Using power tools wisely

Dave recently related to Kathy Sierra's insights into the dark side of Web 2.0 tools. In spite of how useful they are, these tools can take on a life of their own -- overpowering the capable user. This gives me an opportunity to reveal more about "epistemic frames" in the process of learning. Feel free to make your own connections to the IPO craze, merger mania, military madness or excesses of any other kind.

When a tool is new to us, we are powerless in relationship to it. If you've recently attended several family gatherings like I have, you've seen lots of evidence of this. People who have not heard of blogging would be intimidated by the software and sites we use everyday. Those of use who are computer savvy get called upon to diagnose problems with "that PC" in the guest bedroom". I've recently started exploring Moodle and Sloodle. I'm also using the epistemic frame of a noob (newbie, neophyte, beginner). This phase gives us a hunger for power, efficacy and control because we are deprived of those experiences at first.

We change epistemic frames once we are capable and somewhat competent with a new tool. We flip flop to the opposite extreme: from acting powerless to overpowering. We become the kid with the hammer in hand where everything looks like the head of a nail. We get into the same trouble as Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Our new solution dictates which problems we solve. We assume we have found the "one right answer". We cannot stop because the power we get from using the tool competently -- is intoxicating. It appears the tool relieves our anxiety and builds our confidence. We depend on it relentlessly and desperately.

Any over-zealous effort eventually hits a wall. Bubbles of infatuation get burst. Conceits get humbled. Over-confidence gets shattered. We regain our perspective. We see the tool as something we might use, but we are now wary of getting used by it. We question the value, effects and costs of the tool, having experienced all that to an extreme. We find our center in between powerlessness and grandiosity. Our power becomes self-contained. It's not about the tool anymore.

After all this, we get back to the mission. If we were designing an immersive experience, we use the tool in the design. If we were creating a support system for informal learning, we see how the tool can enhance the learning. If we are forecasting a change in strategy, we see how the tool plays into the bigger picture. This final epistemic frame is the most effective. The tool gets put to wise use and the results get produced.

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