The idea of using the pencil as an analogy to talk about technology in the classroom is hardly a new one. But the analogy has resurfaced and spread in recent weeks, sparked in part by a reading of John T. Spencer's book Pencil Me In, which uses the pencil allegory to talk about technology integration, and by the virality of the Twitter hashtag #pencilchat.
Imagine (if you can) that we lived in a world without writing--and, of course, without pencils, pens and books. Then one day, somebody invents writing and the pencil, and people say, “Wow, this would be great for education. Let’s give these things to all the children and teach them to write.” So then somebody else says, “Hey, wait a minute. You can’t just do that. You can’t just give every child a pencil. You’d better start by doing some rigorous experiments on a small scale. So, we’ll put one pencil in a classroom and we’ll see what happens. If great things happen, we’ll put two pencils in a classroom, and if greater things happen, then we’ll put in more…” -- “New Theories for New Learnings.” School Psychology Review
The pencil metaphor works so well for ed-tech because it highlights the arguments and obstacles surrounding schools' adoption of computers, contrasting them with a very old piece of technology: the pencil.
Take the debates surrounding "acceptable use policies" and substitute the word "pencils" for the phrase "social networks." Weigh the concerns over whether or not there is actual research proving that technology (pencils) improve student achievement. Think about the fears over whether or not technology (pencils) will replace teachers. Consider the role of corporate influence on education, with the vast business behind the technology (pencil) market. Or think about the challenges of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and again, substitute cellphones or laptops that kids bring from home with pencils that, indeed, their parents are supplying them. Think about the divide between those with wooden pencils versus those with mechanical pencils.
The comparisons between pencils and computing devices can go on (and indeed thousands of comparisons were made with the #pencilchat hashtag on Twitter).