Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Definition of Educational Technology

Change is Constant
The evolving definition of educational technology is yet another personal and professional reminder that change is indeed constant.

I believe educational technology can be generally and simply described as two parts - technical and pedagogical. The technical component refers to the foundation of hardware, software, audiovisual and other media and functionality of the technical components. The pedagogical component refers to the processes and applications of technology in teaching and learning. Both the technical and pedagogical components are necessary and interconnected. For example, a solid technical foundation allows educators to concentrate on “how” technologies are used to create technology-rich learning environments. In small school jurisdictions it is common for one individual to wear many hats and have responsibilities which encompass both pedagogical and technical tasks. However, in larger school jurisdictions and post secondary environments the roles and responsibilities of an educational technologist and computer technician may be more transparent and distinct.

Similarly, Jim Cambridge, a research officer with the Centre for the study of Education in an International Context (CEIC) at the University of Bath - http://people.bath.ac.uk/edsjcc/Presentation3/ , describes the differences between technology in education and technology of education. Technology in education refers to the technical skills. An example of this would be installing software and knowing how to use the components of the software with other peripherals (i.e. technology as a tool). Technology of education refers to the technological pedagogical and content skills and the educational applications of knowledge (i.e. technology for teaching and learning).

It was interesting to review the history of the AECT definitions as a “snapshot in time” and think about the various influences, contexts, and rationales that changed each definition to reflect each time period. I noted in the 1963 definition the concept of media instrumentation was used to describe the significance of both people and instruments similar to my own definition. There is also reference to “method and medium” which reminds me of Marshall McLuhan’s famous line: “the message is the medium” and Jim Cambridge’s quote, “Let’s concentrate on the message, not the messenger” (Web-based Learning Presentation, 2002).

In the contemporary definition the identifying label reverted from “instructional technology” to “educational technology” as first used in 1972 and the definition demonstrates an increased attention to ethical issues within the field. Similar to the 1972 definition, the term “facilitating” learning reappears in the definition. There is a recognition of learner ownership and the role of educational technology being more facilitative rather than controlled. Another new feature in the 2004 definition is the use of “study” due to the increased interest in designing environments that facilitate learning through research and reflective practice instead of delivering learning.
(Educational Technology: A Definition with Commentary, 2008, p. 5)

Can “educational technology” be described as key ideas, values, an abstract concept, a theory, framework, field, profession, job title, or temporary snapshot in time? I believe educational technology embodies all of these things and applaud how the AECT definition committee fittingly describe educational technology metaphorically as a “sphere of activity” in which people interact with other people, data and things in pursuit of improved learning (AECT Definition and Terminology Committee document #MM4.0, 2004, p.14). It is also evident the newest 2004 definition clearly aligns with the AECT mission: “to provide international leadership by promoting scholarship and best practices in the creation, use, and management of technologies for effective teaching and learning in a wide range of settings” (AECT Definition and Terminology Committee document #MM4.0, 2004, p.18).

Denis Hlynka provides a thought provoking analysis of the definition and identifies several problems that will surely assist the next writing committee in revising the definition (Educational Technology, 2008). Hlynka noted the intended audience for the definition should include everyone instead of being delimited to students entering graduate programs. I believe there are numerous purposes and audiences for a definition of educational technology and can attest to the usefulness of a definition with the following personal experience.

Recently, I accepted a new position as a district supervisor of technology. Family, friends and colleagues began asking many questions: What is a supervisor of technology? Does that mean you will ensure computers are working in schools? Will you be responsible for all hardware/software in the district? Most of the questions seemed to be infrastructure or technically related questions (i.e. technology as a tool). It was also assumed by many individuals that I would be situated in the Information Technology (IT) department in the district office building. Instead, I will primarily work with the Instructional Services department and focus on “how” technology is used for improved learning in K-12 schooling.

As I began to meet with senior district administrators and several consultants that will be part of my team and I continued to recognize the necessity to define my title as well as the role of the team in order to clarify our responsibilities. Subsequently, I engaged in discussion with the team of consultants and it was decided our team would be called the “educational technology” team and we would use the current AECT definition to help communicate the role of the team in the district. My new title is now supervisor of educational technology. I’m anticipating and hoping the questions that people ask about my role will change and their assumptions about my responsibilities will also change (i.e. technology for teaching and learning) by using the AECT definition:

Educational technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources. (Januszewski and Molenda, 2008)


Stephen Tedesco said...


A very thorough and thoughtful response.
I understand completely the situation you speak of your new position and how you describe it to family/friends/colleagues. I find myself in a similar situation where no one "understands" what I do -- in fact, my own boss has no idea what it is that I do. Which leads me to my question.

Presumably you were hired in a role by an organization which had a vision/preconception of what this role entails. Do you anticipate conflict between what upper managements vision is for your role versus what your interpretation/worldview is for this role? This is a conflict I find myself in quite regularly, so this is why I ask.

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