There’s No One App For That


Back in February I presented at the ECIS Technology Conference in Munich. My session was about how technology will NOT transform education. I thought I was pretty edgy to pick such a topic to share with a room full of ‘techies’ but was happy to see that many people were in agreement with me. My big idea?

Technology alone is not going to transform teaching.

Connected teachers who want to make school different by allowing students agency and freedom over their learning and are not afraid of using technology to flatten classroom walls and move their role to guiding student inquiries.  That is what is going to transform education. And that is what I think good technology integration looks like.

If you were to ask me what my top uses of technology in the classroom were, I would tell you:

  1. Observation. Exposure to events, images, information that would otherwise be out of reach for students. Abseiling into a volcano with a GoPro on your head, touring the Louvre, exploring London from the tops of buildings, seeing a murmuration – these are things technology allows our students access to.
  2. Collaboration. Inviting expert lecturers into my classroom.  From my favorite, Sal Khan, to a host of experts in their own field via YouTube, the internet and technology allows students to learn from so many different people. Why should I (with zero rythym or essence of cool) try and teach hiphop dance when YouTube can do an infinitly better job?
  3. Documentation of student learning. The ability for students to be able to explain their thinking via apps like Explain Everything or DoodleCastPro is invaluable for me as a teacher to ensure I can hear what each student has to say. In the same way, I find asking students to reflect on their learning by turning on the camera and making a video yields infinitely more information than asking them to write (especially when they are 6 years old).
  4. Creation by students. As teachers, if we ensure that our focus is on conceptual standards, HOW students demonstrate their understanding of those concepts should be up to them. Technology opens the door for students to become creators of videos, animations, stop-motion, puppet shows, podcasts, iBooks….the options are virtually endless.

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In my role as Learning Technology teacher, I see it as my responsibility to provide options for teachers that push them beyond asking, “Is there an app for xxxx?”.  I try and do that by helping to curate playlists of experiences, videos, and  instructional material based on the conceptual understandings of the unit. But I also try and listen to what the teachers are trying to learn from and about their students and then equip them with the tools to help make the learning visible.

What I have found is that we are most successful in elevating learning through technology when the learning itself is open-ended, grounded in conceptual understandings, and allowing for authentic inquiry from students. If we as teachers, spend our time planning in a way that really allows students to be true inquirers, the use of technology to achieve the outcomes desired by both the students and teachers, is almost intuitive. What it also requires is a re-thinking of the role of the teacher and the desire for the teacher to push learning further, higher, and deeper than before.

In terms of the SAMR model, I don’t think this means we discourage ‘teaching below the line’ or exclusively teach ‘above the line’.  I think it means we look for ways during the planning process to teach in a way that expects technology integration as an integral part of teaching and learning.

In my presentation, I talked about pencils and lightbulbs because I had read the following from The Tech Rabbi:

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Revolutionary inventions are not about the invention itself, but whats the invention gives use the ability to do. A truly revolutionary invention should in time become invisible. No longer is it viewed as something special, yet its effects are far reaching.

We don’t plan a unit around the fact that we have pencils.  Pencils are just one tool that the students can use to demonstrate or document their learning. We don’t need to “all hail the iPad”. We need to think about the iPad (or other device) in the same way we think about the lightbulb:

The lightbulb changed the way the world functioned. The world was no longer bound to productivity during daylight, or the length of time it takes your oil lamp to burn up. It was about what you would be able to do because now there was a constant and stable source of light.

What can we do now that we have devices in our classrooms? The Tech Rabbi believes in invisible technology.  And I do too. To me, tech integration means transforming teaching and learning beyond what was previously possible in a way that empowers students and allows them to express themselves and direct their own learning. And there’s definitely no one app for that.


7 Replies to “There’s No One App For That”

  1. Hi Sonya,

    I was going to surf for other articles to comment on, as I didn’t want to pick something on page one just to avoid being lazy and really wanting to see what others are saying, but your title really caught my eye. I enjoyed reading your article, and I so resonate with your thoughts about using apps to make learning visible, ( I was so inspired by John Hattie’s Visible Learning approach) it being a tool, and means, and not the purpose of the education. I teach 4 and 5 year olds and I must say, using apps has greatly helped me in collecting assessment evidence and has enabled me to reflect on it and tailor my teaching to offer support for students who needed it, while providing me with some invaluable anecdotal records of their development through year, something I have used at conferences or SRTs. Thank you for affirming!

    All the best!


  2. Ah, I was trying to edit it, but my computer is so slow today it is killing me.. anyway, I wanted to say that check the vides from the 7th minute to a few more into the video, John specifically talks about your point:-) I found the whole talk quite inspiring and had shared it with my colleagues. Enjoy!

    I do believe that there has to be a shift in thinking, to remember that we as educators are the pioneers in showing how we use tech ourselves. Hopefully iPads aren’t replacing textbooks, that we are using tech to help us get to what matters.


    1. Thanks for the video! I will check it out. I love the visible thinking ideals. I think the more I read and research, the more convinced I am that in terms of documentation and creation, technology can change education BUT we have to change too! And not everyone loves change! Sometimes hard for this wanna-be ruckus maker 🙂

  3. Great post Sonya! I love the info-graphic you’ve included here. It is simple and clearly states the objectives of Tech Integration. This is really helpful as I begin to dive into planning my final COETAIL project. I also LOVE your note taking at the top. I prefer the “doodle” note taking method as well, but have yet to try in on a device. I’ve played around on the Paper App and will be investing in this stylist! I feel like a kid waiting for Santa to come and am counting down the days until I get to play with it all. What app do you use? Any helpful hints?

    1. I love Paper (the App and the actual paper). My colleague said that the Pencil (53) is good but the nibs wear pretty easily. I did this one on paper with a black fine sharpie. I love it. Old School 🙂 Having said that, with the addition of more iPads, we are looking into stylus for the kids to use to make the most of their visual notetaking. I had this link shared with me to all things doodling (amazing!) and am going to get samples of the stylus recommendations from here to see what works best for us. Check it out:

  4. Hi Sonya, I’m posting this comment on Annie’s behalf, as she can’t seem to post it:

    I loved your graphics, first of all. At first, I wasn’t sure where to start or go in your infographic, but eventually figured it out and believe that the meaning is very circular like the artwork.
    I agree with your statement, “Technology alone is not going to transform teaching.” It takes great teachers who are flexible, visionary and dedicated to a vision. I would love to be a part of an organization which is dedicated to innovation, change and flexible learning and teaching environments.

    I like your top uses of technology in the classroom and your graphic to support them. I love how they can be directly draw to and supported by the ISTE Standards: Creativity and Innovation, Research and Information Fluency, Communication and Collaboration, Critial Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making, Digital Citizenship, and Technology Operations and Concepts. This gives your unique viewpoint – Legs!

    Your definition of Observation fits into at least four of ISTE’s Standards: Research and Information Fluency, Technology Operation and Concepts, Digital Citizenship and Communication and Collaboration, more or less depending on how deep you get into your investigations.

    Collaboration was your next Top Tech Use. Even though there’s a standard for that, you cover so much more in this area of inviting experts into your classroom. When your students become the experts and share out, I’m sure that’s incredibly powerful as well!

    Technology is a great Umbrella of Tools for documenting student learning. As a support specialist, this is my greatest contribution, and I’m so excited about where we are and where we can go in terms of a student directed/driven collection of work. I think you cover every ISTE here!
    Creativity and Innovation allows for flexibility in demonstration. Again, depending on how you set your students up to Create, there are so many standards to support the success of any initiative!
    Thanks for sharing.

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