Tooling with Language for Digital Learning

Part 1: from noun to verb

July should be my month “off” to reboot and practice the self-care that invigorates us for the upcoming school year. Instead, I’ve spent it recovering from knee surgery and taking two summer classes towards my M.Ed in Learning Design and Technology. I’m mid-way through a course exploring the user experience of educational software. With every online class, I find myself increasingly frustrated with the term “tech tool” or some derivative that relegates applications and programs to supplemental status.

I’m on a personal mission to expand the vernacular so the connotation of ed tech terms are not something to be added to our lessons, but ubiquitous components of present and future learning design.

My shoulders sometimes cringe when I hear a teacher ask “What kind of tech tool do we have to [insert action by a student here]?”

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Tools are things that we use to accomplish something, be it a task or creation of a product. We have been taught to add strategies and activities to our “tool belts” and “toolboxes”. I’ve poked a few notches in mine over the years, but words carry weight. As an English as a Second Language teacher, I think about tiers, polysemy, and etymology as a means of rapidly equipping my students with listening and reading comprehension…tools. There, I said it. I get it, but it’s not enough anymore.

As educators in today’s learning environments, we are indeed craftsmen and craftswomen, ideally increasing our skill set with every workshop, edcamp, conference and Twitter chat. No argument there. But let’s expand this tool terminology from the noun form to the active verb:

“to drive a vehicle,” 1812, probably from tool (n.) as if “to manage skillfully.” — Online Etymology Dictionary

When I think of tech tooling in this way, I envision a crew boarding different vehicles, boats. This has so many implications for the way we think (and talk) about digital teaching and learning. If we are tooling the educational technology available to us, and crafting its use skillfully, we are poised to really take our students somewhere, depending on our readiness and willingness to dip a toe in the water.

Let’s think of a typical school faculty out on a large man-made lake. Some educators might like to be in a kayak. Very much in control with one’s own paddle, and practically in the water. There are likely to be folks on a jet ski, making waves and turbulence for our calm kayakers.

Among us, we might find colleagues ready and willing to tackle different classes of rapids, looking to see if the lake feeds into a river offering some more adventure. They’re ready for more!

We probably have some small teams who prefer sharing a canoe or jon boat, taking turns doing the heavy work or deciding when to row in tandem.

An entire PLC or department may be on a speedboat, the wind whipping their hair into a frenzy. And most definitely, we will find among us, those that are comfortable just being along for the ride. Perhaps one or two just want to see someone else doing it before trying a hand at the steering wheel.

Our schools have people ready to tool in some form. We have all been prepared through some teacher preparation program, so we have skills and knowledge to drive our “vehicles” with varying degrees of experience and expertise. It’s up to all of us as a fleet to make sure we’re actually headed somewhere worthwhile.

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