Saturday, September 13, 2008

Technology in education: a ground-map, part a

For this month's "Monthly Forum" (yes I know I'm late to start), I'd like to get a conversation going about the role of technology in education.

For myself, I'm trying to develop a "ground-map of the province" (if you will allow me an obscure reference to Dewey) of issues related to technology in education. This is part of a project that will result in a chapter on philosophical issues related to technology in education for a forthcoming book to which I've been asked to contribute.

Allow me to do some "thinking out loud" here.

Technology is "the application of science (or knowledge) to solve problems."

Technology is not science itself, which is primarily concerned with the production of knowledge and the sorting out of which knowledge is privileged within the academy, by certain people who call themselves "scientists," or by policy-makers. Science clearly has a role in education because we want to have a public that understands its methods, issues, and major findings, and because we want to know how people learn best so we can design education to be efficient and effective.

When we apply science/knowledge to solve educational problems, we are (often? always?) using technology. On this broad definition of technology, schooling is largely a technological enterprise. Schooling technologies include classrooms, chalkboards, books, podiums, graded classrooms, chair-desk, bells, bell schedules, school buses, school buildings, playgrounds, athletic fields, band rooms, band instruments, colored chalk, the architecture of schools, p.a. systems, teacher certification systems, the ways we "divide" subjects into "disciplines," testing (and other assessment approaches of all kinds), school districting, "catchment" areas, curriculum plans, "standards" statements, and many many other activities/processes/devices/frameworks. On this expanded notion of technology, we can say that "schooling" is the application of technology to make mass education possible, affordable, and effective.

Of course, it's also the application of technology to do things other than "education" as well, such as warehousing kids, but let's leave that aside for the moment.

Like all technologies, each item on the list I just generated can be critiqued from several different perspectives, or using many different criteria. Among such criteria include efficiency, effectiveness, humanity, cost-effectiveness, opportunity costs, ease-of-use, standardizability (are they applied in consistent manner), teachability (can teachers/administrators/students learn to use them), fairness, various aesthetic criteria of beautify and "fit," conformity to public values of all kinds, carbon footprint, etc. etc.

Indeed, I'd say the essential question of educational policy is the question of which criteria to apply to evaluating the technologies of education, because this question is basic to other questions such as what resources should we make available to all schools or all students, or to which students, and why.

But we don't tend to talk about this question as if it were a question about technology. Instead, we limit our explicit discussion of technologies to a subset of those that are applied to schooling. Most commonly, we refer to digital technologies such as computers, networks, software, digital cameras, interactive whiteboards, peripherals, etc.

Other ways to delineate a subset of technologies to be referred to are certain critical perspectives (such as those of Foucault or Michael Apple) which talk about "technologies of control." Surely these perspectives are justified in referring to technologies, just as much as the common person is justified in limiting discussion of technologies to what I've described above as "digital technologies." What's important is realizing that any limitation of the word "technology" to particular types of technologies has both motivations and consequences, which should be examined. Thus, the limitation of the discussion to "digital technologies" tends to take OFF the table many of the other things I've listed, such as bell schedules and P.A. systems, even though THOSE technology are pernicious and omnipresent in schools.

Perhaps the common approach,then, is to limit "technology" to those tools and approaches that are not yet universal (or nearly universal) in their application to schools. "Technology," then, is a euphemism for "things that we're still trying to decide whether we need," or "things that only some schools can currently afford."

I guess what I'm saying is, the question of what we MEAN by "technology" is a political one, that perhaps anteceeds questions about the use of any particular technologies in any particular situation.

Okay, I will come back later to continue.....

8 comments:

jason Nolan said...

Using your definition of technology, don't forget the cognitive technologies. "Technology is "the application of science (or knowledge) to solve problems."" would include then curriculum and pedagogy, educational philosophy and politics, and myriad and sundry institutions; even the concept of the child is thus a technology. Well, you touch upon it, but I feel that they are what animate the 'object oriented classroom' of the things.

I think that technology gets split between new and old in terms of the peeps. Chalk and blocks of wood are new tech to a toddler. Computers are new tech to a school administrator. Neither of them are new to a teen (millennial if you will).

I agree that all tech is political... which to me means that it can all be hacked, subverted, be it a blackboard or chair, or social network technology.

What makes your project interesting to me it the reminding people of how the interplay of the various technologies impact the whole process of edufication.

