Educational technology

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Educational technology, sometimes termed EdTech or Learning Technology, is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.[1] The term educational technology is often associated with, and encompasses, instructional theory and learning theory. While instructional technology is "the theory and practice of design, development, utilization, management, and evaluation of processes and resources for learning," according to the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) Definitions and Terminology Committee,[2] educational technology includes other systems used in the process of developing human capability. Educational technology includes, but is not limited to, software, hardware, as well as Internet applications, such as wikis and blogs, and activities. But there is still debate on what these terms mean.[3]

Major high-tech companies such as Google, Verizon, and Microsoft Google, Verizon, Microsoft are now funding schools to have the ability to teach their students through technology which may lead to improved student performance [1].


Technology in education is most simply and comfortably defined as an array of tools that might prove helpful in advancing student learning and may be measured on how and why individuals behave. Educational Technology relies on a broad definition of the word "technology." Technology can refer to material objects of use to humanity, such as machines or hardware, but it can also encompass broader themes, including systems, methods of organization, and techniques. Some modern tools include but are not limited to overhead projectors, laptop computers, and calculators. Newer tools such as smartphones and games (both online and offline) are beginning to draw serious attention for their learning potential. Media psychology is the field of study that applies theories of human behavior to educational technology.

Consider the Handbook of Human Performance Technology.[4] The word technology for the sister fields of Educational and Human Performance Technology means "applied science." In other words, any valid and reliable process or procedure that is derived from basic research using the "scientific method" is considered a "technology." Educational or Human Performance Technology may be based purely on algorithmic or heuristic processes, but neither necessarily implies physical technology. Educational technology has become an integral part of society today. The earliest forms of technology can be directly related back to early man. As stated by Nye (2007)[5] the key to survival was control over our environment and from the beginning of time mankind has strived to improve and enhance their lives. According to Selwyn (2011)[6] the origin of the word technology can be related back to the ancient Greek word ‘technologia”. It is broken into two components ‘techne’ which can be interpreted as skill or craft and ‘logia’ the comprehension of knowledge. Technology can be seen as a process that is handed down through society to transform and improve our lives.


Smartphone programmed for primary school mathematics learning, part of the "Mati Tec" program sponsored by the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City.
Teacher showing primary school students how to work the program at a primary school in Santa Fe, Mexico City.

Educators have always devised means to help people learn that are easier, faster, surer, or less expensive than previous means.[7] From this perspective, educational technology could be traced back to the emergence of very early tools, such as paintings on cave walls. However, the use of media for instructional purposes is generally traced back to the first decade of the 20th century,[8] with the introduction of educational films (1900's) and Sidney Pressey's mechanical teaching machines (1920's). The first large scale usage of new technologies may be training of soldiers in WWII through films and other mediated materials. Another interesting invention of the 1940s was hypertext, i.e., V. Bush's memex. Today, presentation-based technology, based on the idea that people can learn through aural and visual reception, exists in many forms, e.g., streaming audio and video, or PowerPoint presentations with voice-over.

Digitized communication and networking in education started in the mid 1980s. In Computer Based Training (CBT) or Computer-based learning (CBL), the learning interaction was between the student and computer drills or micro-world simulations. Today, the prevailing paradigm in the regular school system is Computer-mediated communication (CMC), where the primary form of interaction is between students and instructors, mediated by the computer. CBT/CBL usually means individualized (self-study) learning, while CMC involves teacher/tutor facilitation and requires scenarization of flexible learning activities. In addition, modern ICT provides education with tools for sustaining learning communities and associated knowledge management tasks. It also provides tools for student and curriculum management.

Students are now growing up in a digital age where they have constant exposure to a variety of media.[9]

Theories and practices[edit]

Three main theoretical schools or philosophical frameworks have been present in the educational technology literature. These are Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Constructivism. Each of these schools of thought are still present in today's literature but have evolved as the Psychology literature has evolved.


This theoretical framework was developed in the early 20th century with the animal learning experiments of Ivan Pavlov, Edward Thorndike, Edward C. Tolman, Clark L. Hull, and B.F. Skinner. Many psychologists used these theories to describe human learning. While still very useful this philosophy of learning has lost favor with many educators.

B.F. Skinner wrote extensively on improvements of teaching based on his functional analysis of verbal behavior[10] and wrote "The Technology of Teaching",[11] an attempt to dispel the myths underlying contemporary education as well as promote his system he called programmed instruction. Ogden Lindsley also developed the Celeration learning system similarly based on behavior analysis but quite different from Keller's and Skinner's models.


