“What can I build with this chisel?”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – we keep wanting to do things backwards.

Only today another one of the staff for whom I provide educational design support said: “How can I use this Second Life thingy in my online course? Or that new Google thing?” My face fell and a sense of deja vu swept through me yet again. In the last six months I have been asked this question, with slight variations, perhaps 30 times, i.e. “how can I use [insert your favourite educational technology/social software application here] in my courses?” 

There has to be a way to reverse this epidemic of looking for problems to solve with the formidable range of educational tools we have in our arsenal. Unfortunately, I suspect it will be through a long, painstaking process of convincing each practitioner individually.

At least I got through to the person today (I think …) but it took a simplistic parable to do it. I posed them a hypothetical :

Me: What if you decided to build a bookshelf, had drawn up a plan and had bought the materials. Now, standing in your workshop, what is the next thing you’re going to do?
Them:  “… Umm, get out the tools I need?”
Me: Very good, And then?
Them:  “… Use the tools to build the shelf, of course!”
Me: Exactly. So, how would you react if someone came to you with a chisel and said “What can I build with this?”
Them: (Long silence) ” … ahhhhhh … r i  g   h    t …”
Me: (sotto voce) Very good, grasshopper …

It’s not rocket science. If you are working with an educational designer/technologist, please, please, please don’t bring us the tools and ask what we can build with them. Just tell us what it is that you want to build, and we’ll help you choose, understand and use the best tools for the job.

You mightn’t need that chisel after all.

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4 responses to ““What can I build with this chisel?”

  1. My district contacted me the other day. It seems they have contracted with Schoolwires to provide CMS services.
    They want to show teachers how to make web pages with it.
    This is a very expensive chisel. I protest, but they reckon the money is spent. So I’m learning Schoolwires to present in a week.

  2. Pingback: Invention: the Mother of Learning? | willisays

  3. Gah. This syndrome is the bane of my existence too, in the world of eSupport. Seems we spend too much time building new, shiny and expensive chisels that we can’t get anyone to use.

    Trying to change that, one brick wall at a time. 🙂

  4. Your post brought a smile to my face. My company IS a learning solutions company that routinely designs solutions for an array of corporate clients. It would be very odd NOT to have customers coming to us with the proposed tool already in hand when they request that we build something.

    This isn’t unique to Web 2.0 technologies, though. It’s been going on as long as I’ve been in the business…which is a long time. Whatever technology is hot, is the technology folks are sure they need to be using.

    It is the learning designer’s job to help the client marry up the right solution and the right building tools. When I entered the learning industry, video was the hot rage. Suddenly, everything that was done as instructor-led could be done better on video. We simply keep swapping out technologies – but the behavior never really changes.

    I look at it this way – part of what I bring to the table in expertise in tools and solutions. Customers trust that we’ll help them figure out both.

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