To me, the most important technology of the 20th Century is the disposable diaper. It is so comfortable that it actually can retard a child's development. Thinking of the power of technology to mold and shape a child's life really can boggle the mind.

The Tablet PC In Education Blog said...

Congratulations for your selection as author of a book chapter.

You clarified some of how you think of technology in schooling. Good start.

Your reference to science as for production of knowledge seems ahistorical, probably because you tried to use a cause-effect logic and it's too truncated.

How do you distinguish between knowledge and information, especially as it relates to schooling?

I like your distinction between schooling and education. What do you mean by each?

As to your "essential question," historically from outside school houses, measured, discrete learning gains by individuals would hands down remain the first-order evaluation criterion for any schooling justification. It appears you have tried to duck it. Yes?

I look forward to your next installment.

JAEL said...

"Indeed, I'd say the essential question of educational policy is the question of which criteria to apply to evaluating the technologies of education, because this question is basic to other questions such as what resources should we make available to all schools or all students, or to which students, and why."

I agree because you cant just through technology into the fire and expect it to be accepted and used properly. The school systems, moreover, the classroom teachers that use any technology have to maintain the integrity of the lesson. Whether it was blocks or blogs

Zac Casey said...

I'm very interested in this project. I am wondering, however, where the user is in all of these technologies we're talking about here. I think the relationship of user to technology is the piece that I am most interested in when you enter into a political discussion of technology. A computer on a desk in a room is just that until it is manipulated, used, misused, etc. at which point it becomes political doesn't it?

Of course, a case for the political limitations built into various technologies could also be interesting. These technologies impact us as much in what we are able to do with them as with what we cannot do with them. In this way a conversation about who's interests are being served by the myriad technologies available in this type of discussion could be the most important topic at hand. I look forward to reading more.

Nancy Flanagan said...

Wonderful post, Craig--just scratching the surface, of course. This kind of broad-spectrum look at human technologies and subsequent discussion about how radically our human values and educational practice are impacted by them is hard to find. Especially--and ironically--on the web, which now hosts 100 million blogs.

Most of my thinking on technology was heavily influenced by the late Neil Postman, whose "Technopoly" (1992) was a distilled and incisive critique of the effect of high-speed information technologies on the 400-year old monopoly held by schools and teachers as keepers and distributors of the most important knowledge. Shirkey and Rheingold are now telling us about the rapid, nearly unpredictable and all-encompassing social effects of cheap digital technologies on the old technologies of place-bound group learning, filtered publishing and one-to-one transmission. But Postman told us, first, why "progress" is hard for people (especially Americans) to resist, and offers a set of historical lenses for examining what happens when a technology (such as standardization) takes hold of the public imagination.

It was Postman who pointed out that he who develops expertise in using a new technology will be give "undeserved authority and prestige by those who have no such competence." That's a very handy thought, given the fact that most K-12 school districts prefer to invest in computers with a guaranteed lifespan of about 6 useful years, rather than putting limited resources toward developing human capital.

As Zac notes--the interesting hinge is the relationship of the user to the technology. It has become socially acceptable now, even kind of hip, for edtech bloggers to castigate their less sophisticated or technology-resistant colleagues, sometimes suggesting that veteran teachers be forced to master certain digital technologies or be dismissed. Some of those older teachers are, in fact, technology masters--they have been thoroughly schooled in what Craig calls pernicious and omnipresent educational technologies, and have mastered them. Do we want education--think of the etymology of the word--to become a chase toward the latest idea/thing, or can we impose some filtering and value judgment of our own? Postman thought yes--but that was 16 years ago.

gerald gene said...

It is really true that every thing changes and so for the world. Technology brings so much development in different aspects in the society especially in education. Computer as one of the technological advancement in education is really a great gift for it uplifts the quality of education and it helps the youth not to be left behind in terms of technology. In our province, SLTCFI, a Bicol School provides a good quality of computer education. I hope that technological advancements will not stop because it really helps us a lot.

great genius said...

t is really true that every thing changes and so for the world. Technology brings so much development in different aspects in the society especially in education. Computer as one of the technological advancement in education is really a great gift for it uplifts the quality of education and it helps the youth not to be left behind in terms of technology. In our province, SLTCFI, a Bicol School provides a good quality of computer education. I hope that technological advancements will not stop because it really helps us a lot.

Ashka said...

Technology brings development in different aspects of the life.I think Bicol school provides a good quality of education.

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