Sunday, March 20, 2011

Six Ways Education Technology Must be More than Just Computers

Quickly, define technology. Do we know what technology is?

Is it computers? Or is it instant, wireless, world-wide communication? Or is it . . . you know, technology?

Well, we think we know it when we see it. But the use of the word technology has not always meant what it seems to today. The Roman Empire conquered their known world due largely to their superior technology. The Allies won the war with the help of their advanced technology. Yet there were no microchips involved.

When we struggle with definitions, we can always turn to Webster's Dictionary. It says technology is "the practice of any or all of the applied sciences that have practical value and/or industrial use."

This broad and vague definition is creating issues in my home state of Iowa as the state looks at how to fund technology in our public schools. A special revenue fund can be used to purchase a single unit of equipment or technology provided the cost is above a certain threshold. Opponents of technology for schools say that technology is equipment--count each device separately as a stand-alone unit. But others argue that a device cannot stand alone in this day and age; a unit of technology is an entire instructional concept with the computers, their connections, network, software, security, etc.

When desktop computers came to the forefront of office work, they increased efficiency and productivity with their word processing and calculating power. They initially operated independently. Now computers are connected around the world. Web 1.0 provided information and interesting sites to view. But Web 2.0 allows for on-line interaction globally. Internet applications and uses continue to explode.

Unfortunately, we are living in a time where some people are clinging to the notion that this technology stuff is a fad like citizen band radios or video arcades--eventually people will tire of it and move on. The detractors also argue that schools have been purchasing computers since the 1980's without making a significant difference in student achievement.

However, it is only now that technology has the power and interconnectedness to change from a sideline curriculum of keyboarding and computer basics to a new pedagogy of its own. Some of us are now trying to reform education using the power of modern technology to advance learning. These people recognize the following:

  1. Education technology is devices certainly, but it is no longer the devices alone. Each device is now just a link on an enormous chain.
  2. Technology is about networks--local, national, and global. And it is all the connective devices: the wires, the wireless, the hubs, the servers, the connections, the bandwidth--all the tools.
  3. Education technology is information access. It is the Library of Congress and the world, the good and the bad, at the fingertips of our students,
  4. Technology is connections and communications. It is not just finding sources. It is finding first-person interactions. It is also idea sharing and collaboration with people everywhere.
  5. Technology in education is information creation and higher order thinking skills, providing students the opportunity to find the information, break it down, then synthesize it into something of their own making.
  6. Finally, technology is human relationships. Some predicted that technology would isolate us and let our interpersonal skills atrophy. Instead, our students are touring the world, meeting other people, learning about other cultures, and learning about relationships.

Anyone who observed the recent regime change in Eqypt knows there was a fundamental difference in how the change took place as compared to any other time or place in human history. Communication technologies and social networking created the conduit for an entire nation to informally organize. It was not just about computers. It was about computers, connected with a world-wide network, joined with wireless communication, and these connections accepted and used by people everywhere. It is applied science with a practical value that will continue to change and evolve at a more rapid pace every year. Will schools keep up?

If you think technology is something more than just equipment, feel free to offer me a comment.

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