Technology Part 1: Some Background
The term technology is derived form the Greek word “techne,” which means to construct. Technology refers to the application of scientific knowledge to any practical art and does not necessarily imply the use of machines. Although technology was first “conceived as a process related to science, art, and philosophy, the popular meaning of the word “technology” has changed considerably” (Januszewski, 2001, p. 151).
Over the last 70 years technology has become associated with electronic machines and more recently with computers and the internet. However, exact definitions of educational technology are hard to find and educators who see it solely as the application of some electronic device as a tool to enhance learning are limited in their perspective. It is more about using science to define learning, machines are simply an element (albeit, an important one) of the tools available for this purpose. As Roblyer (2003) points out:
…in the view of most writer, researchers, and practioners in the field, useful definitions of educational technology must focus on the process of applying tools for educational purposes as well as the tools and materials used (p. 28).
The purpose of educational technology is not only to utilize existing tools to augment learning, but to apply scientific knowledge and advances in learning theory to the application of assistive devices in the classroom. Since the time of the ancient Greeks educators have strived to improve systems of learning. Embedded in the methods of the Sophists were strategies associated with the development of rational thought. These early technologies helped lay the groundwork for instructional theory which, in turn, evolved into the modern processes inherent in systems of measurement and change utilized by today’s educational technologists. Therefore, as Januszewski (2001) states, educational technology might best be characterized as:
…a “worldview” of education, which sees education as instruction. Instruction is considered a set of activities and strategies that that can be prescribed to bring about pre-specified and measurable learning objectives. The activities and strategies associated with this view are based on established theories of learning and are developed and tested to ensure replicable results. As a worldview of education, educational technology emphasizes applying scientific techniques to solving educational problems inefficient and effective ways (p. 178).
Consequently, we can view educational technology as a process that takes into account scientific advances in the theories of learning and utilizes the most sophisticated tools available to develop educational delivery systems, but it is important to note that differences exist between the definitions of instructional technology and educational technology. I believe that the former is based on the systematic application of strategies and techniques derived from the behavioral and physical sciences for the purpose of solving instructional problems, whereas educational technology is the combination of instructional technologies for the solution of educational problems.
Technology and Education
Technology has changed the world. Since the development of flint as an aid to making fire, the creation of the first wheel, and the emergence of viable agricultural systems that helped give rise to fixed societies capable of devising complex entities: our first civilizations, it has had a profound influence on the history of mankind.
These new civilizations were capable of demonstrating great versatility in the formation of constructs designed to serve the betterment of mankind since they allowed time for cognitive reflection which led to astounding achievements in mathematics, philosophy, and medicine. Technologies like the printing press, the telegraph, and telephone constituted key changes to the way information was dispensed and aided in the acceleration of the transference if ideas between countries, continents, and cultures.
During the late 19th century, as the industrial revolution forced potent modifications in the nature of education, technology was a key element in those transformations. Yet, as new technologies entered classrooms in America, critics argued that both time and money were wasted and that these new systems oftentimes confused instead of enhanced educational practice.
As we now approach the end of the second decade of the 21st century and as education occupies a central position in our world’s future in economics and geopolitics, we need to continually reflect on its past and how we can, in the present, learn and guide educational improvements so that all students have the opportunity to benefit from learning environments that optimize their potentials and deliver a balanced approach to learning. There is little doubt that the quality and success of such a vision is, to a great extent, dependent on the practical integration of technology, not only as a tool to assist learning but as an apparatus for global and social interconnection. It is this challenge that sets educational technology apart from any other venture in the world of learning today, and within the modern directive to help students “construct” meaning from their own diverse backgrounds, abilities, languages, and cultures, technology may be our greatest ally.
Numerous challenges face educators today, especially those whose students are considered at-risk. These include low income groups, minorities, English language learners, and special needs students. Many schools have turned to technology as a way of improving the education of all students, but while money, especially in public education is always an issue, critics argue that it could be better spent on bigger libraries, better teacher training, and improved study environments. In many instances that may be the case and it is crucial that administrators and senior officials cover the basics before allocating huge sums of general funds for the purpose of upgrading technology on the campuses of schools. But when schools are prepared for the addition of technology, it can be a tremendous benefit, not only to students, but to teachers, administrators, and parents as well.
The world has changed at an alarming rate over the last sixty years and our views about education have changed too. When once we were satisfied that students learn basic skills and develop strong knowledge bases in subjects, but now most people realize that the world is moving much too quickly for static batches of information to be continuously valid. This indicates a change toward developing learning strategies that allow students to enlist knowledge segments dynamically, as they are needed. With the advent of the internet, email, social media and other forms of constant communication, information is gathered differently now and certain technologies must be mastered, but at what cost?
Experts recommend caution; teachers cannot be replaced. Learning is, ultimately, too sophisticated to leave to machines; socialization too critical. Yet, the benefits of a world of interconnected networks capable of sharing complex information instantly, is too much to ignore, and is, essentially, the heart of the issue.
Technology is our best tool; the one with the most potential to break barriers of poverty, to alleviate sectors of ignorance, and to open the doors of learning throughout the world.