Cognitive science has changed the way educators view learning. Since the very early beginning of the Cognitive Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, learning theory has undergone a great deal of change. Much of the empirical framework of Behaviorism was retained even though a new paradigm had begun. Cognitive theories look beyond behavior to explain brain-based learning. Cognitivists consider how human memory works to promote learning.

After memory theories like the Atkinson-Shiffrin memory model and Baddeley's Working memory model were established as a theoretical framework in Cognitive Psychology, new cognitive frameworks of learning began to emerge during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. It is important to note that Computer Science and Information Technology have had a major influence on Cognitive Science theory. The Cognitive concepts of working memory (formerly known as short term memory) and long term memory have been facilitated by research and technology from the field of Computer Science. Another major influence on the field of Cognitive Science is Noam Chomsky. Today researchers are concentrating on topics like Cognitive load and Information Processing Theory. In addition, psychology as applied to media is easily measured in studying behavior. The area of media psychology is both cognative and affective and is central to understanding educational technology.


Constructivism is a learning theory of educational philosophy that many educators began to consider in the 1990s. One of the primary tenets of this philosophy is that learners construct their own meaning from new information, as they interact with reality or others with different perspectives.

Constructivist learning environments require students to use their prior knowledge and experiences to formulate new, related, and/or adaptive concepts in learning. Under this framework the role of the teacher becomes that of a facilitator, providing guidance so that learners can construct their own knowledge. Constructivist educators must make sure that the prior learning experiences are appropriate and related to the concepts being taught. Jonassen (1997) suggests "well-structured" learning environments are useful for novice learners and that "ill-structured" environments are only useful for more advanced learners. Educators utilizing technology when teaching with a constructivist perspective should choose technologies that reinforce prior learning perhaps in a problem-solving environment.


This is an area where new thinkers are coming to the forefront everyday. Many of the ideas spread from theorists, researchers, and experts through their blogs. Extensive lists of educational bloggers by area of interest are available at Steve Hargadon's "SupportBloggers" site or at the "movingforward" wiki started by Scott McLeod.[12] Many of these blogs are recognized by their peers each year through the edublogger awards.[13] Web 2.0 technologies have led to a huge increase in the amount of information available on this topic and the number of educators formally and informally discussing it.


There are various types of technologies currently used in traditional classrooms. These may include: digital cameras, video cameras, interactive whiteboard tools, document cameras, or LCD projectors. There are many tools being used depending on the local school board and funds available.

“Children and adult people are growing up in a vastly changing context. No aspect of their lives is untouched by the digital era which is transforming how they live, relate and learn”[15] Some examples of these changes in the classroom include: Problem Based Learning, Project-based Learning, and Inquiry-based learning. Together they are active learning educational technologies used to facilitate learning. Technology which includes physical and process applied science can be incorporated into project, problem, inquiry-based learning as they all have a similar educational philosophy. All three are student centered, ideally involving real-world scenarios in which students are actively engaged in critical thinking activities. Classic examples of technologies used by teachers and Educational Technologists include Bloom's Taxonomy and Instructional Design.[16] Research from the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI)[17] indicates that inquiry and project-based approaches, combined with a focus on curriculum, effectively supports the infusion of educational technologies into the learning and teaching process.

Among these are:

  • Computer in the classroom: Having a computer in the classroom is an asset to any teacher. With a computer in the classroom, teachers are able to demonstrate a new lesson, present new material, illustrate how to use new programs, and show new websites.[18]
  • Class website: An easy way to display your student's work is to create a web page designed for your class. Once a web page is designed, teachers can post homework assignments, student work, famous quotes, trivia games, and so much more. In today's society, children should know how to use the computer to navigate their way through a website, so why not give them one where they can be a published author? Just be careful, as most districts maintain strong policies to manage official websites for a school or classroom. Also, most school districts provide teacher webpages that can easily be viewed through the school district's website.
  • Class blogs and wikis: There are a variety of Web 2.0 tools that are currently being implemented in the classroom. Blogs allow for students to maintain a running dialogue. They work a tool for maintaining a journal of thoughts, ideas, and assignments, as well as encourage student comment and reflection. Wikis are more group focused to allow multiple members of the group to edit a single document and create a truly collaborative and carefully edited finished product.

