Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What is your definition of technology (in education)?

When exploring strand 8 (Science and Technology) in the National Council for the Social Studies Framework for teaching and learning, I came across this definition of technology.

Science is the result of empirical study of the natural world, and technology is the application of knowledge to accomplish tasks. (NCSS)

It got me thinking about what other traditional definitions of technology might be. From merriam webster:

the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area (merriam webster)
And from wikipedia:
The word technology refers to the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, and methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal, handle an applied input/output relation or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, including machinery, modifications, arrangements and procedures. Technologies significantly affect human as well as other animal species' ability to control and adapt to their natural environments. The term can either be applied generally or to specific areas: examples include construction technology, medical technology, and information technology. (Wikipedia)

       For those of us who live and learn from and with technology, this common theme of “application” should come as no surprise. For many of us, where technology usage is ubiquitous, we often use technology to make meaning and show what we know to be true. While there are many excuses as to why we each don’t embrace certain technologies (ie. I prefer Diigo to Delicious or I don’t really “get” pinterest?), I wonder if not learning from and with technology at all makes someone an effective learner in the modern world? I’m not saying that we can’t and don’t learn in other non-digital ways because obviously we do. What I’m wondering about, is whether we are fully developed learners if at least part of our personal learning and growing is not with and through modern technologies. And what does this question mean for our students?

        Although we often dismissively chuckle at the luddite colleague who refuses to learn how to text message or the technophobe who thinks email is about advanced as it can get, we need to question whether those teachers are fully preparing students for a world that has rapidly and will continue to rapidly evolve in technologically driven ways. The factory model schools of the 20th Century are even less relevant to the knowledge economy that exists today . Perhaps it should have always been this way, but no one really cares what you know or how you know it. It’s about what you do with that knowledge. Schools and teachers who do not embrace learning through and with the modern technologies available to them are failing their students.

         Technology today affords global connectivity, an audience greater than the classroom, access to information faster than our brains can process it, and the ability to apply knowledge in creative, authentic, and meaningful ways. And yet what some teachers qualify as using technology in their classroom is limited to firing up the shiny new digital projector, moving a few items with the smart board, and having kids word process when it’s time to write. When technologies are available, it should not just be to check off a spot on a lesson plan or evaluation. It should not be a once a month or a once a year “thing”, it should be ubiquitous.

       My argument is not a new one and it is not easy to digest if you are a teacher who “dislikes” technology or “can’t learn from a computer”. The reality is, it’s not about YOU. It’s about the kids who sit in our classroom each day and the mission we have been employed with: to provide a quality individualized education to each and every child who walks through our door. And ALL of them need to learn and show what they know and can do in ways that are very different from the ways we might have learned. There is enough blame to go around. As a nation we have wasted a ton of money on laptops, interactive technologies, and ineffective training and professional development. Bad pedagogy is bad pedagogy and it has had disastrous impact on student engagement, motivation, and learning. There is simply no excuse for an educator (ie teachers AND administrators) to reject the necessity and learning potential of technology in today’s school and classroom. At the same time poorly teaching with technology might be just as detrimental.

       Our students need to make meaning, to create, to communicate, to connect, and to apply their knowledge critically. Is it possible to do all of this without technology? Yes. If every classroom and curriculum could guarantee every student this opportunity, we wouldn't be facing the challenges we are today. Those schools and classrooms would also be adaptable, flexible, and personalized learning spaces that were full of the tools that each and every student would need to show what they know and can do. Maybe that's my definition of technology in the classroom: Whatever is needed to learn and make meaning. What's yours?

(This post is cross posted at the Digital Learning Environments blog found here.