As many of you may know, I am in the long, hard slog to get my dissertation written. For those of you who have done it, you know the particular challenge of: 1) learning to write in the research genre, 2) learning to write a dissertation, and 3) learning to translate research genre into dissertation genre into general public genre. It is hard!
When I started this process I was confident I had the writing skills to accomplish the task. How little I knew of what I was getting into. A friend, since graduated, lent me his copy of Joan Bolker’s, “Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis.” Reluctantly I finally picked it up and started leafing through it. Upon reading Bolker’s introductory comments to writing, I am struck by the similarities between learning to write a dissertation thesis, and learning to incorporate ICT into teaching practice.
First, Bolker starts by referring to writing as a tool, and as a process. I never get tired of the ways the term tool is used and misused in common vernacular. Bolker says, “You might ask, “Why focus on the writing of a dissertation when the major problem is doing the research?” Because to do research is to inquire, to dig one’s way into a problem, and writing is one the best tools available for such work.” I have to ask, how in the world would research even exist if it were not written into existence? Is that the proper sense of a tool? I mean, is there any other ‘tool’ you might choose to bring your research into existence. If writing is, in fact, a necessity of research, is it appropriate to describe it as a tool? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to refer to writing as an essential element in conducting research? Isn’t the very elemental quality of writing position it as inseparable from the research process?
I think of the attribution of the term ‘tool’ to ICT in education. When we acknowledge the role technology, including digital technology, plays in our human existence, we depend on our uses of technology for the very survival of our species. Yes, we might identify certain technological devices, or, in the case of digital technologies, certain software applications or online resources, as tools. In this sense, we would be discerning between different forms of technology, and identifying what device, application or resource is an appropriate fit for our purposes. For instance, I am thinking my way through this concept by writing a blog post about it. There is something about writing a blog post, to an imaginary reader, that helps crystallize my thinking and forces me to put my thoughts into words.
One of my biggest issues with the conceptualization of ICT as a tool is that it implies a simple instruction manual will provide the information needed to use any particular ICT tool. If that were true, we wouldn’t find software instruction manuals and programming bibles in free boxes by the sidewalk at the end the month. As anyone knows who provides educational technology instruction, demand for step by step instructions do not equal knowledge of using certain ICT devices, software applications, and online resources within the dynamic contextual conditions of educational institutions. What is needed is not step by step instructions, but a network of like-minded educators on a quest to learn how to use ICT in practice. For those who make the effort, the rewards are infinite, for those who need step by step instruction, the frustration is immediate.
Bolker goes on to describe writing as a process. I will have to write that topic up in the next blog post. What is the difference between thinking of writing as a tool, or as a process? What is the difference between thinking of ICT as a tool, or as a process?