Blogs allow the student to express their knowledge of the information learned in a way that they like. Blogging is something that students do for fun sometimes, so when they are assigned an assignment to do a blog they are eager to do it! If you are a teacher and need to find a way to get your students eager to learn, create, and inspire assign them a blog. They will love it.

  • Wireless classroom microphones: Noisy classrooms are a daily occurrence, and with the help of microphones, students are able to hear their teachers more clearly. Children learn better when they hear the teacher clearly. The benefit for teachers is that they no longer lose their voices at the end of the day.
  • Mobile devices: Mobile devices such as clickers or smartphone can be used to enhance the experience in the classroom by providing the possibility for professors to get feedback.[19] See also MLearning.

Mobile learning is how an individual learns using personal interactive technologies, such as a computer.A branch of mobile learning where students relate personal experiences to their learning is called performance support. More specifically, performance support is when a person relies on their personal technology for everyday tasks, such as using your cell phone to check the time or setting reminders in your phone.[20] Students would also agree that technology, in this case computers, allow for more control over their learning.[21] The reasons that make mobile learning appealing is how versatile computers can be. These devices can be available anytime and anywhere and can also enable access to the Internet and puts a surplus of information at the user’s fingertips. Some of the special characteristics that mobile learning presents to its users are portability, connectivity, speed, and accessibility. With benefits like these, mobile learning has the ability to offer more to education than has been available before.[20] With easy access to the Internet, classrooms are more flexible to adapt to surrounding students who have different needs.

  • I-pads and Tablets: provides your students an interactive environment where educational apps are rapidly becoming more recurrent. Furthermore, tablets and I-pads offer audio-visual tools (a camera which includes video recording, and also the chance to record voice) which provides a wide range of possibilities to encourage creativity to students from all ages.
  • Interactive Whiteboards: An interactive whiteboard that provides touch control of computer applications. These enhance the experience in the classroom by showing anything that can be on a computer screen. This not only aids in visual learning, but it is interactive so the students can draw, write, or manipulate images on the interactive whiteboard.
  • Digital video-on-demand: Replacement of hard copy videos (DVD, VHS) with digital video accessed from a central server (e.g. SAFARI Montage). Digital video eliminates the need for in-classroom hardware (players) and allows teachers and students to access video clips immediately by not utilizing the public Internet.
  • Online media: Streamed video websites can be used to enhance a classroom lesson (e.g. United Streaming, Teacher Tube, etc.)
  • OpenCourseWare OpenCourseWare (OCW) gives free public access to information used in undergraduate and graduate programs at institutions of higher education. Participating institutions are MIT[22][23] and Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Michigan.[24]
  • Online study tools: Tools that motivate studying by making studying more fun or individualized for the student (e.g. Study Cocoa)
  • Digital Games: The field of educational games and serious games has been growing significantly over the last few years. The digital games are being provided as tools for the classroom and have a lot of positive feedback including higher motivation for students.[25]
  • Podcasts: Pod-casting is a relatively new invention that allows anybody to publish files to the Internet where individuals can subscribe and receive new files from people by a subscription. The primary benefit of pod-casting for educators is quite simple. It enables teachers to reach students through a medium that is both "cool" and a part of their daily lives. For a technology that only requires a computer, microphone and internet connection, pod-casting has the capacity of advancing a student’s education beyond the classroom. When students listen to the pod-casts of other students as well as their own, they can quickly demonstrate their capacities to identify and define "quality." This can be a great tool for learning and developing literacy inside and outside the classroom. Pod-casting can help sharpen students’ vocabulary, writing, editing, public speaking, and presentation skills. Students will also learn skills that will be valuable in the working world, such as communication, time management, and problem-solving.

