Rethinking Ed Tech’s Purpose in School

I’ve heard this question in various forms many different times: How is technology going to save education?

Radio and TV were going to save education, but of course, they didn’t. They changed consumption from primarily reading or live viewing to listening and watching, but the prediction of televisions replacing teachers in the classroom has yet to come true.

Computers and devices were going to save education.

The internet was going to save education.

In fact, it seems as though every time a new technology changes our way of life (radio, tv, computers, internet) we believe it is going to save education…

Let’s stop thinking about technology as a cure or savior for education.

Instead, let’s realize that great learning experiences have always had similar patterns and pedagogical strategies, and technology can be a part of that experience sometimes. If Socrates provided a learning experience that was human, social, meaning-centered, and language-based…chances are it was engaging. The same goes for us today. The difference is that human and social look a bit different in 2018 then they did hundreds of years ago. How can we use technology in ways that support sound practice and strategies for a 2018 world?

Let’s also stop thinking about “ed tech” as something that needs a massive amount of training.

Instead understand that teachers, students, and parents are all on different parts of the technology continuum and will need varied support depending on their experiences. It doesn’t matter if you are a digital native, digital immigrant, or digital explorer, much of how you use technology will have to be learned through using it, not through training (because much of what you are trained on will change soon thereafter).

Let’s stop believing that new tools will revolutionize education.

Instead understand that new tools often substitute, sometimes augment, and very rarely redefine the learning experience. It is how the teacher and students use these tools for learning that truly matters. And when technology is used to redefine a learning experience, the revolution is what the students make, create, and build with their tech, not in the many ways they can consume information.

What can a new Ed Tech narrative look like?

If we stop believing technology is a “savior” and start looking at it as a way to redefine learning experiences there are a few beliefs that ring true:

  1. Technology decisions should always be made with learners in mind.
  2. Devices and tools must have a true purpose for learning (this should go beyond “spicing” up a lesson).
  3. Training will have to be differentiated and unconventional (in the ever-changing world of technology our responsibility is to keep up with the world our students are living in).
  4. Technology provides new opportunities for learners that they previously did not have without it (global collaboration, real-time feedback, and extended learning opportunities are a few of the many ways tech open the door to authentic learning experiences).

Instead of focusing on how to integrate technology, schools must turn their attention on how technology has already impacted the lives of students and teachers, how it will continue to do so in the future, and what their role can be to create optimal learning experiences in and out of the school building.

Technology is not going to save education. But it will make it different. This can be a good thing.

The world our students live in now (and us too!) is much different than it was 1 year ago, 5 years ago, 20 years ago. It will be different a year from now than it is today. How we learn will always change with the world around us, let’s not let “how we teach” fall too far behind.

So how do we get started with using technology with a purpose for what students are going to do/learn, instead of focusing on “tool-only” training?

This flow chart from Katie Siemer is a great place to start:

When we put the learner first, technology becomes an option we can choose to use (or not to use) for the activity.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this!

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Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Jared Matas says:

    yes, yes, and yes. And to actualize these ideas in the classroom, it’s important the educators are the ones making the pedagogically-sound decisions about how to teach with technology.

  • Rhonda says:

    Yes, I can’t agree more. Technology is yet another tool to do what great teachers and students are already doing. It is not an extra thing to “fit in” or a silver bullet that will fix our problems. Using it to communicate, collaborate and think critically in ways we have never been able to do before, is the main purpose of technology in education.

  • stravo lukos says:

    We must always keep in mind that which distinguishes us from all other species on earth– & realize that in our educational system(s). Remember this: We can train animals, but we cannot educate them.

  • Lissa says:

    “Technology decisions should always be made with learners in mind.
    Devices and tools must have a true purpose for learning (this should go beyond “spicing” up a lesson).

    These are the essential ideas that should be the focus of our conversations around Ed Tech. Yet, using tech to ‘spice up’ a lesson could be a good entry point for teachers who are leery about leaving their tried and true worksheets behind.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Hi Lissa, I definitely agree with you, just have to decide what “spice up” means. If it is replacing a worksheet with the tech equivalent then I don’t think it is worth it. Instead of having a purpose, it is shifting the low-level regurgitation to another form. If spice up is adding some digital collaboration, then that could be a start!

  • […] Rethinking Ed Tech’s Purpose in School – A.J. JULIANI […]

  • James says:

    The problem as I see it is that most of the training that is done is tool-based. Here’s a cool tool; how can you work it into your teaching. That approach will rarely lead to meaningful integration. Instead, we have to give teachers a bigger picture view of the affordances of technology – the range of tool types – and then help them find the right tool to augment and transform their teaching and the students’ learning.

    • Ruchira Kochar says:

      Yes, totally agree with your thinking about the nature and content of professional training. The How-to of the tools should not be the driving force for any PD. Instead, it should be the lesson context and pedagogy. When designed through the lens of the teaching and learning process, any learning experience will be maeningful.

  • Jamie Cruickshank says:

    James and Jared (see below) have hit the nail on the head. I am 100% in favour of everything raised in this article, however, only the teacher (or lecturer/educator etc.) know what is best for their particular students. If only particular tools are being promoted (a long running theme in my career) then technology becomes more of a burden than a benefit.

  • Thanks for sharing my chart!

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