The new plague: Educational Technologyitis

I am using today’s slice to vent a frustration I am having in my role as an elearning coach in schools (remembering that I.T makes up part of who we, the L.I.T Ladies are). Here it is: EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGYITIS.

While acknowledging that schools need to adopt a 21st ‘centurised’ approach to teaching and learning in schools, there has been a large push to “inject the tech” into everything that we do. In Victoria, this focus on technology has seen the introduction of netbooks and ipad trials, the Edustar image and of course the Ultranet.

As an elearning/Ultranet coach, I have witnessed the growing phenomenon of “chicken-or-eggitis” coupled with “round-peg-square-holitis.” From a teaching and learning perspective, I am here to warn that these 2 ailments should be noted as being very serious and ones that need to be attended to immediately, before the situation worsens. Firstly, “chicken-or-eggitis.” What does come first: the learning outcome or the technology? The need for a program that helps x,y and z or the purchase of a program that can do a, b and c? In its more prevalent form this ailment presents itself as hordes of schools purchasing ipads and then asking “how can we use these?” in an attempt to be pushing the boundaries of innovation. Can I play the Devil’s Advocate and suggest that schools establish a strong foundation of technology integration using tried and tested methods/devices before trying to lead innovation in this area? The simple antidote for this ailment is for educators to ask themselves 1 question before they do anything with educational technology: “What is the outcome I am trying to achieve? Knowing that, is there any technology available to assist me with this?” We need to get out of the mindset of a) using technology for the sake of it and b) using technology in the wrong way.

This brings me to the second ailment, “Round-peg-square-holitis.” This ailment is quite often coupled with “chicken-or-eggitis.” It is displayed in the form of educators trying to use technology to accomplish a task for which it was not designed. The more recent (and most prevalent) form of this being educators’ use of the Ultranet. The antidote for this ailment is given in several injections of both Understanding and Knowledge. (It is important to note here that the injection of Understanding must precede the injection of Knowledge as without the first the latter is pointless.) The Understanding will help educators to see all technology programs and apps as tools that they can call on to perform different tasks. The Ultranet is one of the many tools available to educators. Like any tool, the Ultranet is designed to perform certain tasks. When using technology tools we need to think like tradesmen: Would a builder use a saw to nail a house frame together? The builder must first think ‘what outcome do I want to achieve?’ (This outcome is the ‘roundpeg’ of the ailment). They must secondly ask ‘which tool will help me to achieve this?’ The builder would then sift through their toolbox and locate the desired tool. This sifting part is where Knowledge is important.

Once educators understand that all tools have desired purposes they then need the knowledge of a range of tools to call on to achieve their desired outcomes. In order to develop the most enriching teaching and learning possible, educators need to be able to call on a range of high quality tools to help achieve their desired outcomes. It is, after all, the combination of several tools used together that result in an entire house being built.

There are some tasks that would be better achieved on the Ultranet, some on Google Docs, some on another Web2.0 website and some on the computer software itself. It is the knowledge of this range of tools (and how best to use them) that will lead to improved outcomes for our students. Moving in to the future, leaders in education need to be considering prevention measures for these 2 common ailments. The only documented evidence of successful prevention to date has been a wholistic approach to professional elearning. That is, when delivering professional learning around anything educational technology related, the tool being discussed needs to be treated as such: a tool. No more and no less. It is also important to note that this tool should never be discussed in isolation. (Could you image the design of our houses if this approach to professional development were replicated in the building industry?)

It is time we harnessed the power of technology effectively to get the best outcomes for our students. As educators, we need to ‘ask before we acquire’ and “put what before which” to stop the spread of ineffective and stifling uses of technology in some of our schools today.

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