On September 11th, as we kicked off our course on zoom, I surveyed our cast of classmates and recognized several familiar faces. This is my fourth consecutive class with Alec Couros concerning the many facets of Educational Technology. My views on educational technology have evolved dramatically over the past year as a direct result of my experiences in these courses.
To begin with, as is the case with essentially every teacher I have ever met, I have always had an interest in educational technology. I’ve always been interested in its potential to improve the quality of education, as well as improve access for students who do not enjoy the material resources I take for granted.
For one, the more we learn about how we learn, the more convinced we become that learning environments that rely on the direct transmission of knowledge from an active instructor to a passive learner are not the most effective. In the schools I have worked with, there is very little disputing this constructivist understanding of learning. That said, implementing environments that use this understanding, that students need to be active in creating their own learning is a source of constant discussion. Since beginning my career, I have always perceived development of educational technology as being entwined with efforts to provide rich learning experiences where students are active participants.
This perspective is mirrored at several points Michael Molenda’s historical summary of educational technology, especially when he highlights modern developments, like the computer, for its interactive characteristics: “In particular, the design of more complex computer based learning environments in which learners are expected to take the initiative in pursuing knowledge and to collaborate with others…”
Since moving to Regina, I have worked as a Learning Resource Teacher in different community schools. I have long considered the ways that educational technology can improve access for students who come from diverse backgrounds where access to resources I take for granted is not necessarily a given. This perspective is also echoed in Molenda’s summary as he discusses educational technology’ quest to deliver distance education: “The 21st century began with educational technology increasingly focused on distance education, the latest paradigmatic framework for its ageless mission to help more people learn faster, better, and more affordably.”
Our own course is a case and point example of the quickly improving efficiency of distance education. (An efficiency that is perhaps not yet reflected in our tuition … ?)
Given that my own personal understanding of educational technology revolves around advancing both quality of and access to education, I have often found myself conflicting against myself. What I mean is that while I have strongly believed that educational technology is absolutely key, I have had an equally strong revulsion of the tools that are coming to the forefront of educational technology.
My historical dislike of social media cannot be understated, and my answer to current controversies surrounding digital citizenship has often been to abstain altogether. Quite a contradiction! It was a growing awareness of this contradiction that attracted me Alec’s series of courses on educational technology..
As I had hoped, my perceptions of social media in general, and specifically as a positive tool to improve education, underwent a transformation. Through deliberate effort, guided by key blog prompts and quality contributions from peers, I not only saw the social media’s ability to act as a force for good, but I experienced it in my own teaching practice.
But I still had to reconcile this with a lingering perception of the negative effective of our total immersion in social media. The pervasive impacts of fake news on our political discourse … the real world harm that I have seen students suffer from malicious cyber-bullying that went on without the school having any inkling of awareness … personal experience with financial fraud …
I felt as though I was caught between two extremes. Two absolutes that could not exist simultaneously.
It was as I was enrolled in my third course with Alec, EC&I 830, that I was able to take a step back and begin to place my personal experiences and positions in a more historical framework. In a blog post towards the end of the source, I reached back to look at past controversies surrounding media revolutions. It was really interesting to see the dramatic backlash induced by things that are part of my natural order, like film, novels, dance, and even writing itself … It was also interesting how familiar criticisms of these forms of media felt…
Enter Neil Postman + His 5 Ideas
So … this brings me to this week and our required readings. This is not the first time that a required reading by Alec has somehow felt perfectly timed to add an exclamation point to where I find myself and my evolving understanding of educational technology.
Neil Postman’s talk, 5 things we need to know about technological change, precisely articulates how I am freeing myself from the constraints of an either or understanding of educational technology.
The first of his five ideas, that technology is a trade-off, acknowledges the reality of my own experiences with social media in an educational context. Yes, it is powerfully interactive! And yes, it can be powerfully used to inflict real harm! There are advantages and disadvantages to any technological innovation. Innovations to our classroom are no exception. The question is not whether an innovation is beneficial or harmful, which is where I have traditionally found myself torn. The question is whether the benefits outweigh the harms.
And for who? Different people will have different answers to whether or not an innovation is beneficial. A certain president of a certain country would likely extol the virtues of twitter as a source for news. But others might not see things quite the same way. Another of Postman’s ideas centers around this idea that benefits and disadvantages are not universal, and will be felt differently and disproportionately by different people: “Who specifically benefits from the development of a new technology? Which groups, what type of person, what kind of industry will be favored? And, of course, which groups of people will thereby be harmed?”
Reconciling My Conflict
Neil Postman’s talk helps me to reconcile my conflicting emotions surrounding educational technology. It has allowed me to zoom out and more comfortably place my views in a historical perspective. The agonizing I have undertaken in forming a view of educational technology is, as Postman suggests, the same agonizing my ancestors have undertaken in the face of technological innovations of the past: “I doubt that the 21st century will pose for us problems that are more stunning, disorienting or complex than those we faced in this century, or the 19th, 18th, 17th, or for that matter, many of the centuries before that.”
Finally, Kelsey Clauson points out that: “…any definition I attempt to give to the term educational technology will be ever-changing as this course progresses through the semester.” This is certainly the case, and has been the case for me for over a full year of EC&I Educational Technology courses.
Thanks for reading!