• May 28, 2022
 Op-Ed+Video: Transformational Technology

Op-Ed+Video: Transformational Technology

Take a look at the video above.   Pretty powerful stuff huh? I cringe whenever I hear someone say something derogatory about the use of technology in our schools.

“We buy anything with blinking lights.”
“Stop spending money on gizmos and doodads”
“If we just taught, then kids wouldn’t need all that fancy stuff.”

If I only had a nickel for every time I had heard something like that. (It usually comes from someone that either does not like technology, does not understand it, or is jealous that kids are getting better computers than they have.)

This video is about an autistic student names Dillan. It is, as Mashable said “…an important departure from the way many non-autistic people often think of autistic individuals, especially those who are nonverbal. People on the autism spectrum aren’t always given agency or control over their own narratives — their stories are often filtered through well-meaning family members and caregivers looking to spread awareness. But Dillan, like most 16-year-olds, is a teen with a lot of thoughts to express — and he can say them all. He just uses a tool to help.”

You probably went to school and knew a kid like Dillan.

When I was in elementary school during the 1970’s, all the “Dillans” were placed in a room together and never mingled with the rest of the student population. Their room was next to the Kindergarten class.

The “Dillans” were “special” and even ate lunch and got out of school at different times than the rest of the population. We have come a long way over the years, and now the “Dillans” are integrated into regular classrooms as a matter of course.

But how many children like Dillan have something to say and cannot simply because they do not have access to the technology tools that allow them to speak?

How many kids did I grow up who had no voice simply because there was no technology available?

Harlan Ellison has a story named “I Have No Mouth Yet I Must Scream.” I think that title probably expresses how many, if not most of all those “Dillans” lived back in the day and probably many today where there is no money to purchase tools like the iPad that Dillan uses in these videos.


Of course, these are slickly produced videos from the largest technology company in the world, but the point is, technology, whether it comes from Apple or Google or Microsoft has the ability to transform not only the education experience of our students but, frankly in many cases, entire lives.

We just have to use it to its full capability. Dillan is just an example student. Technology, I believe, can transform the learning of ALL students, no matter the capability, from those that need a little extra help to those that are self-motivated to learn.

Next time you hear someone complain about all the money being spent on the gizmos and gadgets and doodads that school districts purchase for students, show them Dillan’s story.

Then ask them why aren’t we spending more?


Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Tim Holt


Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

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  • Your problem is your “one-size-fits-all” mentality. Dillan is a special needs student and it’s great that a device can help him. I think thats amazing and wonderful. But not all students need that. Not all the adults need that. What about providing some time for them to play freely or to experiment or to explore their natural environment? That could help too. I know what your typical “talking point” response will be, “Aren’t you using a device right now?”. Yes Tim I am. But if I wasn’t I’d still find a way to make my point and to get things done if not by “old fashioned” methods. Honestly, I could take it or leave it. I still get up and walk to my thermostat to turn my heat up or down without asking some device to do it for me from the comfort of my couch! I use technology because, really, in todays world I have no other choice. But when I get the chance to turn off my phone and leave it untouched for a few hours…I do. I cherish those moments actually. Have you ever lived off the grid? For even a weekend? Nevermind…….I think I know the answer to that. Well you should try it sometime. Leave your RV behind. Leave your cell phone behind. Leave your iPad behind. Leave your laptop behind. Heck, leave your flashlight behind. Get a tent and a sleeping bag and find a place to….just be. Guess what will happen? At first, the silence will be deafening. Note how many times you’ll feel your cell phone vibe……and it’s not even there. Note what happens when you reach for your phone and it isn’t attached to your hip. The sense of panic that will overcome you until you realize that it is safely stowed away somewhere at home. That is an addiction. Our kids are addicted to their devices and it’s unhealthy. So, as I was saying, try it sometime. It’s quite cleansing. Once your brain adjusts you might actually hear a bird chirp. A REAL BIRD. Not a bird chirp ring tone. Or you might see a bug. A REAL BUG. Not a computer-generated picture of a bug that you can look at from 500 different angles but an actual bug that you can pick up and look at from a real perspective. Or you might hear a babbling brook. An actual babbling brook. Not a machine the play’s the sound of a babbling brook for you. Or how about this? You could actually stick your nose into the gaps of the bark of a ponderosa pine tree to smell the sweet vanilla scent that it emits. Have you ever done? It’s that amazing experience. An experience that a device can’t experience for you. I’ve seen hundreds of pictures of mountain tops on my computer. Not once have I been able to experience the thrill of getting up there myself with my computer. That’s a feeling that only the experience itself can provide.

