he does cute things, and I want to capture that on video,” I go out and discover that (relatively) inexpensive and (very) easy to use video cameras are available.1  So, purchasing a video camera is a logical response to what I want to do.

Likewise, instead of saying, “we need to cover reference books, the catalog, at least three databases, interlibrary loan, and explain about plagiarism in this session,” we ask, “what do students need to be able to do for this assignment?”2 And then we have them practice doing just that.

So I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but I thought I’d put it out here anyway.

  1. This can sometimes lead to a chain reaction, whereby I discover that my 5+ year old computer isn’t really capable of handling the files produced by that camera, so I have to consider upgrading a computer that has previously done just fine for me. And then I discover that the manufacturer is so caught up with its latest toy that they haven’t bothered to update the product line that I’m interested in….but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.
  2. Often, the answer to this question is, “find books, find articles, request stuff from ILL, use reference books, and not plagiarize” in which case the fallback position is: “we can’t do all that in an hour.” This is a problem.