Commentary 1: Technology Second

In James O’Donnell’s The Virtual Library: An Idea Whose Time has Passed O’Donnell brings up the idea that the most powerful way to use computers is not to find problems that computers can solve, but rather to look for a problem that needs solving, and then search out a technology that can help solve that problem (1994). While O’Donnell was talking about the danger of assuming that we need to have access to every written word
ever, guarding against any technology blindness is a good idea. The potential of new technologies to automatically fix all of our problems, or create them, has continuously drawn human’s attention away from individuals and towards the technology itself. This potential is what makes technology so blinding as it is easy to picture everyone benefiting from the new technology.

When Plato prophesied that literacy would alter the way we think, communicate, and remember he was incredibly accurate in many respects (Postman, 1992). His prejudice to the new technology of writing blinded him to the power of it. If he, instead, had a student that suddenly lost his ability to speak, Plato might ask the question of how to allow this student to share stories and communicate with the rest of society. This question would possibly open up the potential of literacy to Plato. Focusing on the individual, not the technology gives the appropriate technology incredible power.

Similar thinking is occurring in many schools today. Technology is brought into
classrooms without much thought on whom it is going to benefit, or how it is going to be used. Smartboards are present in most classrooms in Alberta and, depending on whom you ask, the potential of these Smartboards are not being met. While many administrators and parents are excited about the potential of this technology, many teachers and students use these boards as either expensive projectors, or distracting screensavers. This is not saying that Smartboards are bad, but rather they have not been matched to the correct group of students in many cases.

The closets of schools are often full of dusty old gadgets and software that was a
sure thing to help the next generation of struggling readers. Perhaps Read Write Gold is a good example of the next technology on this track. Because Read Write Gold is an incredibly powerful software program that helps struggling readers improve their literacy skills it has become an automatic resource for educators with struggling readers. Joy Zabala (2001) stresses the importance of considering the appropriate assistive technology last. When working with a student with some type of disability it is imperative that the student be considered first: who are they and what are their needs? Once the student has
been considered the environment needs to be looked at: where is this student when they haven these needs? Next thing to consider is what task is being considered: what does the student need to do that requires the use of the technology? After those three things are considered it is then appropriate to look at specific technologies. In the case of reading disabilities, the technology might often be Read Write Gold, but it might also be a pair of glasses.

The internet is a technology that has potentially blinded us. Virtually every bit
of information that exists can be accessed through the internet, making everyone a Jeopardy whiz. Web 2.0 has changed the way we communicate. Writing is more a conversation now than it ever has been. Yet, with all of the power that he internet provides most people, it remains an environment that is completely inaccessible to people with vision impairment or reading disabilities (Kreps and Adam, 2007). HTML is a revolutionary way for though and expression, (Bolter, 2001) and a powerful tool, but only for those that are able to use it.

Technology has grown immensely in its ability to make our life easier. There are more gadgets that make literacy available than can be easily counted. In order for
these gadgets to be truly effective they must not be obsessed over. Obsessing over people and their needs is the only way to unleash the true power of assistive technologies.


J. (2001).Writing Space: Computers,
Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print.
New York, NY: Routledge,

D., Adam, A. (2007). Failing the Disabled
Community: The Continuing Problem of Web Accessibility.
Hershey, PA: Idea Group Inc.

J. (1994) “The Virtual Library: An Idea Whose Time Has Passed.”
Retrieved from

N., (1992). Technology: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Random House
Inc. New York, NY

Zabala, J. (2005).
Ready, SETT, go! Getting started with the SETT framework. Closing the Gap, 23, (6).
Retrieved from

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