Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt is often cited with the popular phrase people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”  Similarly, the field of education is filled with fads, catch phrases, and resources that we just can’t do without!  As a classroom teacher I feel like I am always playing catch-up.  Just as all of our elementary school has Smartboards up and running it seems that they are already passe’ and obsolete.  What’s the next big thing?  And more importantly, does it matter?

I recently was a participant in the Learning 2.014 conference held at ICS Addis between September 18-20, 2014.  This conference was full of learning.  From new to me pedagogical approaches, teaching mindsets, apps, hardware/software combos – you name it.  The conference had a great vibe to it, with people really invested in sharing, collaborating, making connections, and wanting to become better at what they do in the classroom.  So at the end of it all what was my take away from the conference?

It’s not what I am using but how I am using it.  Let’s get back to Smartboards.  Just because there is a great notebook lesson that allows me to take attendance doesn’t mean I should.  What is the rationale behind it?  What is more valuable: young children checking a box on a big white screen or “signing” in writing their name using pen and paper?

I led an extended session on creating ePortfolios to showcase student growth.  So lets start with the end in mind.  What is my goal?  To showcase student growth digitally.  Ok.  How do I do it?  Using a set of apps, my phone, Mahara, etc – these are all tools, and they work for me.  It doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways of doing things.  There are multiple ePortfolio platforms, multiple apps that do the same thing, and multiple ways of transferring files digitally.

Whether tech related or not, my take away from Learning 2.014 Africa is that I need to constantly evaluate why I am doing what I am doing in my classroom.  What is my ultimate goal?  Are the iPads and the apps I am using helping me to further my teaching goals or are they just digital baby-sitters?  Should I read a book to my class or have it read to them using Bookflix?  At the end of the day, I need to be mindful that I am using the right tool for the job – making sure that the tools I use help me to accomplish my desired outcome.  After all, it would be silly of me to try drilling a quarter-inch hole using a hammer!