“It’s not about the technology, it’s about the learning and the relationships,” is a statement that has become almost a refrain within conferences and conversations about educational technology. And, that was the message at a session on educational technology to support school twinning programs I was privileged to present at recently as part of the International School Twinning Network Conference with my friends Amihai Bannett, Aaron Ross and Tzvi Pittensky.
We spoke of Skype, Edmodo, Facebook, twitter, google docs, google plus, student created videos and wikis. We spoke of the challenges inherent in connecting over different time zones, in different languages, with different facility and access to technology tools, while utilizing different curricula. We spoke of synchronous and asynchronous means of connecting students and of varying approaches to creating collaboratively. We spoke of a range of differentiated approaches effective with lower, middle, and high school students. But most of all, we spoke of nurturing understanding and friendship across distances and in the face of language and cultural divides. We spoke of understanding.
In some ways, educational technology is like cooking. There are talented professional chefs and skilled avocational “foodies” who relish experimenting with flavor. I am unabashedly not among them. While cooking is not one of my favorite hobbies, I can follow a recipe, and can even deviate playfully to an extent, so long as I don’t stray too far from the instructions. Similarly, I am by no means a “techie”. Indeed, I was humbled to present at a conference with colleagues far more knowledgable about educational technology than I am; educators who I met via twitter and would not have known had it not been for the ease of developing community and relationships via technology. While not an expert, I can follow instructions on how to use educational technology tools, even deviating playfully to figure out applications relevant to the goals of a particular project with which I am engaged. Just as I use a telephone to speak to family and friends, emphasizing the emotion, connection, and substance of the dialogue and not the telephone itself, I can use newer technologies as means to connect, collaborate, and create.
School twinning programs are not new. When I was in high school, I corresponded with a pen pal from Greece. Our handwritten letters to one another took days to arrive. Yet, we connected and even met each other when my pen pal had the opportunity to visit the United States. Today, technology enables us to strengthen global connections beyond what we could have envisioned in the days of handwritten, stamped letters sent via the postal service. We weren’t able to conduct an international holiday celebration with two classes via Skype, send instantaneous written communications via e-mail, speak to one another without travel via google plus hangouts, participate in shared learning experiences in an on-line classroom via Edmodo, nurture relationships in a fluid ongoing manner via Facebook or twitter, or create together via google docs or wikis. Our technology can positively impact our learning and our relationships. It is important; it’s just not the essence.
Ultimately, our session about educational technology was not about educational technology at all. The tools we shared are easy enough to use, either playfully figuring them out or by following user friendly instructions freely shared and posted in writing and in videos. Instead of those “how to’s”, we strove to remind those with whom we were learning of the “why”. Technology helps us connect in synchronous and asynchronous ways, nurture relationships over time, and create together. Which tool we use depends primarily on our purpose and our personal preferences among numerous good options. There is no one “right” way of using educational technology in connecting students globally. The technology itself is easy. It’s the learning and the relationships that need nurturing.