The Invisible Refrigerator

During this morning’s discussion of technology in education at the first face to face session of Cohort 21 (what Garth refers to as season 3, episode 1) we discussed the idea that technology should be transparent, invisible, in the background supporting learning, rather than being the focus. Like a refrigerator – it does an important job, but we don’t focus on refrigerators when preparing dinner, we focus on the food. Since we don’t focus on the refrigerator, it is effectively invisible when cooking.

Digital technology, however, is not. While we really want it to be, we have to spend a fair bit of and energy getting the applications to do what we want, making sure the students know how to use them properly (and actually use them…), and adjusting our methods to fit the paradigm of the software. All of this prevents the software (educational and otherwise) from becoming invisible.

I spend a good deal of time checking out educational apps and software, hoping for new tools that can support my classroom without getting in the way. Most often I find parts of of each of them to be quite desirable, and then other parts that make it almost useless (think smartphone apps for marking MC quizzes, but don’t give any feedback to the students).

Evernote is one application that does an awful lot, and is very flexible for recording observations, note-taking, tracking progress, and really anything else you want to make note of. And it’s shareable. Google Apps is on it’s way, but not there yet (but if Evernote could save to Google Drive, now that would be something!). But I’m having trouble thinking of other software that might fit into this category.

Most Educational software requires us to deliver in a certain way, or assess in a certain way. What we really need in EdTech is more invisible refrigerators.


10 thoughts on “The Invisible Refrigerator

  1. Hi Ed,

    What a great post that makes the invisible refridgerator concept more complex. I think you’ve hit on a very important part of teaching in the 21st Century: that we are teaching ‘digital natives’ how to operate digital devices and apps in a certain way, and that requires uptake for both them and us.

    But I also think that your comments around Evernote and Google are interesting in that there is yet no silver bullet in EdTech. But also that the silver bullet for you, and even Bayview Glen, may be different for other schools. It’s about having a tooolkit and being able to switch and use the different tools to get what you need to drive student learning and success.

    Thanks for this thoughtful post,

  2. I agree with Justin, Ed – I think you’ve highlighted an important point. As much as we want technology in the classroom to be invisible, there’s no denying that many tools we use often require a serious amount of “training.” When I began a blogging project with my Grade 8 English class, for instance, I spent a great deal more time than I expected on troubleshooting to sort out technical difficulties.

    That being said, once we did sort out a few glitches, the project ran smoothly, and the blog was a powerful tool for collaboration, peer feedback, and “going public.” The outcome was much better than I had even hoped for.

    Is it worth spending some time focusing on the EdTech tool for a little while, if it can ultimately “modify” or even “redefine” the students’ learning experiences… at least until we find some EdTech tools that are more like the invisible refrigerator?

  3. Just thinking about some of the concerns raised by Allison here around the teaching of the tools (and ensuring that this doesn’t take away the focus from the learning): one strategy I’ve tried with my students is to “flip” that instruction. Even if the students do the watching of the tutorial videos in class, it’s actually been a HUGE time saver, because inevitably some students need more time to re-watch the videos to master the application / skill.

    It’s just a small idea, but might be helpful in making the refrigerator eventually invisible.

  4. Ed,
    Great analogy. I agree with Celeste that how-to videos can go a long way. To take it a step further, you could assign watching the how-to video as homework and give students the expectation of coming to class with the technology set up so that they can hit the ground running. But, I agree that it’d be great if we could have more invisible technology available!

    1. We use it, but don’t have it set up like Appleby on a central server. It is impressive, especially with tablets, but we had some issues in the past with all the writing sliding to the bottom of the page. I’ve been a little leery of jumping in with both feet ever since…

  5. This metaphor resonated with me as well and you bring up some very interesting thoughts – I found this to be a great read! We have to somehow balance a healthy stream of new and exciting technologies with the idea that students need the time and space to delve into these technologies if the tools can ever be in a place where they are “invisible”.

    In our Math Department we tried to address this by using the same mathematics learning software for grades 9-12 and developing a scope and sequence for the 4 year period the students are using it in all of their courses. The hope was to integrate it seamlessly into our program so it could be “invisible”. We had to make sure the software was accessible and powerful enough for all grades. This can’t work with every aspect of technology and can be limiting, but it’s one way to reduce time spent “finding where to click” and get straight to the investigating/learning.

  6. You’ve generated a lot of conversation Ed! Well done! That’s the goal is it not for in reflection is our learning cemented…

    I third the points of Celeste and Les – flipping is key to saving valuable class time. Have you read – You’re not a gadget? It speaks to our changing behaviours based on the technology we use – but it should be the other way around shouldn’t it. Perhaps that’s a good point of reference for the upcoming Hour of Code –, are you participating?

    Have you had more time to explore the benefits of Diigo and how you could incorporate it with your students?

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