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the right tool for the job


It’s been six years since I introduced the idea of Open Source Learning at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, CA.  At the time, I predicted thousand of educators around the world would create a movement through the adoption of open strategies that connected learners with resources in the spaces between institutions, generations, places, and sectors.  It hasn’t happened yet.  We’re still trying to find the right tool for the job:

“In the words of Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish philosopher whose work influenced prominent thinkers from Charles Dickens to Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.

It’s easy to mistake the use of the Internet in learning as a simple way to make the same ol’ same ol’ seem a little more entertaining. What we’re doing goes way beyond that. You now have the ability to use multiple media in ways that most effectively communicate your ideas and your sense of self.  As you select from a rapidly expanding online toolbox, keep in mind that every tool we use has a form, a function, a capacity to be interpreted (and sometimes hacked) by users, and even a “DNA” instilled by its creators that influences the way it’s perceived and adopted.

Technology doesn’t necessarily mean electronics. If you ask any serious writer, s/he will tell you that the action on a keyboard, the balance of a pen, or the texture of paper can make just as much difference as processing speed. And there are those times when nothing does the job like a simple, classic, well-made tool.  Here is a picture of me holding a 2 million year-old Acheulean Paleolithic bifacial hand axe— the longest used tool in human history.  It fit my hand perfectly, right down to the indentations for thumb and fingers, like it was custom-made for me– an especially rare experience for a lefty.

Apart from the perfect feel/form/function, there is something about an enduring classic that doesn’t hold true for the phone you buy today that will be non-state-of-the-art in a few months.  This is about more than craft, art, or even quality: this sort of attention to detail is the product of loving care.  It’s the difference between home-cooked and store-bought.  For real practitioners of anything worthwhile, tools aren’t just about techne, they are extensions of our humanity.  Ask anyone who plays their music on a turntable, develops their own photographs, or sends handwritten letters.”

the right tool for the job [Dr. Preston’s English Literature & Composition, 2013-14]


how we (love to) read

heart pages

Reading isn’t a thing apart from who we are or how we think.  You don’t read the same way I do.  I don’t read a menu the same way I read a novel or a love letter.

From a post I wrote for students struggling with analytical reading:

“It stands to reason that anyone who isn’t a professional reader (teacher/professor/editor/literary critic, e.g.) is an amateur.  One connotation of the word amateur is a person who doesn’t get paid for a particular talent.  In a culture that overwhelmingly–and often erroneously–associates value with money, an amateur is often considered less proficient than a professional who gets paid for doing the same thing.

But it’s the second connotation of amateur that makes something worth doing and life worth living.  The word comes from a French derivation of the Latin verb for “love.”  Amateurs love what they do.  In fact, amateurism is often defined as, “the philosophy that elevates things done without self-interest above things done for pay.”  In this sense, although I have been paid for teaching, consulting, researching, and writing about learning for nearly 25 years, I am a proud amateur.”

how we read [Dr. Preston’s English Language & Composition 2013-2014]