The Unexamined Tool is Not Worth Using

I remember the sinking feeling (OK, panic) I felt the first time I saw the meta list of web apps. There are, according to their site, 2587 applications and services in their directory as of today. The page just scrolls on and on….

I know not every tool of value is listed there. VoiceThread is missing, so is FlikrStorm. And some of these tools just leave me scratching my head: Plol– the Pablic Library or Law (hmm, help with praking tickuts?) and Foamy which asks, “Do you owe someone a beer?”.

I am really curious about what drives the creativity behind these apps. Are people inventing tools to create a need or do these tools meet real needs that can’t be addressed any other way? And does this matter? Maybe the true creativity comes after the fact when people find uses for applications that the inventor hadn’t imagined.

Dan Meyer blogged about Animoto and Wordle, suggesting that beyond the cool factor, which shouldn’t be a factor, they have little value in education:

…for classroom purposes we need to stop judging these tools on the quality of their output rather on the rigor of their input and the interpretation of their output.

(Dan did recant his complete rejection of Wordle when a reader named Rich used it to calculate the mode of a set of numbers.)

To Dan’s criteria, I would add that using a tool should create a positive change–in the way a person (user or viewer) thinks, feels, or perceives. And the quality of change determines the value of that tool. In this context, change = learning.

Recently, Sue Waters presented a workshop on personal learning networks, and shared reader responses about their most important tools in creating and sustaining their networks. I said that RSS, Diigo, Nings like Classroom 2.0, and blogging conversations were my lifeline tools. She created the diagram here to show reader responses. Sue, Elaine Talbert, and other contributors may have convinced me of the value of Twitter, and I may take it up before the summer is over.

I am going to use Wordle with my Gr. 6 students: in math for demonstrating mode and the birthday paradox (suggested by Jason Dyer), and in language arts using this clever idea for puzzles from Winston Breen. And maybe, just maybe my students will find another purpose for the tool that no one has thought of yet. That would be cool.

6 thoughts on “The Unexamined Tool is Not Worth Using

  1. I think Wordle is fun and plan to use it with some of my grades too – I saw an interesting one using the Preamble to the Constitution and I like the idea of having them see which words appear more than they should in something they write as an intro to using the thesaurus.

    I’m hoping to use Animoto to have some of the grades create an ad for the school or something on Cyber Safety. They’ll have to include key points and know the material but this will be a fun way of showing what they know.

  2. Hi Vicky,
    Yes, I will do something similar with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I used Animoto as a way of showing parents what went on with a science unit on electricity–not earth shattering stuff, but it the results looked great, and the parents appreciated it.

  3. I’m the same as you Jan — when I see those really long list of tools it’s really hard to know where to start whereas it is a lot easier when people present a smaller selection to choose from.

    However saying that you should check out Alan Levine’s 50 Ways To Tell a Story because he has created a story using each different tool and you can see how they were used.

  4. Oops traveling so really tired and pressed the button before I finished writing what I wanted to say. Was going to mention that it is very important to keep an open mind when using these tools as it can take time to appreciate their value.

  5. G’day Jan,
    Glad you finally decided to join twitter and thanks for asking to follow me. I have only been blogging since January this year and my students since about March. We are having a great time and beginning 21st September we are running a blogging competition just for students.

  6. You’re welcome–
    I have some things to figure out, so I am still sort of lurking. I am not sure I can blog successfully with students because our computer time is so limited–will see where it goes!

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