When considering educational technology, many of us immediately think of tings like personal computers. Or maybe the internet. Perhaps we even ponder the evolution of computing into personal devices, like tablets and smartphones. Do we discuss the complexity of technology in education, such as equity, digital citizenship, rethinking teacher roles, redesigning learning spaces, or of the actual technological tools?
While many of us may identify educational technology as a noun that represents tools and artifacts, we propose that, in addition to the tools, educational technology is also concerned with how they are effectively used to improve learning.
What was educational technology?
What was our first experience with educational technology? Was it an individual writing instrument, such as a slate and chalk, or paper and pencil that allowed us to individually practice our English and mathematics skills? Or, was it a four-function electronic calculator that helped check multiplication tables.
Today’s beginning teachers’ first educational technology experience could be a 3D printer or an interactive class setting where each student is connected to their own mobile learning device.
Whatever our memory of past interactions with educational technology, what is educational technology in 2020 and what will it look like in the next 10-20 years? In that same timeframe, we got mainstream computer tablets in the 1990s, and smart devices and mainstream cloud-based educational technology in the 2000s.
Professional organizations, such as the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE), and the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), provide insight and leadership in the field.
As defined by AECT, “Educational technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.”
Perhaps to continue this discussion, we review the mission of the Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education (OET/DOE): “The OET/DOE develops national educational technology policy and establishes a vision for how technology can be used to transform teaching and learning and how to make everywhere, all-the-time learning possible for early learners through K-12, higher education, and adult education.”
Online and virtual learning
The evolution of educational technology is shown in the progression of audiovisual instruction in the 1920s and 1930s, to the present-day use of online learning and virtual immersive environments. There are fully online schools that cater to learners with differing needs — from homebound students, to those in rural areas in need of specific courses not offered in their local schools.
Virtual, augmented and mixed reality are also being used for learning. This progression of educational technology impacts the redesign of classroom learning spaces. Moving away from a design with a teacher centered in front of the classroom, teachers now may opt for flexible furniture to facilitate collaboration and active learning among students.
According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 73 percent of Americans have broadband internet access at home, while others rely on their smart phones for connectivity. Yet there are some who do not have internet access.
For educational purposes, concerns shift from not only ensuring students from all demographics have access to the internet and other tools, but also that they should possess skills to utilize technology in a meaningful manner.
Students are encouraged to be active learners capable of using technology to harness their ingenuity, and be creators rather than simply consumers.
Teachers, faculty, and trainers must understand that, although often beneficial, technology should not be used simply because it exists. Instead, it should be purposeful and add value to the learning experience.
Effective technology integration can assist teachers in the differentiation of instruction and the use of tools for adaptive learning. Teacher roles may change from the expert in front of the class, to the learning facilitator or guide.
The robust and ever-changing nature of the field of educational technology requires its leaders to be change agents and advocates who acknowledge the affordances of technology for learning, while remaining mindful of when and how technology should be effectively integrated into the educational setting.
So, what is educational technology? We believe it is a complex system that includes examples of artifacts and tools, even if seemingly dated. Educational technology encompasses technological tools, pedagogy, and the study of theory. Related conversations center around policy and ethical use, equity, digital citizenship, and appropriate uses of technology.
In short, the field of educational technology is one that continues to evolve.