How Long does it Take to Become a Tool

Playing or Working the ToolSeveral years ago, I had a conversation with a tech director for a school district in Arkansas.  I do not remember who it was, or what school district — but I was impress by the fact that the district was providing e-mail accounts on their own server, unfiltered.  This was a time before blogs and Wikipedia, and I didn’t know of any districts that were allowing students to use e-mail, except for a handful of Gaggle and ePals clients.

She told me that initially, they had a good bit of abuse, but if students were caught using e-mail inappropriately, then they lost their accounts for a period of time, commensurate to the abuse.  She said that the second year there was less, and less still during the third year.  They were in their 5th year of student e-mail, at the point of this conversation, and she could not think of any abuses for that year, which was more than half over.

There will be abuses of blogging, wiki publishing, Twitter-type chatting, etc.  It’s to be expected of 12 year olds.  But I wonder how long it takes for a new classroom technology/tool to evolve from being a new toy to play to becoming another learning tool, another part of schooling, a technology or tool to be worked?

Seems like an interesting research question.

Image Citation:
Han, Churl. “Churl’s Photostream.” Old and New. 25 Mar 2007. 25 Sep 2007 <>.

18 thoughts on “How Long does it Take to Become a Tool”

  1. “I wonder how long it takes for a new classroom technology/tool to evolve from being a new toy to play to becoming another learning tool, another part of schooling, a technology or tool to be worked?”
    I believe that it becomes a tool when the students and the teachers have a stake in content editing, publishing and upkeep of a specific wiki or blog. The students and teachers need to recognize the power of these tools. If these tools are only used for informational purposes, learning in this way will come to a stand still.

    1. Woody, I like this description. A tool that you have a stake in, you are invested in, that helps you accomplish your goals, starts to be taken seriously.

      I like this.


  2. I actually am pretty invested in this topic – it is what I wrote my Grad School entrance essay on and is the purpose behind my blog. (In other words – I’ll try and keep it short 🙂 I believe items such as computers or overhead projectors become tools when they become transparent. When teachers don’t even think about using them anymore, they just exist as part of their teaching repertoire, they are the chalk and slate of the 21st century. How long does it take for something to become transparent? I don’t think you can assign a day or a time but I know a few things that can hurry it up:
    1) Constant access. If an item exists in a teacher’s room and they use it everyday they become more comfortable with it and will use it more often. They need to feel comfortable with the technology in order for it to be transparent
    2) Play time – they need the opportunity to try and use a tool, fail and keep trying. They also need a good person to help them out when it gets difficult and get past the problems so that they can see that its not a perfect system, but they can do it.

    Another way to look at it is to use Youtube as an example. How long did it take to permeate our culture? This timeline (using the supercool MIT SIMILE technology) illustrates how Youtube became, well Youtube.
    Looks like an exponential curve to me.

  3. I agree with the above statement by Bethany that they need play time. This is true for students too. I’m using a Moodle for blended learning for the first time this year (first time for students too) & was a bit concerned about the ‘social activity’ going on. Some kids were using their profile in a twitter-like way to microblog their mood opinions, etc. It later occurred to me that the kids doing this were also the ones who had done the most work on our collaborative glossary & had the highest scores on the online assignments. Why inhibit this sort of behavior i fit means they are online & working in the online classroom?

    1. I think you get my question, Richard. How do we bridge that time where students (and others) appear to be abusing the opportunity (or actually abusing it) for the sake of the benefits that will eventually settle around us?

    1. True enough! The difference, I think, is that we know the pen and paper. We have a sense of control in a pen and paper environment. We don’t understand something new like Twitter or online profiles. We don’t feel like we’re in control. And if we’re not in control, then the next step is being controlled.

  4. I agree with what has been said, but the fact remains that most schools are not over this hurdle. I think the difficulty with these tools lies in the overwhelming amount of junk on the internet. Paul makes a great point about teaching students how to use the tools, but sometimes the vastness of the internet makes it difficult for many teachers to overcome.

  5. Ok, I’m going to think out loud here — which usually gets me into trouble. Certainly much of what’s on the Net is junk. But is there really more junk out there. Perhaps the better question is, is it really that important? Is it the right problem? Is the junk something that we can really do anything about? Wasn’t there junk out there before the Internet.

    What’s changed is not the junk, but the walls that use to separate us from the junk — those walls are gone. What’s changed is the control.

    We can’t do anything about the junk or the walls. What we can do something about, what it’s our jobs to do something about is to make sure that our students are learning to tell the difference, to make decisions, to evaluate the information in order to determine its value. Its to make sure that the are literate in a walless information environment.

  6. I’ll answer the question titling your blog…

    My daughters were playing Dance, Dance Revolution in my home for six years before there was any sight of it at educational conferences or in edtech publications.

    As many of you know, I led professional development in the first two laptop schools 17+ years ago. Many of the recent 1:1 implementations I’ve seen lack the vision, courage, imagination and maturity of what my colleagues did in 1990. The fact that 1:1 and OLPC are controversial in 2007 demonstrates a lack of sophistication and growing conservatism in our culture. It’s also evidence of a lack of leadership within the educational technology community.

    1. Don’t forget about overhead projectors, which were used in bowling alleys for decades before they entered our classrooms.

      You are absolutely right about the vision thing, in comparing ed tech during the early days of computers. I visited the 1:1 program in Beaufort, South Carolina, one of the earliest in the U.S., and was amazed at how and how much those classrooms were transformed by empowering students to control content and process. Those classrooms were much more like workplaces than classrooms, because it was the kids who were working, not just watching their teachers work.

      Today, that classroom would look highly suspicious, not doing its job, not working toward those outcomes. It didn’t then, because then, we trusted our teachers.

  7. Paul Wilkinson has said almost verbatim what I have said on many occasions.

    The school in your post dealt with individual perpetrators, rather than putting a blanket ban on the whole thing. Very sensible. We live in such a results focused age that, if a thing isn’t an unmitigated success from the off, we regard it as a failure and introduce kneejerk, blanket measures to combat the areas in which the perceived failures occurred.

    Perhaps this is how terms such as “nanny state” come into existence…

  8. I have to confess that I had not heard the term “nanny state.” I looked it up on Google, and the 971,000 hits were just another indication of how “out of the mainstream” I am.

    But understanding the term now, it is so very fitting. We want so much assurance. We’re programmed for so much assurance. We have to guarantee so much assurance. There is some logic to it, but a society of assurance doesn’t really go any where. It’s walled in by its assurance.

  9. My immediate reaction was to reflect upon an elementary student’s new learning and use of quotation marks. Once they know they exist and can be used, they use them everywhere. They use them in the right places, the wrong places, simply everywhere. So it is with new technology tools. But, that is quite simply part of the learning. We don’t start taking in sentences (at least I didn’t) we utter semblances of what we understand to be words. We don’t start walking without faltering steps first.
    Perhaps the difference that separates the comfort level with technology tools from those experiences is experience. The big wide world of the Internet is not a comfortable experience for many educators. News of predators, identity theft, personal discomfort with not knowing how to accomplish a task on a computer provides a perfect atmosphere for distrust and a resulting over controlling response.
    So perhaps the question of how long will it take to a technology tool to move from toy to tool is dependent upon our understanding of the nature of learning and how well we understand the process our students will approach it. It depends on how well we can scaffold and facilitate our students’ successful attempts toward mastery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *