ELTM9: Causes for Encouragement & a Clarification

In two previous posts it was noted that what is marketed as Educational Technology is not necessarily useful. Some technology is marketed before either it or the system is ready and some products are just not of much use anyway.

To say, though, that technology has no place in classrooms is to completely misunderstand the term, perhaps limiting it to something simple and mysterious as, “that computer over there.” It’s a shame, really, because technology transcends the electronic gadgets that have become so ubiquitous today. Some examples:

  • Writing on paper, using devices such as charcoal, pens or pencils.
  • Displaying information for many to see, using devices such as chaulk/whiteboards and overhead transparencies and, of course, interactive whiteboards.
  • Encouraging flexible learning environments through the use of furniture that can be used in individual or group settings.

See—it’s not just about running software on desktop personal computers. The whole idea of technology in the classroom is much broader than many people realize.

All warnings aside, then, the number of types of useful technology that exist is nothing short of astounding. The image below shows just a snippet. Have a peek and see how many you can identify.

Some examples of useful Educational Technologies.

Notice, on second look, the images can be classified into three types (and, yes, many of the images belong in more than one of the classes).

  • Devices: For example, PC’s, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs), simulation dummies, laboratory interfaces, graphing calculators & computer algebra systems, computer numerical control (CNC) machines and classroom PA’s.
  • Ideas: For example, office applications such as word processors & spreadsheets, audio and video creation, simulations, graphical and numerical analysis, games and online testing.
  • Paradigms: For example, presenting ideas through multimedia, gaming, digital design and fabrication, interfacing and exploration of concepts through simulation.

Education technology, then, exists in many forms. But there’s more to it than just that; much more.

How often do we toss words around, just assuming that others will instinctively glean the same meaning and intent as we do? Too bad that’s often not the case. Words may have one meaning for one individual and another for someone else. Sometimes this can be funny—but in a way that is somewhat irritating. Examples might include the casual use of these words, especially when you are trying to be a bit serious: control, confidence, power, recent, sensitivity and significant. Think about it for a second—each one of these words has two different meanings and picking the wrong one can totally wreck the message you might be trying to send!

So, too, with “technology.” It is a word that is at once familiar, yet also somewhat vague in that it can have no less than three separate, related, but still distinct interpretations

So what is technology? Most people offhandedly associate the word with Personal Computers. Not too long ago (at least it seems that way—it was in fact almost two decades ago) I was involved in a mathematics project in which the phrase “the use of technology” was spread all through the associated curriculum documentation. The authors were trying to be a bit inclusive and therefore combined scientific calculators, graphing calculators and personal computers into one phrase. I therefore chuckled quite a lot when my friend Alex explained to me one day that “Art Technology” was not just the use of things like Photoshop software for retouching photos, as many are led to believe. It also included the use of such things as brushes, paints, charcoals, papers, canvas, and photographic equipment of all kinds and so on. The thought of me having to explain that technology in mathematics education also truly includes the use of paper and pencil as well as chaulk on a board (and, yes, it really does; why not!) to some young whippersnappers still makes me smile.

But I digress.

When you think about it, it’s very limiting to just associate “technology” with PCs. After all, not so long ago, Internal Combustion Engines and Hydraulic Systems were considered the epitome of technology! Before that, devices based on steam were the kings. Before that, wind and animal power ruled. Before even that the use of tools made of iron, bronze, bone and stone was the thing. Al of it, in its time was technology!

And notice the phrase, “the use of,” instead of just naming the tool. Already we see a diversion here in meaning: is it objects (tools) or is it the associate practice?

So there’s even more to consider. We also know but don’t consciously realize that the term technology extends far beyond the physical artifacts to include both the ideas they represent and the body of practice that deals with their production and use. So what will we do: pick one or two or try to come up with something that includes all three components?

Fortunately we don’t have to reach too far to find a suitable definition for the word “technology” as it is used in the educational sense. The Association for Educational and Communications technology (AECT) has done the work for us:

“Educational technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.”
–AECT definition (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008)

Notice how this concise definition includes the what (study/practice creation/use process/equipment) and the why (better achievement).

Too often the focus is only on the equipment itself. That’s fair enough when you realize that physical objects are easy to understand and procure—assuming you secure the budgets—and have the added benefit of easily leading to quantifiable defenses of improvements that can be made. Unfortunately, though, mere access to equipment—assuming it is useful—is no guarantee of any meaningful change for the better.

Next: We will explore that a bit later on. Let’s move now to see the view from inside the silo.


6 thoughts on “ELTM9: Causes for Encouragement & a Clarification

  1. Interesting Maurice. Thanks God for the wheel eh! Saw an article yesterday whereby some young entrepreneur had invented a lawn-roller like machine made of plastic, to aid women in Africa move water from source to home. It could transport double the water they could carry and also ease the stress on the human frame. What it didn’t say was how the women and girls would manage this roller on hills, going up or down, and what stress would be caused on backs and the rest of the frame, when moving the water this way. Cheers.

  2. Mary

    This series on carefully evaluating and considering technology goes together very well with your previous series on Distance Education – Together they would make a very good book and / or ebook for up and coming education students and educators. The newest trend in library education is the “Learning Commons” which many have seen as turning the library into a computer lab but actually other models such as having a mobile lag and moving furniture together to create ‘pods’ also work – so I think you are right – testing, evaluation and creative use of technology is key.
    Also to refer to a previous post – incorporating intergenerational methods – combining old school lecturing and even Socratic inquiry with new ‘gizmos’. Older and younger educators learning best practices from discussing and observing each other.Am enjoying these thoughtful reflections drawn from a life’s career in teaching.

    1. Thank-you. It’s a bit depressing that, after so many years of hard work, so many of the loudest voices out there want to make it about themselves or their products. It’s almost a case of the systematic hijacking of a public process by an entity that just wants to use it for its own ends. Sad, when you realize that what we really have is the product of dedication and hard work by teachers, parents and, of course, students.

  3. Guilty as charged! This is an artful dissection of the semantic implications of the term. I should know better … shouldn’t I? Also … maybe it’s just me … but does the AECT definition commit the error of using the word it’s trying to define in the definition itself? If so … then the word is still without a useful definition. Finally … and excuse me if I’ve exceeded the bounds of good blogging decorum … I very much approve the choice of a new theme but you absolutely gotta level that horizon or I’m gonna go nuts. (OCD) D

    1. Dave, you are right on both counts! It hadn’t occurred to me and now, after you’ve pointed it out that definition is no longer f much use! Back to the board–a little more thinking is needed.
      As for the image, you are right (and not OCD). That one is annoying. As you noticed a few changes are afoot and I’m still trying to get a theme that works.

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