Technology in education: what a mess!

For millennia, humans have turned to the use of technology to enhance daily tasks in order to make them more tolerable and efficient. Our use of technology has dramatically changed our lives in diverse ways, ranging from the invention of the wheel to modern methods of communications.  Human life expectancy has risen significantly over the last few hundred years and our quality of life as a species has never been better.  One can attribute this progress to advances in science and technology, however, I would argue education is the foundation on which these enhancements to our daily lives rest.  Whenever we see a problem or a challenge, many of us share the instinct to turn to technology as a path towards a solution.

As educators, it is only natural to apply the same problem-solving logic in our daily tasks by thinking a technological solution will enhance our pedagogy thus enhance student learning.  This way of thinking has been fruitful in other contexts such as industry, medicine and commerce, why wouldn’t it be fruitful in the context of education?  This has led to countless initiative related to the integration of technology in schools at many different levels.  Here are a few examples:

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Although these initiatives are sincere in their goals, one needs to question how these initiatives will impact students and whether or not they will actually enhance learning.  What do we mean by “enhancing” learning?  Increasing student scores in standardizes tests?  Allowing students to have more favorable approaches to learning as opposed to traditional pedagogy?  Increasing access to education to a wider variety of students? Increasing ways for students to intake and output information?  Graduation rates?  Student productivity?

With my limited reading on the subject, the biggest challenge I see is measuring the influence of technology on learning.  The sheer number of variables that influence student performance make it extremely difficult to pinpoint quantitatively how technology can enhance learning.  Research by Hattie demonstrates that the implementation of technology has a maximum effect size 0.57.

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In comparison to technology, the teacher and the teachers’ attributes have an effect size of 1.62.  While exploring this research, one can clearly see that it is teachers and the methods they apply that have the greatest influence on student achievement; substantially more than technology.  That being said, we cannot deny that technology DOES have an effect on student learning and it, without a doubt, has a place in the classroom.

After completing the suggested readings following the debate on Monday night it quickly became apparent to me, regardless of the perspective one takes on how technology enhances learning, the most important factor that must be considered when integrating technology in the classroom in the teacher.  The teacher is central in determining all the parameters related to who, when and how technology is to be used.  The research included in the reading point towards results that show how properly managed technological initiatives in schools seem to produce excellent results while poorly implemented initiatives can be detrimental to student achievement.

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Finally, we must also consider how technology can open new possibilities where they would otherwise not be possible.  Such as:

  • Distance education for remote and small rural locations
  • Specialized technologies for students with disabilities
  • Continuous availability of new and diverse resources via the web
  • Online collaboration tools
  • Worldwide communication possibilities

The goal of these technologies is not to enhance learning. However, these technologies work towards allowing better learning conditions in situations where traditional methods are not optimal.  To me, providing these opportunities counts as enhanced learning.  Having been raised in rural Saskatchewan and having benefited from these types of technologies, I can without a doubt confirm that in my own situation, technology DID enhance leaning.

A new adventure begins!

Tonight marks my first steps in the world of Educational Technology and Media.  Although I’m feeling like I’ve been drinking from a firehose, I’m looking forward to many new reflections related to the place of technology and media in the world of education.  So many questions are running through my mind.  Is technology good or bad?  Promising or scary?  It looks like I have many hours of reading in my future.  I’m ready.  #eci830 here I come!