I just got home from a family wedding in Calgary, a city that I am vaguely familiar with when driving. I can usually find the airport and downtown with ease, and my wife knows how to get to a couple of shopping areas. But for this event, we needed to find locations buried in residential areas and in sections of the city I didn’t know existed. In short, we relied on GPS to get to where we needed to be.
Flash-back to 2004. GPS systems were mainly a military application and not widely available to the general population. That summer my wife and I loaded the mini-van with 3 kids, a bunch of luggage, and a small pile of maps for a 17 day road trip to Disneyland and southern California. We only got lost once. With the exception of that short period of time of aimless driving in San Diego, I always felt like I knew where I was, and where I was going because I had studied maps every night, paid attention to landmarks as I drove, and worked as a team with my wife as found our way around. We always had a plan on how to get where we were going, and it was (almost) always successful. We learned how to get around in unfamiliar territory!
Flash-forward to my weekend in Calgary, and the travel plan was simply to punch in addresses into the Navigation system and then do as I was told by the voice commands. I always got to the exact spot I needed to, but I never felt like I knew where I was. In fact I often felt lost as a certain amount of context was missing. If you ask, I can’t tell you how I got from the hotel to the Bride’s house to deliver the flowers. I can’t tell you how I got to the ceremony or to where the reception was held. If something had gone awry with the GPS system, I would have been screwed because I wasn’t prepared beyond relying on the Navigation System.
So here is the tradeoff; Right now, I give myself a 70% chance that I can drive to Disneyland from here without a GPS. I give myself a 10% chance I can get back to my nephews house in Calgary without one.
It makes me wonder if bringing new technologies and digital devices into the classroom is being done for solid pedagogical purposes. Is the use of technology with students really advancing learning, or are students just able to find information and other “stuff” quicker and easier like my ability to find a location in Calgary without much thinking? I believe the key to good learning is in making sure our student are thinking about the context of their learning, and in knowing how the tools being used are meant to help them. As I write this, it seems like a pretty basic idea, but I am not sure it always happens…