Although pod-casts are a new phenomenon in classrooms, especially on college campuses, studies have shown the differences in effectiveness between a live lecture versus podcast are minor in terms of the education of the student.[26]

  • Data system

Student data systems have a significant impact on education and students.[27] Over-the-counter data (OTCD) refers to a design approach which involves embedding labels, supplemental documentation, and a help system and making key package/display and content decisions.[28]

  • Social networking

Social networking sites are virtual communities for people interested in a particular subject or just to "hang out" together. Members communicate by voice, chat, instant message, video conference, and blogs, and the service typically provides a way for members to contact friends of other members.[29] The National School Boards Association found that 96% of students with online access have used social networking technologies, and more than 50% talk online specifically about schoolwork. These statistics support the likelihood of being able to bring these technologies into our classrooms and find successful teaching methods to employ their use in an educational setting. Social networking inherently encourages collaboration and engagement.[30] Social networking can also be used as a motivational tool to promote self-efficacy amongst students.  In  a  study  by  Bowers-Campbell (2008)  Facebook  was  used  as  an  academic motivation tool for students in a developmental reading course.[31] Group members may respond and interact with other members.[32] Student interaction is at the core of constructivist learning environments and Social Net-working Sites provide a platform for building collaborative learning communities. By their very nature they are relationship-centred and promote shared experiences. With the emphasis on user-generated-content, some experts are concerned about the traditional roles of scholarly expertise and the reliability of digital content. Students still have to be educated and assessed within a framework that adheres to guidelines for quality. Every student has his or her own learning requirements, and a Web 2.0  educational  framework  provides  enough resources, learning styles, communication tools and flexibility to accommodate this diversity.[33]

  • Augmented reality (AR): provide students and teachers the opportunity to create layers of digital information, that includes both virtual world and real world elements, to interact with in real time. There are already a variety of apps which offer a lot of variations and possibilities.


Educational technology is intended to improve education for the 21st century learner. Students today are considered "Digital Natives" who were born and raised in a digital environment and inherently think different because of this exposure to technology.[34] Some of the claimed benefits of incorporating technology into the classroom are listed below:

  • Easy-to-access course materials. Instructors can post their course material or important information on a course website, which means students can study at a time and location they prefer and can obtain the study material very quickly.[35]
  • Student motivation. According to James Kulik, who studies the effectiveness of computers used for instruction, students usually learn more in less time when receiving computer-based instruction and they like classes more and develop more positive attitudes toward computers in computer-based classes.[36] Teachers must be aware of their students' motivators in order to successfully implement technology into the classroom.[37] Students are more motivated to learn when they are interested in the subject matter, which can be enhanced by using technologies in the classroom and targeting the need for screens and digital material [34] that they have been stimulated by outside of the classroom.
  • More opportunities for extended learning. According to study completed in 2010, 70.3% of American family households have access to the internet.[38] According to Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission Canada, 79% of homes have access to the internet.[39] This allows students to access course material at home and engage with the numerous online resources available to them. Students can use their home computers and internet to conduct research, participate in social media, email, play educational games and stream videos.

--> Using online resources such as Khan Academy or TED Talks can help students spend more time on specific aspects of what they may be learning in school, but at home. These online resources have added the opportunity to take learning outside of the classroom and into any atmosphere that has an internet connection. These online lessons allow for students who might need extra help to understand materials outside of the classroom. These tutorials can focus on small concepts of large ideas taught in class, or the other way around. Schools like MIT have even made their course materials free online so that anybody can access them. Although there are still some aspects of a classroom setting that are missed by using these resources, they are still helpful tools to add additional support to the already existing educational system.

  • Wide participation. Learning material can be used for long distance learning and are accessible to a wider audience.[40]
  • Improved student writing. It is convenient for students to edit their written work on word processors, which can, in turn, improve the quality of their writing. According to some studies, the students are better at critiquing and editing written work that is exchanged over a computer network with students they know.[35]
  • Differentiated Instruction. Educational technology provides the means to focus on active student participation and to present differentiated questioning strategies. It broadens individualized instruction and promotes the development of personalized learning plans in some computer programs available to teachers. Students are encouraged to use multimedia components and to incorporate the knowledge they gained in creative ways.[41] This allows some students to individually progress from using low ordered skills gained from drill and practice activities, to higher level thinking through applying concepts creatively and creating simulations.[42] In some cases, the ability to make educational technology individualized may aid in targeting and accommodating different learning styles and levels.

Overall, the use of internet in education has had a positive impact on students, educators, as well as the educational system as a whole. Effective technologies use many evidence-based strategies (e.g., adaptive content, frequent testing, immediate feedback, etc.), as do effective teachers.[43] It is important for teachers to embrace technology in order to gain these benefits so they can address the needs of their digital natives [44]

  • "Additional Benefits":
  • The Internet itself has unlocked a world of opportunity for students. Information and ideas that were previously out of reach are a click away. Students of all ages can connect, share, and learn on a global scale.
  • Using computers or other forms of technology can give students practice on core content and skills while the teacher can work with others, conduct assessments, or perform other tasks.[43]
  • Using technology in the classroom can allow teachers' to effectively organize and present lessons. Multimedia presentations can make the material more meaningful and engaging.
  • "“Technology’s impact in schools has been significant, advancing how students learn, how teachers teach and how efficiently and effectively educational services can be delivered,” said Carolyn April, director, industry analysis, CompTIA.” With emerging technologies such as tablets and netbooks, interactive whiteboards and wireless solutions gaining ground in the classroom, the reliance on IT by the education market will only grow in the years ahead.”[45]
  • Studies completed in "computer intensive" settings found increases in student centre, cooperative and higher order learning, students writing skills, problem solving, and using technology.[46] In addition, positive attitudes toward technology as a learning tool by parents, students and teachers are also improved.


New technologies are often a combination of existing technologies in a more sophisticated version. Although technology in the classroom does have many benefits, there are clear drawbacks as well. Limited access to sufficient quantities of a technology, lack of training for teachers, the extra time required for the implementations of technology, and the apprehension associated with assessing the effectiveness of technology in the classroom are just a few of the reasons that technology is often not used extensively in the classroom. Despite these challenges, many states spend large sums of money on technology. However, no state looks at technology return on investment (ROI) to connect expenditures on technology with improved student outcomes.[47]

To understand educational technology one must also understand theories in human behavior as behavior is affected by technology. Media and the family is another emerging area affected by rapidly changing educational technology.[48] Critics of educational technology make the point that new technologies are frequently accompanied by unrealistic hype and promise regarding their transformative power to change education for the better or in allowing better educational opportunities to reach the masses. Examples include silent film, broadcast radio, and television, none of which have maintained much of a foothold in the daily practices of mainstream, formal education.[49] There is a growing awareness that technology, in and of itself, does not necessarily result in fundamental improvements to educational practice.[50] Rather than having blind faith that technology will lead to improvements, it is becoming increasingly recognized that focus needs to be on the learner's interaction with technology—not the technology itself . With that being said,technology should not be seen as a quick fix .It needs to be recognized as “ecological” rather than “additive” or “subtractive”. In this ecological change, one significant change will create total change [51] Unless and until that happens, it is likely that expectations in learning outcomes will continue to exceed those observed in reality.

Technology based educational videos and games are being integrated into the lives and classrooms of new generations. These videos and games are meant to be used as tools to help growing minds develop and increase knowledge. There are many benefits of using technology in the education system, however there are also negative aspects. According to Branford, Brown, and Cocking, (2000) “technology does not guarantee effective learning” and inappropriate use of technology can even hinder it [52] The University of Washington study of infant vocabulary shows that it is slipping due to educational baby DVDs. Published in the Journal of Pediatrics, a 2007 University of Washington study on the vocabulary of babies surveyed over 1,000 parents in Washington and Minnesota. The study found that for every one hour that babies 8–16 months of age watched DVDs and Videos they knew 6-8 fewer of 90 common baby words than the babies that did not watch them. Andrew Meltzoff, Ph.D, a surveyor in this study states that the result makes sense, that if the baby's 'alert time' is spent in front of DVDs and TV, instead of with people speaking, the babies are not going to get the same linguistic experience. Dr. Dimitri Chistakis, another surveyor reported that the evidence is mounting that baby DVDs are of no value and may be harmful.

Electronic devices such as cellphones and computers facilitate rapid access to a constant stream of sources, each of which may receive cursory attention. Michel Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the center on Media and Child Health in Boston, said of the digital generation, "Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task, but for jumping to the next thing. The worry is we're raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently." [53] Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters but computers and cellphones are a constant stream of stimuli that poses challenge to focusing and learning. Although these technologies affect adults too, young people are more influenced by it as their developing brains can easily become habituated to constantly switching tasks and becoming unable to sustain attention.[53]

As part of educational reform, new instructional materials and tests are being developed which are online and adaptive. This means that a computer will tailor questions to each student’s ability and calculate their scores. This initiative is pushed more by for-profit companies to increase the use of their products which is now a multi-billion dollar market. Online educational resources like Khan Academy is used as learning materials, but it is criticized for not looking into process and content but only the end result. Computer-based instructional model also encourages students to work individually rather than socially or collaboratively (Kruse, 2013). Social relationships are important but high-tech environments may compromise the balance of trust, care and respect between teacher and student [54]

Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), although quite popular in discussions of technology and education in developed countries (more so in US), are not a major concern in most developing or low-income countries. One of the stated goals of existing MOOCs is to provide less fortunate populations (i.e., in developing countries) an opportunity to experience courses with US-style content and structure. However, research shows only 3% of the registrants are from low-income countries and although many courses have thousands of registered students only 5-10% of them complete the course [55] MOOCs also implies that certain curriculum and teaching methods are superior and this could eventually wash over (or possibly washing out) local educational institutions, cultural norms and educational traditions [56]

Technology cannot fix all problems and often causes new problems to arise while helping to solve existing ones. Although some world problems like poverty and hunger are not technological ones, education is becoming an issue where the role of technology is gaining prominence. Below technology in education is further critiqued under specific conditions, settings and criterion.

Historical criticism[edit]

Critics of educational technology make the point that new technologies are frequently accompanied by unrealistic hype and promise regarding their transformative power to change education for the better or in allowing better educational opportunities to reach the masses. Examples include silent film, broadcast radio, and television, none of which have maintained much of a foothold in the daily practices of mainstream, formal education.[57] There is a growing awareness that technology, in and of itself, does not necessarily result in fundamental improvements to educational practice.[58] Rather than having blind faith that technology will lead to improvements, it is becoming increasingly recognized that focus needs to be on the learner's interaction with technology—not the technology itself.[59] It needs to be recognized as “ecological” rather than “additive” or “subtractive”. In this ecological change, one significant change will create total change.[60] Unless and until that happens, it is likely that expectations in learning outcomes will continue to exceed those observed in reality.[61]

“The learning environment is a complex system where the interplay and interactions of many things impact the outcome of learning.” [62] When computers are brought into an educational setting just because they are there, the entire pedagogical setting of the classroom changes.This is known as the " Everest Effect", which leads to more “technology-driven” teaching," where the entire meaning of an activity changes without adequate research validation.” This leads to unclear learning objectives and standards that are not met by the end of a lesson. If classroom technology continues to monopolize an activity, the students involved begin to develop the sense that “life would scarcely be thinkable without technology."[63] This concept goes along with Postman's claim that "it is more important for learners to reflect on the implications and consequences of process of information gathering, than it is to simply acquire the skills to generate,receive, gather and distribute information in easier and faster ways".[58]

In addition to the change in classroom environment, technology is also "rapidly and profoundly altering our brains."[64] High exposure levels stimulate brain cell alteration and release neurotransmitters, which causes the strengthening of new neural pathways and the weakening the old ones. This leads to heightened stress levels on the brain that, at first, boost energy levels, but, over time, actually augment memory,impair cognition, lead to depression, alter the neural circuity of the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex. These are the brain regions that control mood and thought. If continued to be unchecked, even more underlying structures of the brain could be altered.[65] Dr. Rich of Harvard Medical School believed that “downtime to the brain is what sleep is to the body. But kids are in a constant mode of stimulation.[66] There are also concerns that this over-stimulation due to technology begins too young. When children are exposed before the age of seven, important developmental tasks may be delayed and bad learning habits might develop, which could lead to poor motivation. In turn, this "deprives children of the exploration and play that they need to develop.” [67]

Sociocultural criticism[edit]

Phantom objectivity[edit]

Leo Marx identifies the word “technology” itself as problematic.[68] He argues that the word came into use as a way to fill a general semantic void resulting from the rise of sociotechnical systems surrounding America’s growing electrical and chemical industries. However, the broad generality of the notion of “technology” made it susceptible to reification while giving it the air of “phantom objectivity” that concealed its fundamental nature as something that is only valuable insofar as it benefits the human condition. Technology ultimately comes down to affecting the relations between people, but this notion is obfuscated when technology is treated as an abstract notion devoid of good and evil. In this way, Marx suggests that the adaption of a workman to his work, rather than work to its workman as occurred during the industrial revolution could be seen as progress dictated by the phantom objectivity of technology, rather than as a great evil negatively affecting the lives of millions of workers. Langdon Winner makes a similar point by arguing that the underdevelopment of the philosophy of technology leaves us with an overly simplistic reduction in our discourse to the supposedly dichotomous notions of the “making” versus the “uses” of new technologies, and that a narrow focus on “use” leads us to believe that all technologies are neutral in moral standing.[69] These critiques would have us ask not, “How do we maximize the role or advancement of technology in education?”, but, rather, “What are the social and human consequences of adopting any particular technology?” Automatically assuming that more or better technology is automatically a good thing, they caution, could be dangerous.

