Why it’s important for educators to have an explicit philosophy regarding digital tools

Dennis Sparks

Yesterday’s post was about eliminating the kind of mindlessness that occurs when we multitask.

There is another kind of mindlessness, though, that is also worthy of elimination—doing things without knowing why we are doing them, especially when those things are time consuming and stress producing.

Effective teachers and administrators are intentional about paying attention and being purposeful in determining how they spend their time.

Here’s an example of such purposefulness offered by Cal Newport, who explains why it is important to have an explicit philosophy about when to adopt new digital tools.

Newport writes: “[I]n an age of personal technological revolution, we all need a more explicit philosophy for adopting tools. Without this clarity, we run the risk of drowning in a sea of distracting apps and shiny web sites.

My philosophy — to only adopt tools that solve a major pre-existing problem — has served me well.

“I use e-mail, for example, because the ability to communicate asynchronously with people around the world is quite important for my work. E-mail solves this problem.

“I don’t use Twitter, however, because the ability to have short, casual interactions with many people I don’t know well is not that important to my work….

“If you adopt this particular philosophy—which I recommend—you’re effectively raising the bar when it comes to what you tools you adopt.”

What is your philosophy for adopting digital tools?

6 Responses to “Why it’s important for educators to have an explicit philosophy regarding digital tools”


  1. 1 Mike Phillips September 20, 2013 at 6:48 am

    Does learning new technology habits need to be based only on addressing an existing problem?

    What about exploring? Being innovative and trying something new to improve previous practice. This instance of technology adoption might not be considered a “problem” but is worthwhile.

    The problem with only learning the use of new technology tools associated with a problem can be that many people will say, “What I’m currently doing is good enough”, and the status quo continues for eternity…

  2. 3 David Fife September 20, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Cal Newport does have a point in my opinion. There are just so many apps out there that do similar things it’s hard to wade through all the garbage. Especially concerning is the amount of education tools that add zero instructional value. This is where we need to mindful and have digital tools philosophy.

    However, Mike raises an excellent point as well. There certainly needs to be time to discover apps as potential innovative tools. In my experience it doesn’t take long to figure out if an app or web tool is going to be helpful to students, administrators or teachers.

    • 4 Dennis Sparks September 20, 2013 at 8:06 am

      I appreciate your comment, David. Here’s a distinction that I think is important: I think that it is possible to disagree with Cal Newport’s particular philosophy while agreeing that it is worthwhile to have a philosophy regarding the use of digital tools.

  3. 5 fmindlin September 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    While I agree with its underlying message, your Twitter example shows the flaw: “the ability to have short, casual interactions with many people I don’t know well” has NOTHING to do with how I and the educators I know use Twitter. The need Twitter fills is the ability to discover other educators with like interests and helpful perspectives, and to share LINKS [not Starbucks menu items] about those interests. So if one doesn’t understand the need a tool is actually able to fulfill, it will be erroneously rejected.

    • 6 Dennis Sparks September 20, 2013 at 1:41 pm

      Just to be clear, it is Newport’s example, not mine. But your point is well taken. My overarching concern is that educators use digital connections in purposeful ways. And one of those purposes can be to cast a wide net to determine what valuable connections and resources may be revealed.


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