04 February 2014

It's not "High Tech," it's "Possibility Tech"

Dateline: Digital Learning Day, 2014

A few images came together for me this past weekend. One was a Twitter conversation via #ATchat - the hashtag for "assistive technology" in which a tweeter suggested that we always start with the "simple," not, "high tech" when looking to help students. And then the Super Bowl came on, which I only barely watched, but from which I caught a couple of commercials.

I had suggested on #ATchat that when we seek to support students with disabilities, or really any students, we look for "appropriate technology," which is the heart of my "Toolbelt Theory." "Appropriate technology," for anyone, might be a pencil for certain people doing certain tasks, or might be a mobile digital device (a tablet or a "smartphone") for most people doing a task. Whether one is perceived in school as "high tech" or "low tech" is a nonsensical question - the question must always be, "what's the best answer for this student for this task?"


I said on #ATchat that "It's not "assistive technology," it's "Possibility Technology." And then I said, "It's not "high tech," it's "Possibility Tech."

And then I realized, as Digital Learning Day approached, that we just need our schools to catch up with the world.

Who else would have a "Digital Day"? Who else would need a "Digital Day"?


The world is digital. Out of 245 million Americans over the age of 13, 147.9 million owned smart phones in September 2013, which might be more than could find a pencil in their homes for all I know. A year ago there were 1.5 billion smart phones in the world, one for every 5 humans. This technology isn't "high tech" anywhere but in school. Everywhere else it is "technology" - as normal at this moment in time as books and pens were 40 years ago. 70% of US homes had broadband internet access as of 2013 - again, its the norm. 78.9% of US homes had a computer and almost 95% of those were connected to the internet in 2012 according to the US Census Bureau.

This "digital age" has been embraced because it works for people. It works for businesses. It works for the young and the old. And it even works for those who have often been, in the Gutenberg Era, powerless.

We write on digital devices and we read on digital devices. We create on digital devices and we consume on digital devices. We use our digital devices to help us overcome our inabilities and our disabilities. We use them to connect to people, information, and resources globally, even if we can't get to much of the world from where we physically are. We use them to communicate in ways rich and deep and in ways shallow and silly - yes, much like books or film or television, much like human conversation. We use them all day and much of the night...

That is, everywhere but in our schools. Which begs the question - what century are we expecting our students to graduate in to?

On this Digital Learning Day perhaps the most important thing for us to do is to promise ourselves to do our best to bring our schools into the present. It's not "assistive technology." It's not "high tech." It's not even "1:1." Rather, it is 2014, and that stuff we're not using? It represents possibilities we are refusing to offer to our students.

- Ira Socol


Unknown said...

I don't really understand how the term appropriate technology is any better than Assistive technology? I see that one person's tech is another person's pencil but surely Assistive technology is an appropriate term - it assists those who need it.

Am I being dumb? @JulesDaulby

Unknown said...


When I taught the AT course in education at MSU I would ask my students, "what kinds of technologies do you use which aren't 'assistive'?" Because, "technology" as a word, suggests a tool which helps you to manipulate the world.


If you can't or don't want to walk to work, a car is "assistive technology." If you'd rather not make your own ink, chase your own duck and cut your own quill, a pen is "assistive technology." If you'd rather not get very cold, very beat up, feet - shoes are an "assistive technology."

When we separate out "assistive technologies" for one class of people we demean them by ignoring all the "assistive technologies" everyone else uses. Then we get extreme ignorance such as that displayed by Dr. Richard Allington last year http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-wilful-ignorance-of-richard.html.

So in this century, when we all use very complex technologies to assist all of us every hour of every day, why can't we simply say that different people make use of different technologies.

Then identity belongs to the person involved, and we can stop labeling from the outside.

- Ira

Unknown said...

Thanks for explanation.

As with many debates over labelling it can sometimes be useful. I do Assistive Technology Assessments for learners with SEN - I suppose I could change the term to Appropriate Technology Assessments but this software is definitely assisting them to be included in mainstream education.


Unknown said...


As someone who filled the same function for years, I am not saying its a personal mission to change your title or the name of your evals. But its a conversation all in education need to have. Our words have impact. http://blogs.slj.com/bowllansblog/2009/05/12/using-correct-language-and-people-first-by-ira-david-socol/ especially in SpEd identity.

- Ira