Cultural impact[edit]

Winner [69] argues that it is useful to view technology as a “form of life” that not only aids human activity, but also represents a powerful force in reshaping that activity and its meaning. For example, the use of robots in the industrial workplace may increase productivity, but they also radically change the process of production itself, thereby redefining what is meant by “work” in such a setting. In education, standardized testing has arguably redefined the notions of learning and assessment. We rarely explicitly reflect on how strange a notion it is that a number between, say, 0 and 100 could possibly accurately reflect a person’s knowledge about the world. According to Winner, the recurring patterns in everyday life tend to become an unconscious process that we learn to take for granted. Therefore, it becomes very important to carefully weigh the implications before introducing new technologies. Winner writes,

By far the greatest latitude of choice exists the very first time a particular instrument, system, or technique is introduced. Because choices tend to become strongly fixed in material equipment, economic investment, and social habit, the original flexibility vanishes for all practical purposes once the initial commitments are made. In that sense technological innovations are similar to legislative acts or political foundings that establish a framework for public order that will endure over many generations. (p. 29)

Seymour Papert (p. 32) points out a good example of a (bad) choice that has become strongly fixed in social habit and material equipment: our “choice” to use the QWERTY keyboard.[70] The QWERTY arrangement of letters on the keyboard was originally chosen, not because it was the most efficient for typing, but because early typewriters were prone to jam when adjacent keys were struck in quick succession. Now that typing has become a digital process, this is no longer an issue, but the QWERTY arrangement lives on as a social habit, one that is very difficult to change. This example illustrates that when adopting new technologies, as Winner warns us, there may be only one best chance to “get it right.” This is also an example where the unintended consequences could, perhaps, have been foreseen.

Neil Postman endorsed the notion that technology impacts human cultures, including the culture of classrooms, and that this is a consideration even more important than considering the efficiency of a new technology as a tool for teaching.[51] Regarding the computer’s impact on education, Postman writes (p. 19):

What we need to consider about the computer has nothing to do with its efficiency as a teaching tool. We need to know in what ways it is altering our conception of learning, and how in conjunction with television, it undermines the old idea of school.

Digital divide[edit]

The concept of the digital divide was originally defined as a gap between those who have access to digital technologies and those who do not.[71] This access is associated with age, gender, education, income, ethnicity, and geography.[71] The first deals with the onset of integrating technology into the curriculum and the gap between the digital haves and have-nots.[72] In most cases, this form of the digital divide means that those who have access to a computer and the Internet are considered digital haves, while on the other hand, those who do not are considered a digital have not. In today’s society, this is still a significant barrier to implementing technology into the curriculum because the socio-economic status of a school, and its students, will impact whether resources can be purchased and implemented in the school system. Schools that are able to provide technology within the classroom are able to expose their students to a new means of learning, while the students in lower socio-economic schools may miss out on these experiences.[citation needed]

Even if schools and students have access to technology, the way in which teachers use and introduce it is significant to consider.

Another factor that plays into the digital divide, which makes it difficult to implement technology into the curriculum, is the generational digital divide. Herrington[73] recognizes that the generational divide is interpreted to mean that people on one side of the gap, including the youth, have more access and a greater ability to use new technologies than those on the other side like the adults who were born before the advent of the Internet. The generational digital divide is a common barrier because it challenges teachers to keep up with the ever-changing technology in the classroom. Even extending beyond the classroom, by the time an individual “adopts a technology, a new one is developed, marketed, and requires a new adoption cycle”.[74] Students, who have grown up in a digital environment, may be well acquainted with the on-going process of new technological innovation but may be lacking the guidance they need in order to use these technologies effectively. From the teacher’s perspective, this process could be an intimidating experience because something as foreign as the computer and Internet must first be learned and then taught to the students in a classroom setting. It is difficult to formulate a curriculum, which aims to integrate technology into the classroom, when the decision-makers are still in the process of learning about it themselves.[citation needed]

Teacher training[edit]