    A few years ago, I was hiking to the top of Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe National Park (One of many peaks that I have toped. Many over 10,000 ft.). We had just started our hike when we heard what we thought was screaming. As it turns out, it was screaming. It was the cries of a special needs teenage boy who had been separated from his dad and his brother as they were also making the ascent to the peak. Somebody in our group offered the young man their cell phone (I guess as a distraction to use to play games or listen to music. Rolling eyes!) I recall his response albeit not a direct quote. His response was that he didn’t want a cell phone, he want his dad. We offered to have the young man hike with us knowing that we would either catch up with them or pass them on their way back down. This young man was a mountain goat. He out hiked almost everyone of us. Even as some of us needed to take a “breather” he would have none of it. He just wanted to kept moving towards the peak. We arrived at the peak around noon and as we had hoped his family was there having lunch. When we finished our lunch I decided to approach the young mans dad to ask him for his rationale for leaving his son on the trail. Turns out, his dad was a US army colonel. He explained to me that he teaches his children to be resilient, and to take care of themselves and how to respond to things that happen in life and in the outdoors. He stated that he knew his son would meet them at the peak because he had “pulled stuff” like this before and he had taught him how to be resourceful. Plus they had made the hike to the peak several times previously. I find it very interested that nobody in their group had a cell phone or GPS system or any of the other electronic devices. They survived a TOUGH hike without the assistance of pre-recorded music, without text messages or any other electronic device as a distraction. Even at a moment of stress, the device was rejected. The accomplishment was the distraction. The goal was the distraction. They simply were enjoying being there and taking in the view and the setting.

    I have no photographs from that day. What I do have is a panoramic view of Texas and New Mexico……in my brain. I can still see the big metal benchmark on the peak that marks Texas’ highest point because I saw it with my own eyes. As I scrambled up the last few feet of that peak I could actually feel the rocks with my hands, I could actually feel the soreness of my feet, I could actually feel the breeze on my face (along with the smell of stinky, sweaty bodies that sometimes came with that breeze) and that night I was able to sleep with a new found confidence and a sense of accomplishment. All senses that a device could never provide.

    Before you start to preach about how technology is the savior of our society please don’t. I’m not saying that technology has no place. I get it. I understand that technology has changed our lives, both in good ways and in bad ways. (Some would argue more bad than good but that’s a debate for another day). However, for some students, technology may not be the answer. For some students, the answer might just be a teacher that they know cares about them or who says “Good Morning” to them or maybe who just shares a pencil with them. For some students that may be all they NEED. At some point, should they maybe learn something about technology? Perhaps. But is that all? Is that the only means?

  • John,
    Thank you for reading my column. As I have always said, the proper tool for the proper time. In the example here of Dillan, I think what is being shown is how technology can give a voice to those that up until now have had no voice.

    Surely you cannot be against that. Special needs students through the years, and especially recently, have been given what is known as “assistive technology:” devices that give the immobile mobility, the voiceless voices, the deaf hearing, the sightless ways of seeing. These devices include wheelchairs mobility technology, cameras the can enlarge type, devices that can translate a teachers voice into braille…With the advent of devices like the iPad and the internet, students that society would have once given upon on have new life in school.

    Thank you again for your response.

  • I believe that anything that empowers students and gives them a voicenis a good thing. As a mother of a special needs student (autism level 3), I do not think we could get through the day without the use of technology such as the type in this article. Technology gives him the voice where he would nt have normally.
    Thank you for this discussion.

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