by Dan Ryder

Value Added. That was the first lesson I learned about technology integration.  To what extent does Technology X bring value, meaning, and/or purpose to the learning experience?   (This was followed quickly by how to make a PowerPoint slide featuring a cartoon duck smashing a computer.)  

I came of classroom educator age in the late 90s, when dial-up was just spreading across the landscape, when school library computer labs were the norm, and where most kids had grown up with video games, cable television, and compact discs.   At 22 and fresh out of a pre-service teacher program, I was hardly much different from my students in terms of my interests and experiences.  I spent too much time trying to beat Final Fantasy VII and GTA III, watched professional wrestling every Monday night, and went to concert after concert after concert.  

It was about this time file sharing services landed. Napster, Bearshare, and their kin evolved the concept of on-demand culture — started with the home entertainment rental industry  — faster than digital citizenship and educational technology pedagogies could catch up.

The distance has only grown.

Broadband and video streaming further widened the chasm between what students could access and what educators were prepared to use for learning.  Mobile technology and one-to-one computing brought exponential acceleration and the realm of possibilities have nearly overtaken our capacity for imagination.  What can a teacher dream up that a student cannot make?  Holodecks and food replicators aside, not much.    

Still, technology’s potential worth in the classroom is measured largely by a teacher’s ability to leverage tech in the service of deeper learning,  authentic understanding, and meaning making.  We have to know where we want students to go and why we want them to go there, before we start the when and how game of tech integration.  How many students have made the mindless slidedeck — burdened with transitions, gross with neon lettering, littered with watermarked stock photos?  How many students have used the same four video templates, using the same four music cues, featuring the same four font styles?  I’m guilty of these transgressions — and far worse — against purpose-driven education.

Exhibit A:  the piles and piles of literary annotations I insisted my students type rather than journal/sketch/doodle/audio record/video document.  

Exhibit B: The private blog service upon which I insisted students post their writing and homework assignments, without the remote chance of there ever being an audience beyond me for their work.   

Exhibit C: I advocated for all teachers in our high school to have interactive whiteboards — tethered front-of-the-room technology in an otherwise wireless environment.


And over the past six years or so, I got better.  I got more intentional.  My tech choices became more deliberate and less shiny-object-of-the-day.  There was a time where I might’ve  introduced four or five new tech tools to my students in the space of a month —  it was new, it was neat, we should use it.   

It took time and reflection to wrest myself free of the web-based app overgrowth into which I led my students.  Unfortunately, it took even longer for me to loose them as well — they trusted me to get them into that mess and it took convincing to let them know things were going to better if they followed me out.  

We simplified.  

We rarefied.  

Most importantly, we purpose-fied.

Design Thinking Matters

It’s no small coincidence that my maturation with tech integration occurred about the same time I embraced design thinking as my preferred pedagogical lens.  Rather than focusing on project-based learning and inquiry-driven learning as discrete units of study or summative assessment models, I realized design thinking provides an empathy-fueled, human centered mental framework for problem solving that can be applied to any teaching method or curricular model.  Through it all, the goal is to better understand others, their needs, their problems, and potential solutions to those problems.  Tech for tech’s sake doesn’t play well when purpose is at the center — and at the same time, uncovering the myriad ways in which technology might better help us solve those problems?  That is most certainly worth the time it takes.

It comes back to adding value, a variable determined only by applying a technology’s potential to an educational purpose and then aligning those two factors to an educator’s — as well as a student’s —  way of being.

Formative assessment tools such as QuickKey, provide teachers and students a means of acquiring rapid feedback on essential, foundational knowledge.  In turn, QuickKey opens up time and energy for those more authentic, deeper learning experiences. I’m also intrigued by the possibilities of QuickKey to assess, or better yet construct, deeper, more open ended knowledge as well.

Time is the 21st century’s most precious commodity. When educational technology is most  worth the time it takes, it not only functions well and helps students in the moment, it opens space for further exploration and understanding.  How fantastic we live in an era of teaching and learning where we can witness that bending of physics in the service of understanding before our very eyes?

About the Author

Dan Ryder is a 20 year veteran English teacher at Mt Blue High School in Farmington, Maine and Education Director of the new Success and Innovation Center at Mt. Blue.  He’s the co-author of the new book, Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom with Amy Burvall, from EdTechTeam Press.  He can be found throughout social media at @wickeddecent and on his website,

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