What does Educational Technology actually mean? A clearcut definition is illusive in many ways because, from a historical perspective, technological tools used to aid or enhance learning can be traced back to the first petroglyphs and the invention of papyrus. In addition to trying to decide what constitutes an edtech tool, there is the question of theory and practice. As I was reflecting this week on my experiences with edtech, I had to keep reminding myself that I entered the world of edtech fairly late in comparison with the rest of the western world. I grew up in Mali, West Afica and understandably, every innovation that emerged in North America or Europe took a bit longer to reach us in the developing world. Due to poor infrastructure, things like internet connectivity, and email were late to arrive at our house. When we would travel back to Canada, it often was a big adjustment as we had to catch up on 6 months to a year of technological innovations that had not yet appeared on the shores of Africa. Therefore, I’ve always looked at edtech through an access lens which tends to give me slightly different take at times.
Educational technology is defined by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology as “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.” This seems like a decent start for a definition and it certainly brings up some interesting questions. For example, it can be rather difficult to define what is ethical in a digital world that is very fluid and constantly changing. In other words, ethical practice can be interpreted differently by teachers taking into account the variance in their teaching circumstances. For example, some teachers would say that using social media in the classroom is a dangerous exercise in regards to student privacy issues. Others would argue that social media can be a very valuable tool in engaging students and promoting deeper level thinking and analytics as seen in the example here.
The second part of the definition states that we “create, use, and manage appropriate technological processes and resources.” It is again somewhat difficult to put into words what is an “appropriate” process or resource is exactly. I would say that there must be a student centred approach to any discussion on the use of edtech tools, processes, or theory development. This is why I love the teaching profession. The ability to exercise professional judgment in most cases means that educational technology processes and resources will and must be chosen according to the needs of the students. This is where, in recent years, I have seen some troubling trends in the edtech startup market. As more and more companies try to make a name for themselves in the edtech space, we as educators need to be a) making our voices heard in voicing the real needs for students when it comes to edtech, and b) making sure that any technology (from books or pencils to smart boards and ipads) used in the classroom is used for the purpose of enhancing learning for students. If edtech tools and/or processes can not prove to enhance student learning, they are not worth using. As seen in the recent case of ipads preloaded with a digital Pearson curriculum being rolled out in Los Angeles, being caught up in the edtech frenzy is a dangerous lesson in forgetting to put student needs first.
On the other hand, many of the tools used in classrooms over the years were both heralded and scoffed at in their time. When the printing press was invented, it was a great achievement for all learners but it had it’s naysayers. When television and radio began being used in schools, people thought we wouldn’t be able to keep kids away. More recently, educators have voiced concerns about students losing the ability to write and use language properly due to the constant use of texting. Educational technology has existed in one form or another for centuries. It encompasses many different facets, questions and nuances. As Greg Toppo states in this TedTalk, we need to ask ourselves, “what kind of place should school be and what should students do there?” We need to wonder about the intended uses of the tools or processes we’re using in the classroom. We need to evaluate and re-evaluate our practice to ensure that the technology we use is helping to make learning easier for kids. Ultimately, that is what I believe edtech is. From a pencil to a textbook to an iphone to Pearson’s Gradebook, these tools and processes are incorporated into classrooms for the purpose of enhancing learning or making learning easier! I believe that a simple and overarching definition like this allows for a myriad of historical and groundbreaking technological tools and processes paired with theory and practice. As long as we are keeping students at the centre of our practice, anything that makes learning easier could be considered edtech. What are are your thoughts on edtech? Is this definition too simplistic? Let me know your thoughts.