The Saturation Point

I fondly remember the new NES my parents saved and saved and saved so I could play Duck Hunt and Super Mario Brothers.  I was so happy and content with the NES console, and then my neighbor got the new Sega-Genesis.  Alas, I continued playing my Duck Hunt and Super Mario Brothers, but then arrived Nintendo 64, and Play Station 1, then 2, then 3; Nintendo DS emerged, and Game Boy, and Nintendo Game Cube, Xbox 1, 2 and 3, the Wii, and now finally an incredible Project Natal from Xbox.  With every newly-released game system, I hoped my parents or a rich, long-lost relative would purchase the newest game system for me...but not so.  I forged on with my NES.  Granted, I broke down and bought a Wii last year, but I still have my original Nintendo NES console, and there's something to be said for my perseverance, 20 years later, that every once in a while, I still pick up my NES and play, with my wired controllers (!), trying to perfect level 9-4 on Super Mario Brothers.

Since the world is so flat today, many web-based programs are very easily accessible and usually free; students seem to have a new "toy" with which to play/explore/create/synthesize material nearly every day it seems.  I wonder: is there a saturation point?  Since students are not being limited by the expense factor, they have their choice of options to create projects and presentations for their teachers, themselves, their peers and the world!  But, is enough enough?  When Ifirst learned of Microsoft Photo Story 3, I was blown away by its flexibility, versatility, and potential to encourage higher-order thinking of my students.  Nearly immediately, I was excited by Audacity, and then Animoto, and Vimeo, and then Voicethread, and then Glogster, and then Google Docs, and then Moodle and Second Life, and then wikis, and then Wordle and Twitter and Yodio...the list goes on and on.  I was piloting different programs with different classes, and then finally, one student game me reason to pause, and reflect, when she asked, "But I feel like I haven't gotten a chance to be really good at Photo Story yet; can we do that instead of something new?"  

Wow, I thought.  How right she is!  I haven't even given my students the chance to become experts on one piece of summarizing technology before moving onto another...

I'm certainly not throwing my content baby out with the technology bathwater, which is good; I am keeping understanding content one of my primary goals, but I think I need to remind myself that 21st Century goals include collaboration and creativity, not becoming an expert in Glogster, for example.  Glogster (not to pick on poor Glogster) should be the forum and means by which my students are practicing, synthesizing, creating, and demonstrating understanding, but not necessarily the final goal.  

So have I reached the saturation point with my students and free, easily-accessed summarizing technology?  Should I blitz them with a wide range of options, and then let them choose their favorite or most effective?  Am I putting them at an advantage or a disadvantage by reaching the summarizing technology saturation point with them?  As a policy, should students become proficient at technology skills or specific summarizing technologies (like Animoto or Glogster) before moving on?  I suppose the former would allow more adaptability as options grow and the world changes, and the latter might get them stuck on being experts at the original NES system while the world is onto Xbox 360 Live.  

The answer must lie, then, I suppose, in teaching students content, creativity, and adaptable technology skills.  The saturation point of summarizing technology, then, would be a moot point, I suppose.


Sharon Elin said…
Interesting question about saturation points! I'm so glad your student asked you the question that gave you pause to think. It made me think, too. I've been wondering whether the bombardment of "cool apps" like glogster, animoto, etc. leads to the wrong mentality: are we offering students a toybox or a toolbox? Technology should be used as a tool to help students learn, not as a toy to entertain them. If both learning and entertaining can be merged without sacrificing the primary aim of teaching, that's ideal, but what I often see is teachers so excited about the glitz and wow that they forget to focus on the content of the lesson.

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