Thinking about #edtech


flickr photo shared by CTJ Online under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

It’s time for another online grad class with Alec Couros, this time EC&I 833: Foundations of Educational Technology: History, Theory and Practice (check out the link for our blog hub to see what my classmates are writing). We have started off with some history and contemplating definitions. We have been challenged to consider how we define ed tech (educational technology) in contemporary times and how the history and philosophies around ed tech may have shaped that understanding.

I think at the basis of my understanding of ed tech is the idea that anything could be come ed tech if it is used for teaching and learning. We tend to consider computers ubiquitous for learning but that isn’t necessarily how they started. The same goes for blogs, cameras, tablets, the internet. So many things we use for education were not built solely for education but they can be used extremely well. The ingenuity of instructors and designers has meant that anything could become ed tech through application rather than original intent or labeling. Some things were developed for corporate applications, some for general use, some for entertainment. Minecraft, for example, was not originally created as ed tech but teachers have done amazing things with it! I would still consider them ed tech based on my definition but are they technically ed tech?


flickr photo shared by Reece Bennett under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

The other thing that is worth considering is whether marketing makes something ed tech. There are a whole lot of things that have been marketed as ed tech or marketed specifically to education as the next revolutionary item that will change education. Really?

2dAIC - Radio School - Classroom - By Air Service, United States Army photograph - Air Service, United States Army photograph, Gorrell's History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, Series J Training, Volume 8 Photographic Record of the 2d Aviation Instructional Center via http://www.fold3.com, Public Domain,
2dAIC – Radio School – Classroom – By Air Service, United States Army photograph – Air Service, United States Army photograph, Gorrell’s History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, Series J Training, Volume 8 Photographic Record of the 2d Aviation Instructional Center via http://www.fold3.com, Public Domain,

Our classrooms don’t really look like this. Radio was not a sweeping shift in education but it was marketed to educators or, more accurately, to their administrators. That is the reality of today’s ed tech. The marketing is not to the teachers, it is to institutions, organizations, governments. The hope is to get a big contract. Apple had a contract with Los Angeles school board for about two years… before that failed. Why? Because labeling a technology as being for education does not mean it will be used well or that it even fits with good pedagogy. If you are a behaviourist and believe that rewards for good behaviour and training can get students to behave the way you want (thank you so much Skinner for thinking machines can program children) then you might love gameification and analytics. You might be waiting for Duolingo to teach you how to speak another language. Khan Academy could have it all solved because all the information just needs to be downloaded into the learner.

That is the thing. There is always a philosophy, a bias, an ideology behind ed tech. The people who market technology to educators (or really anything – textbooks sure have a philosophical basis!) have their own idea of what will sell and that often includes having their own idea of what education really is or should be. If you are a constructivist, then having all knowledge predetermined and handed to you would feel meaningless until you reconstruct it. If you are a connectivist, then learning in a vacuum without some social component becomes a struggle because that is not what knowledge is to you. If someone instead tried to market a tool like Zoom that allows you to connect, to share, or Google Docs that lets you collaborate, like Slack that lets you communicate, then you might be far more excited.

One ring By Jorge Arimany - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
One ring By Jorge Arimany – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

There is no single version of education, no one theory or philosophy or approach to rule them all. We have no Sauron to control us all through the fancy ed tech that we adopt. There are some who try but they have varying degrees of success. Someone will always find a way to hack it, to adapt it, to use it. Innovation comes in the teaching and the use of the tools, not from the tools themselves. So to me, ed tech is defined by the uses technology is put to rather than the uses for which it was designed.

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