Technology has always been a big part of my life. Unlike many people, I’m not afraid of technology and I don’t have the classic love-hate relationship that is often mentioned when things don’t go as well as planned using tech. Mostly having positive experiences with technology has shaped my personal opinion of it into an optimistic one. Being raised on a dairy farm where manual labour and repetitive tasks were part of my daily life, technology often came to the rescue to liberate my time, my energy and on some occasions, my sanity.
It’s only natural that once I became a teacher, this same vision and approach towards technology became a focal point in my pedagogical practice. As my career in education advances, things are consistently changing on many fronts. From societal changes to technological changes and changes to the demands of my profession, it has been increasingly difficult to keep up. I feel like I’m consistently being asked to do more with less. My time is becoming split between so many avenues that I feel like I’m part of a world record juggling act.
In comes educational technology. Being a science person, my perception of educational technology has always been focused on problems and solutions. Here is a taste of a few situations from my past:
Problem: When I was a student in rural Saskatchewan, my small school didn’t have the resources available to provide its students with teachers that had the expertise to teach high school science and mathematics.
Solution: Distance education to the rescue! Hindsight, my high school math and science experience was less than optimal. My teacher was at the other end of a 128kbps ISDN videoconferencing link and our school internet connection was 56kbps. There was a constant one second delay when interacting with the system and the rear projection big screen television provided such a low-resolution image that it was difficult to read the screen. Did I mention that all our assignments had to be faxed as the internet was too slow and scanning technology was just too difficult to use to be practical? This represents the tip of the iceberg of my distance education experience. That being said, I had excellent teachers and we maximised the tools we had at our disposal to make the best of the situation.
Problem: I currently teach all the secondary sciences from grade 9 to grade 12 in French in Regina. When I have to be absent from school, finding substitute teachers that have the qualifications to teach my subjects is near impossible. Due to my involvement in teacher associations on the provincial and local level, I have to miss many days of school every semester.
Solution: Time being of the essence, my students have to continue learning when I’m not around. Preparing a chemistry class for a teacher that knows very little about chemistry can be at the best of times, extremely frustrating, tedious and time-consuming. As a result, I often simply record my lessons with my smartphone, post them on the internet and assign classwork through e-mail or through other technological means. As a result, I can gain certainty that my students are progressing, and the substitute teacher can concentrate on managing the classroom by assisting the students as needed. This solution is not perfect but has proven to be extremely valuable to me.
Problem: I don’t think I’m the only teacher that will share the following feeling: I HATE spending so much time marking assessments. I often have to write the same comments repeatedly and I find it tedious to manipulate copious amounts of paper.
Solution: Not having access to computers for every student, using electronic means of evaluation is often not a solution. Last school year, I finally discovered Crowdmark. This software has totally changed my assessment practice and has not only proven to be valuable to me as a teacher, the students appreciate the system in that it provides them with the feedback they need to improve. The idea is that one can take any type of assessment that uses pen and paper and use electronic means to complete the grading and the commenting of the assignments. I’m not going to go into all the details, but this service has changed my teacher game in that I can spend less time manipulating paper and more time assessing the needs of my students all the while tailoring my pedagogy to more completely meet their needs.
As I familiarized myself with the history of educational technology though our assigned readings, I realized that my problem-solution approach to educational technology might be much to narrow. This being my second educational technology graduate class, I must admit that my narrow views of the term “educational technology” have drastically expanded, over the past few months. I expect this trend to continue during EC&I 833 as I participate and discuss with my fellow colleagues over the next few months.
Defining educational technology is a difficult task as it encompasses such a vast collection of concepts. From hard-tech to soft-tech to high-tech and low-tech and everything in between, the application of technology in the context of education has been with us for centuries. I can’t imagine being a teacher before the advent of the chalkboard or even the written word. As a result, it can be easy to take for granted certain aspects of educational technology that we have today.
Neil Postman’s Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Changeresonated with me. One idea he underlines is the technological inequality that exists within populations. I have witnessed this first hand being a teacher in a school where we have the privilege of having a wide variety of students coming from numerous socio-economic situations. As much as I want to believe technology is the “Great Equalizer”, the more I study educational technology, the more I’m able to see weaknesses in every approach to using technology in education. I feel like I’m moving my perception of technology from the being an optimist to a more analytical realist.
The best I can do at this point in trying to define educational technology is as follows:
Educational technology: The exploitation of technology and technological methods to maximize pedagogical offerings for students, teachers and their communities in the context of education.
I know this definition is incomplete and has many holes. Perhaps at the end of EC&I 833, I’ll be able to fashion something more complete and more relevant to the state of the art.