Teachers have gaps in understanding the appropriate uses of technology in a learning environment.[75] Similar to learning a new task or trade, special training is vital to ensuring the effective integration of classroom technology. The current school curriculum tends to guide teachers in training students to be autonomous problem solvers.[72] This has become a significant barrier to effective training because the traditional methods of teaching have clashed with what is now expected in the present workplace. Today’s students in the workplace are increasingly being asked to work in teams, drawing on different sets of expertise, and collaborating to solve problem.[72] These experiences are not highly centered on in the traditional classroom, but are twenty-first century skills that can be attained through the incorporation and engagement with technology.[76] Changes in instruction and use of technology can also promote a higher level of learning among students with different types of intelligence.[77] Please see the presentation on Ted Talks by Sir Kenneth Robinson where he discusses the ways in which schools kill creativity.[78] Therefore since technology is not the end goal of education, but rather a means by which it can be accomplished, educators must have a good grasp of the technology being used and its advantages over more traditional methods. If there is a lack in either of these areas, technology will be seen as a hindrance and not a benefit to the goals of teaching.

The evolving nature of technology may unsettle teachers who may experience themselves as perpetual novices when it comes to learning about technology.[79] Marc Prensky discusses the idea that teachers are digital immigrants, and students are digital natives. Teachers must continuously work at learning this new technological language, whereas students were born into retrieving information, problem solving, and communicating with this technology.[80] The ways in which teachers are taught to use technology is also outdated because the primary focus of training is on computer literacy, rather than the deeper, more essential understanding and mastery of technology for information processing, communication, and problem solving.[79] New resources have to be designed and distributed whenever the technological platform has been changed. However, finding quality materials to support classroom objectives after such changes is often difficult even after they exist in sufficient quantity and teachers must design these resources on their own. The study by Harris[79] notes that the use of random professional development days is not adequate enough in order to foster the much-needed skills required to teach and apply technology in the classroom. “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist..using technologies that haven’t been invented…in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet”.[81] Learning, therefore, becomes an on-going process, which takes time and a strong commitment among the community of educators.[79]

Teachers may not feel the need to change the traditional education system because it has been successful in the past.[72] This does not necessarily mean it is the right way to teach for the current and future generations. Considering that today's students are constantly exposed to the impacts of the digital era, learning styles and the methods of collecting information have evolved. To illustrate this concept, Jenkins[72] states, “students often feel locked out of the worlds described in their textbooks through the depersonalized and abstract prose used to describe them”, whereas games can construct worlds for players to move through and have some stake in the events unfolding. Even though technology can provide a more personalized, yet collaborative, and creative, yet informative, approach to learning, it may be difficult to motivate the use of these contemporary approaches among teachers who have been in the field for a number of years.


Additional criticisms relate to two distinct issues of assessment. First, there is the issue of assessing learning technologies and the learning outcomes they support. Second, there is the issue of using technologies for the purposes of assessing students.

Assessment of technology

There is a great deal of apprehension associated with assessing the effectiveness of technology in the classroom and its development of information-age skills. This is because information-age skills, also commonly referred to as twenty-first-century literacies, are relatively new to the field of education.[82] According to the New Media Consortium, these include “the set of abilities and skills where aural, visual, and digital literacy overlap”.[72] Jenkins modifies this definition by acknowledging them as building on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills and critical-analysis skills taught in the classroom.[72]

Assessment with technology

Technology for assessment is used in many countries, and an example is the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test. PISA is for 15 year olds and it is held in 70 countries every three years. This exam will be next held in 2015, and it will include adaptive components to evaluate hard-to-measure skills such as collaborative problem solving. However critics state that when learning is data driven it threatens the essence of schooling and turns them into factories.[83] Technology is pushed into the learning environment as a tool for assessment but it is an initiative for for-profit business. Although computers have started to assess student abilities, it is far from the skills that teachers have acquired over years of experience and have done for decades. Those who oppose the use of technology in education believe that instead of invest

Professional societies[edit]

Societies concerned with educational technology include:


According to some[who?], an Educational Technologist is someone who transforms basic educational and psychological research into an evidence-based applied science (or a technology) of learning or instruction. Educational Technologists typically have a graduate degree (Master's, Doctorate, Ph.D., or D.Phil.) in a field related to educational psychology, educational media, experimental psychology, cognitive psychology or, more purely, in the fields of Educational, Instructional or Human Performance Technology or Instructional Systems Design. The transformation of educational technology from a cottage industry to a profession is discussed by Shurville, Browne, and Whitaker.[84]

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Further reading[edit]