Learning with and through technologies

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How can technologies connect with what makes us uniquely human?

How can technologies connect with what makes us uniquely human?


With the introduction of the Australian Curriculum Technologies Learning Area, many primary teachers have been concerned about their knowledge of Digital Technologies.

To create an overview of the Digital Technologies subject I worked with an excellent group of young animators at Awesome Fighter Animation and a number of teachers and leaders to create the following animation which is flagged to be included in the AC Leaders Resource.  After viewing consider what you think the essence of Digital Technologies might be?



While some media reports suggest that the Digital Technologies subject is about coding, it is really important that we see this subject more holistically and never lose sight of what connects technologies to us, and those behaviours that make us uniquely human.

Dr Ruben Puentedura suggests that teachers can get the richest results when they consider which technologies connect with what makes us profoundly human. If we look to the past we can consider technologies under these five important categories Social, Mobility, Visualisation, Storytelling and Gaming.



Social – the picture depicts a skeleton discovered by Richard Leakey in Ethiopia. It shows the first skull found that had truly modern features and corresponds to a time when Robin Dunbar, a researcher into human cognition, suggests that language took off.  We had complex societies – and what makes complex societies and language work? Puentedura suggests –GOSSIP!  He even goes so far as to say if you have a Learner Management System in which you can’t gossip, no one will use it.  Interesting!  Technologies must connect to our need to be social, to interact, share and learn from one another.


Mobility – while we have always been a very mobile species, Puentedura invokes the Toba catastrophe theory to explain how the major migration of human populations from Africa occurred 60,000–70,000 years ago, consistent with dating of the Toba volcanic eruption around 66,000–76,000 years ago which created a volcanic winter for about 10 years.  When humans moved they needed new technologies to survive in new landscapes.  The picture depicts a harpoon point, needed to catch deep-water fish.  When considering mobility we need to consider the ways mobile and cloud technology allow students to learn anytime anywhere, challenging the traditional spatial and temporal boundaries typically constructed through the institution of “school”.

Visualisation – about 40,000 years ago we see evidence of truly modern behaviour in our ancestors i.e clothing, artwork, refined tools and the early “pathfinders” the beginnings of maps.  In other words there is evidence of turning the abstract into the concrete.  The image depicts the Venus of Hohle Fels, the oldest example of Upper Palaeolithic art which attempts to figuratively depict an impression of feminine beauty.  Technologies must support students to visualise ideas, concepts and processes to make them concrete and how for example, to take an idea and make it into a three dimensional object.  Now that 3D printing is a reality, how can students be encouraged to conceptualise, design and construct concrete representations of their ideas?

Storytelling – About 17,000 years ago there is evidence of oral storytelling being made concrete through depiction.  This continues the thread of visualisation and abstraction.  The image depicts the cave paintings of Lascaux in France which tell an ancient story of a hero and his ultimate demise.  When teaching and learning with technologies it is important to take these threads of visualisation, that make the abstract concrete, and to build new narratives and metanarratives around them.  The act of storytelling helps students to achieve a deep understanding of what they are learning, both through learning with and through stories as well as creating their own stories to explain and explore the “what if?”, “what happens next?”, ”what do we do when..?” .

Gaming – About 8,000 years ago there is evidence of gaming depicted here by Astrogali or knucklebone dice.  The gaming process allows us to take the narrative to a point that involves us, that allows us to enact what would happen if we did this or this?  Gamifying a classroom takes the pleasure of mild social competition and applies this to learning. With regard to technologies, it is not necessarily about integrating electronic games into learning (although there are strong arguments for this) but is more about investigating what is so appealing about these games for children and young people.  A situation where they will problem solve for hours in order to get to the next level.  Where they approach learning with a growth mindset that says it is okay to fail many times in order to get to the next level.  Where they assess their progress against commonly agreed levels of mastery.  If students could approach their learning with this kind of courage, what kind of outcomes could they achieve?

Connecting technologies to what makes us uniquely human makes up the “edtech quintet” and is one way of considering the ways we are using technologies to not just engage but as embedded parts of learning that enables collaboration, anywhere-anytime learning, abstraction, narrative and growth mindsets.

edtech quintet

How are you using technologies?

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