It's not always about the tech

Unfortunately, there will be no Edubuntu update tonight as promised in my last blog.  In addition to teaching math and computing (and, beginning this fall, physics!
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

Unfortunately, there will be no Edubuntu update tonight as promised in my last blog.  In addition to teaching math and computing (and, beginning this fall, physics!), and running all things IT at my high school, I'm also one of the drama club advisors.  I decided I wasn't actually busy enough, so putting on a drama production seemed like it might keep me out of trouble.  The real reason I'm telling you this, though, is that tomorrow is opening night for our spring production and rehearsal ran quite a bit longer than expected.  Let's just say that Act 3 was kind of like Windows ME.  Just bad all around and not really worth releasing.  So Edubuntu (and the resurrection of my home server, much to my family's chagrin) must wait.

However, as I worked the kids through their lines tonight and made last-minute changes to props, sets, and lighting, I realized that there are still a few areas where technology just isn't much use.  Eleven little digital natives with nothing to help them through opening night but each other and their battered paper scripts.  They can't Google their lines, they can't cut and paste, they can't even pipe their lines through their iPods.  They just have to learn them and, more importantly, learn how to work as a team.

Sure, we used some technology to bring this all together.  I burned a CD of sound effects using iTunes, and Office 2007 came to the rescue to put together the playbills.  The other advisor and I exchanged lots of information via email and one of my interns posted a website about the play.  But the acting?  No technology, no teleprompters, not even any microphones.  It was incredible to see these students dusting off the critical thinking skills that aren't exactly fostered in the Age of Google.  What does this play mean?  What sequence of events do we need to tell a story?  How can we improvise?  How can we cover for each other if we get stuck on a line?  How can we pull off a butchered scene?

Watching tonight, I was struck by the metaphor underlying this whole effort.  Not to get all patriotic or anything, but our greatest strength here in the States has always been our ability to create, innovate, and lead.  Every day, as the Internet and technology become more ubiquitous, it becomes all too easy to complacently regurgitate the information so readily available online, often without the ability to comprehend it, let alone to create new information.  If we as educators, though, can combine the sorts of real, provocative thought that my students were experiencing onstage with solid skills and tools to enhance productivity and improve collaboration, then we've finally achieved the real goals of educational technology.  Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V with a healthy dose of Google, Meebo, and MySpace will not create leaders capable of innovation in a global economy.  Maybe it takes something far more visceral like theater or music to strip away the technology and get us to the point of using the tech as the tool it was meant to be.  Who knows, maybe I'll post the play on YouTube.

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