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January 31, 2011 / mrespiers

Week 1 – Tool Academy

‘Men have become the tools of their tools.’ Henry David Thoreau

Hello world and hello to my fellow students on the MA in Education, Technology and Society,

This is my first real attempt at a blog and I would really appreciate comments and feedback on the content and the style/organisation.

After my first seminar I have been reflecting (rambling) about 3 key questions: What is Learning? What is Community? What is Identity?
I do not propose to answer these questions definitively but rather to organise my thoughts and possibly pose some more questions.

Learning is not simply the acquisition of knowledge and skills and there is an interdependent relationship between these three concepts. The shared values and beliefs of a given community can have a significant impact upon the learning and identiity of the individuals within it and vice versa. One of my fellow students described how much pressure there was to become an accountant or an engineer in the community that he grew up in and how this shaped what he had learned and to an extent his identity.

Obviously the relationship between learning, community and identity is not simplistic and will be explored in more detail as the course develops but one of the key themes from week one and from my subsequent reading has been the idea of learning as a complex process or activity or as Saljo (1997) puts it:

“…learning is the simultaneous transformation of social practices and of individuals. Just as new technologies and new intellectual tools transform social practices, so do they transform individuals who walk away with a new set of instruments by means of which they can relate to the world”

From language, writing and printing to calculators, computers and the internet tools are used to learn but are also imbued with learning (how were they made, adapted etc) They have transformed socal practices and individuals. Why do I need to be able to do mental maths if I carry a computer in my pocket? Why do I need to remember the date of the Battle of Hastings when I have Wikipedia? Or as the excellent Ian Gilbert puts it ‘Why do I need a teacher when i’ve got Google?’ (

I know from being in the classroom for 10 years that there are very good answers to these questions but a vital part of them is how do we learn how to use tools and how do we use tools to learn and in addition, from this weeks discussions, how tools represent learning as an activity and a non-linear process. I wonder how Minister for Education, Michael Gove would respond to this given this quote when Shadow Education Secretary and his recent moves toward a core curriculum:

“Most parents would rather their children had a traditional education, with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11, modern foreign languages. That’s the best training of the mind and that’s how children will be able to compete.”

I don’t pretend to know what year Gove thinks it is and I am not saying he is a Luddite but Henry David Thoreau’s quote above has come to be associated with ‘techno-fear’ (and ironically there is ‘facebook’ group of the same name acting as “a ‘support group’ for people who are amused, amazed and even alarmed at the ever increasing impact and influence of technology in our lives”). From my point of view one of the key things that I have reflected upon this week has been the idea that tools shape us and we shape tools and that one of my aims as an educator and a student is to discover ways to make our tools work for us and especially for our young learners so that they are able to get the best out of them and themselves.
(Please read this great blog post for a satirical view of how the tools are not really the issue

I hope you are still with me and I hope that my first post has not been too much of a rambling mess. I am learning how to use this new tool and part of my identity is here and other parts of it will develop as this MA and this blog does. I hope you, my new community, can help me to explore and apply these ideas over the coming weeks and months. In the interim have a think about how much your identities shape your communities and how your learning produces and is a product of both and let me know what you come up with.



Leave a Comment
  1. Prathap / Feb 8 2011 1:33 pm

    Interesting post, Eugene. I’m surprised by your Education Minister’s quote. Well, it is going to be quite a challenge to change people’s perspective and attitude towards modern educational needs. I cant help but wonder what the education minister back my home in India thinks.

    • mrespiers / Feb 8 2011 1:41 pm

      Thanks for being the first to comment Prathap and yes our minister is taking us backwards I fear. It would be interesting to find out about India as they have obviously been influenced by Britain over the years but have a great reputation for innovation and technological development now. Thanks

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