Technology usage and overlap

[cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

We can imagine a continuum of frequency of technology usage that looks something like this (click on image for larger version):


People use digital technologies at various levels at both home and work. We can arbitrarily categorize the frequency of their technology usage as a range of very low to very high. Of course individuals may fall into one category at home and another at their workplace.

We can imagine a second continuum of technology usage overlap that looks something like this:


In other words, the digital technologies that people use at work will overlap to various degrees with those used at home. Some folks will have little to no overlap, using one set of tools at home and another at work, while others will utilize similar software and hardware in both locations.

[There’s at least a third possible continuum: type of technology usage. However, I’m not smart enough to figure out how to incorporate into this post how people use their digital technologies so I’ll leave that for someone else. There probably are other dimensions of this as well. Maybe we’ll hear from the tech integration folks!]

We can conceptualize different individuals or job classes by using these two continua. For example, we probably would be safe in guessing that someone working in the information technology industry is likely to use technology a lot both at work and at home. That IT professional also may have substantial crossover between home and work in terms of tool usage. In contrast, a secretary might have a technology-intensive work life, using a computer nearly every minute of every day, but have a less-intensive technology experience at home. Finally, a fast food worker may not use technology much at work or at home, the latter perhaps because of income challenges. Lest I offend anyone, let me note that these are just generalizations to illustrate the use of the two continua; we all can think of many exceptions to these examples.


If we use these continua to think about K-12 schools, then I believe the issue probably looks something like this:


Speaking generally, the people in charge of implementing technology initiatives likely are high users at both home and work, with a fair amount of overlap in terms of the tools that they use. Teachers and administrators, on the other hand, probably are not using technology near as often. Also, they likely have relatively little crossover between the specialized technology systems they use at work (e.g., student information systems, electronic gradebooks, PowerPoint, parent portal software, and “clickers” for formative assessment) and what they use at home (e.g., digital photo management, games). What overlap does exist is probably mostly in the arenas of e-mail, word processing, and browsing the Internet. Finally, as we know, students’ personal lives usually are much more technology-rich at home than at school. They use many more tools, most of which are not allowed during the school day.

It would be interesting to discuss these continua with a school staff, ask educators to draw their own diagrams, and then compile the results in some way. For example, if we assign the numbers 1 (very low) through 5 (very high) to the first continuum and 1 (no overlap) through 4 (high overlap) to the second, we can think of individuals as numeric triads (home-work-overlap). Using the examples above, an IT professional thus would be 5–5–4, a secretary 3–4–3, and a fast food worker 1–1–0. A media specialist might be 4–4–3, a principal 1–1–1, and a student 5–1–1. Once the triads were determined, they could be analyzed for purposes of sparking discussion.

I’m not strongly invested in these continua. There probably are better ways to think about these two dimensions and, if so, I’d love to hear them. But I do think it’s helpful to try and diagram issues in a way that makes sense to people. If we believe that moving schools forward on the technology front is desirable, we have to help educators create mental models that are easily understandable and useful.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

7 Responses to “Technology usage and overlap”

  1. I love this approach to visualizing a typical kind of survey question. Two dimensions (size and overlap) for each domain (home and work). I have a usability test scheduled for Saturday, and I may adapt my survey to have participants just draw a picture using the description above.

  2. This is an important concept. I’ve not considered the balance issue but my belief/approach has been to encourage the home and personal use even beyond the school use.

    Those teachers who immediately move to “how can I use this in schools?” often hit a brick wall because it’s not internalized. Certainly some superficial uses of technology can be done but deep, embedded use takes time and it’s a much easier sell when it’s a personal use.

  3. The dichotomy between workplace and home is interesting. In terms of 21st century skills, I’ve always thought more in terms of the workplace side…. it was about preparing students for the workplace. But if I expand my view to be more about preparing students to be productive 21st century citizens, then the scope expands into the realm of home use. This would then create an interest in the nature of the overlap between the workplace and home. If it doesn’t matter too much where the tech skills originate from, i.e. home or work, then schools could approach student tech literacy with more freedom in teaching to technologies that might have more immediate relevance to the students (the home uses of technology) as opposed to teaching to workplace technologies.

  4. I was eagerly scrolling down the page to see what we see about students’ differing uses of technology at home and in school.

    My own experience with middle school science students is that the types of technology they are most familiar with (cell phones, IMing, video games, iPods) are not in sync with what they use in school (word processing, blogs, podcasts).

    To some degree, I have tried to span this gap by training them in the “school tech,” as well as trying to make us of the technology with which they are familiar.

    I find myself in different places on different days about in the conversation about preparing them for the 21st century workplace. I am not sure they we can predict well what technology needs are going to be in 10 years (which is good thing). I do think, however, that we can be more reasonably sure about what makes for engaging learning. Anyplace we can close this gap and make their everyday tech tools part of the normal learning environment, we have made learning relevant in a powerful way.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for the insightful comments. Dean, I agree with you. It drives me nuts when I hear folks try to separate ‘home use’ from ‘work use.’ If we want people to truly use this stuff at school, we should be doing everything we can to have them use it at home so they can understand in their gut what it can do.

    Example: I was told I couldn’t spend my university technology money on an iPod or a GPS unit because they were considered ‘personal’ rather than ‘professional’ technologies. Ugh.

  6. Scott,

    Great examples. I purchased a GPS 4 years ago. Played with it for about 6 months. Since then I’ve introduced dozens of classes to it, we’ve purchased 3 sets of them for school use. Never would have happened had I not had a chance to play. Also introduced my Dad to it and he keeps me update on geocaching.

  7. Exactly. We should be fostering people’s ability to play with tech. It WILL spill over into the classroom!

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