#rawthought: And Our Tools Shape Us

all images made by me in Paper by 53

One of my favourite lines from media theorist and muse of mine, Marshall McLuhan, is

“we become what we behold. We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us”

While he was undoubtedly talking about the involuntary submission to our technological “extensions”, I wonder what it might be to submit freely? Like falling into a wave and allowing one’s body to be carried hither and thither in the surf, what would it mean to give oneself over to a device or app, and let the tool dictate the path of our creativity?

The accepted rhetoric in education — and in particular the “ed-tech” world of conferences, keynotes, and workshops — seems to be

“it’s not about the technology — it’s about the learning”

While I don’t disagree with this approach altogether, I am wary of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Why?

Because I like to play

I feed off serendipity and chance…tinkering with something and exploring ways to maximize its potential. And I almost never like to use an app or any kind of tool in the conventional way. I want to squeeze out the latent whimsy…I want, like everything else –

things to stop taking themselves so seriously

So what if we flipped the pedagogy > tool scenario and used tools like artists did –

to inform creative choices?

to tinker with?

to hack into a different purpose?

What could students invent if they didn’t come with pre-conceived notions of what the app or device was supposed to do? A looooooong time ago, I wrote about“What Comes First- The Story or the Tool?”. I still think there is much benefit in noodling around…or even using the tool as a springboard. In my classroom, I had a giant poster called

“Apps for Creative Makery”

When a new app emerged on the scene (I remember this with Vine, in particular), I introduced it to my students in the first three minutes or so of class. Why not? New apps can change culture (especially creative culture), and potentially could play a significant role in students’ lives (like Snapchat, which seemed to replace all SMS texting). I encouraged students to propose educational uses for the app — how could it enhance the curriculum? When we discussed cinemagraphs and apps to create them a student suggested they would be perfect for our “Emotion as a Way of Knowing” unit in our Theory of Knowledge course. The challenge was to shoot video, “erase” parts to make it a still photograph, save for one segment which would accentuate a particular mood or emotion.

The poster was for students to act as curators (of course you can do this digitally with a wiki or Google doc, for example). They would list new apps or web tools / platforms and annotate them a bit. Moreover, they spotlighted intriguing people to follow on Instagram, Vine, YouTube, and other social media (even Reddit!). These creators were wonderful examples to emulate — particularly when we were doing projects like vlogs or stop-motion animation. The bigger picture of course is that students were co-creating the toolbox for learning in our course. When they were faced with a creative task they could access this peer-developed resource and choose their preferred tool.

I’ve mentioned before that I am convinced that the highest form of demonstrating learning is Remix.

So why not do a Hackstorm instead of brainstorm?

Use divergent thinking…fantimagine different ways of using a particular digital tool (or any tool for that matter)?

We need to ask questions like

what can I do with this that is different than what it is meant to be?

how is this tool diff than pre-existing tools — what makes it special and unique?

how can I force the topic / curriculum into the tool rather than vice versa?

So while it is honourable to privilege good teaching practices over (ephemeral) software and hardware, I encourage everyone to on occasion use the tool as the canvas rather than the paint — let it be a launching pad or spark of inspiration rather than an afterthought for mere facilitation.