Thinking “why”, not “how”

In the years that I’ve tried to lead doing new or interesting things at school the same lesson always comes back to me – you can’t just “build it and they will come”.
What I mean is – you can’t just build a Moodle, or grant access to Google Apps, or start an Edmodo class, or give out a device without some established meaning or purpose. It’s the same with books and pencils – just giving them out only suggests that they’ll be used, but the way they could be used remains a mystery to the people that get them.
Until you add the purpose.
Hopefully the purpose will be sound, and sound in many ways. Pedagogically, relevant and engaging to kick off the list. These require thought. Planning. An understanding of students, settings and goals or outcomes like assessment or wider community engagement.
I saw a perfect example today as I sat in McDonalds enjoying a frozen Coke with my wife on a stinking hot day.

I feel a blog post coming on

We’ve all seen QR codes before. They were trumpeted as the next big thing in making information available to smartphone savvy people. “Just stick them out there and the kids will love them”. The trouble was, their success was dependent on a few variables – you needed a smartphone, you needed a QR scanning app, you needed an internet connection (or at the very least a local wireless server). But most importantly, you needed a reason beyond a clever parlour trick or gimmick. I’ve seen some clever uses (instruction sheets for gym classes, orienteering courses and daily notices) but the “completeness” of the McDonald’s implementation (regardless of how you view their junk food culture and advocacy of wasteful consumerism) is neat, purposeful and a case study in design.

It involves a dedicated app that allows you to order and buy stuff, information about their range, a built in QR code scanner to jump queues, hints at freebies and bonuses – couple that with a motivated audience with a need for fast service and you have the package – innovation, audience and purpose. It addresses that idea of an ubiquitous application of innovation, not just technology. The ever present, Swiss army knife of innovation, so to speak. Something that does many things and potentially becomes indispensable.

Obviously this is a high end example, backed by a multinational’s coin and a well groomed clientèle. But it certainly made me think about school and how we roll out innovation. We have a clientèle that could benefit from innovation in our teaching, but the gap we have to bridge first is the “why” rather than the “how”. We have the “how” nailed – tools abound for us to use. A meaningful “why” is a lot trickier.

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1 thought on “Thinking “why”, not “how””

  1. Brendan, Hi My name is Tanya Guillory, I am an education student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. I too have given thought to the why not how part of education dealing with technology and how they must come together. So far, I have not found your bridge but I am still looking. I really think you are on to something. I enjoy reading your blog. Thanks.


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