Technology Is Now As Much A Part Of Learning As Reading & Writing
by Terry Heick
Today’s technology is the worst technology many students will ever use.
This was a useful idea I read recently that helped me see educational technology as a principle rather than a tactic.
Modern arguments around educational technology tend towards binary positions–usually for or against; this ‘position taking’ makes the design of educational technology inaccessible because we’re not considering design but rather positions. There are few compelling arguments against technology as learning tools, though even that depends on what students are learning and why.
But if we’ll accept, if only for a moment, that:
A. ‘Technology’ is a relative term, and
B. It allows previously impossible or unimaginable learning–in terms of process, product, pace, and content–to be possible
–then we’ve suitably altered the conversation from a matter of positions (check yes or no) to a matter of design (audience, purpose, and possibility).
We usually think of technology as a progressive thing, but any technology dates itself immediately through its form. Electricity, the wheel, paper, the printing press, metalworking, mass transportation, masonry, and more are all forms of technology. Technology isn’t a ‘leading edge’ but a tool of human practice.
And, as such, it can both extend our humanity or reduce it based on its application.
Design: Audience & Purpose
On a day-to-day basis, human processes are based on prevailing local technology. That is, we usually use what’s available to us to express our collective humanity (for better or for worse). To solve problems, reduce inefficiencies, or create opportunities, we turn to the technology that is accessible to us, usually in the form of tools and processes.
Philosophically, this is important because by design technology is an artificial process or product intended to circumvent natural limits or defies natural processes. This creates spectacle that is addictive. Are Icarus and Prometheus and the Luddites heroes or cautionary tales?
Wikipedia defines technology as “the collection of tools, including machinery, modifications, arrangements and procedures used by humans.” Oxford dictionary offers up a similar take, defining technology as “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry,” going on to tell us that the word technology comes from the early 17th-century from the Greek word tekhnologia–‘systematic treatment’, from tekhnē ‘art, craft’ + -logia.
Art. Craft. Design. Humanity. Somewhere between and across these ideas, there are glimpses of where technology is taking us, specifically within the ‘fields’ of teaching and learning. The iPad was just the latest node in a constantly-expanding concept map of shared experience. It could be a wearable. It could be virtual reality. It could be deep fake technology or AI or even just a new cloud-based word processor.
New technology builds on old technology.
Properly paced and scaled, we’re in control of this hyper-cycle the whole time, but unfortunately, the designers and producers of technology design produce in isolation from their applied use, which makes audience and purpose considerations–prime matters of design–impossible.
But if we zoom out some, this isn’t so much about how technology can function in a classroom but technology as a matter of sequence. Technology never peaks. As students in 2021 and beyond grow and read and write and learn, technology will continue forward at breakneck speed because it evolves in isolation by standards of its own.
The iPad sales have recently stagnated after a mercurial rise that began April 3, 2010 is fairly predictable. Wearable technology is among the threats to iPads as successful consumer products, but in education, Google’s slick cloud-integration is making them a more streamlined choice for many classrooms.
Educational Technology As A Principle
But more significantly, the life-cycle of any technology in education emphasizes the incendiary, remorseless tone of technology.
Arguments for or against different kinds of technology in the classroom is truly a waste of our genius. This argument is over and holding that kind of argument only dates the arguers. I get why some teachers are against technology in education. Powerful learning models can be designed without technology because knowledge is the ultimate technology.
But if we think in terms of learning design, the argument that technology is already there and we’re simply arguing for a certain technology level can be useful. It’s not binary edtech-yes-or-no, but do we want old tech or new?
If we think of technology as a matter of sequence, then technology isn’t so much a teaching strategy or educational tactic as it is a principle of learning. When today’s elementary students are 40, they’ll remember today’s technology the way (many of us) remember cassette tapes. It will be funny, for example, that we used to hold large, heavy glass rectangles in their hands and had to open up apps separately. Or that WiFi was ‘so slow’ or AI so–well, at times, not intelligent.
And had to know which app did what. And had to ‘Google’ information. And our refrigerators didn’t have touchscreens and we couldn’t ask Alexa to turn down the thermostat with our voices from the other room.
And sometimes weren’t even connected to the internet because WiFi wasn’t always unreliable.
And didn’t have the information that we might need to be pushed to us before we even knew we needed it.
And we had to type! We had to actually touch a screen or keyboard made of little squares covered in Gorilla Glass to make words—crazy times!
iPads and other existing mobile technology will be remembered like symbols–markers for a time and a place in their lives. This usefully decenters educational technology as some kind of spectacular edge and frames it as a fundamental principle of modern learning.
Reading and writing have generally been regarded as modern formal education. The ability to do each underpins the ability to make sense of an article or report, write an essay, memorize facts, evaluate cause and effect, conduct scientific experimentation, perform complicated mathematical calculations, and create poems and plays. These are the activities that actuate modern K-20 education.
And increasingly, whether we like it or not, it’s technology that actuates these activities.
Educational Technology As A Matter Of Principle