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Ed-Tech: From the Past, Still the Past

Before delving into the historical progression of educational technology, a good question to ask is: What is “Technology”? Technology simply is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. In that case, perhaps, if one considers it science, “writing” is the first educational technology and our journey should start there. Writing is amazing tech. It allows the thoughts in my mind to be transmitted to your mind across space and time, the perfect tool for education. So perfect to our minds that many probably simply overlook it and cannot imagine education without it. However, as with all technologies, it had its detractors. Like the Luddites that much later followed him, Socrates lamented that writing would dull the minds of students and limit their mental acuity. The much later invention of the printing press was controversial as well as the Gutenberg bible, as Hugo famously said, would destroy the church.

In my time, educational technology has been seen as gadgets or their application. From slates and chalk, to overhead projectors and TV’s, each new invention has held a promise of increased efficiency and “better” learning for students. We have engaged socially in a narrow view of the purpose of technology chiefly being employed in education to improve the efficiency of the process that produces the products society needs, educated young people. This factory approach to education has meant that new technologies are not developed and implemented necessarily because they are a better way to learn, but because they make it easier to teach, or so we have been lead to believe.

When I was an elementary school student in the 80’s, besides books, chalkboards, and writing, we had TV’s with huge pre-VHS tape players, reel to reel movie projectors, OHP’s, film projectors that displayed stationary images as a tape played and beeped (does anyone remember what they were called?), tape players, and very basic computers running DOS near the end of my elementary school tenure. Though these were definitely more interesting than copying notes from the chalkboard, but what isn’t when one is in the single digits of aging, they were just kind of carted in or we as students plopped in front of them and it seemed teachers thought that this technology would do the education for them (with maybe the exception of OHP’s that required the teacher to awkwardly draw and write while being blinded by the light to our amusement). Since the 80’s, the gadgets in classrooms have changed, but that attitude has not, the belief that new tech equals a better process to factory production of learned children.

OHP’s, tape players, reel to reel films, tubed TV’s and the like may have gone the way of the dinosaurs since my youth, but the underlying belief in the power of technology to do the teaching for us has not. Since the mid 2000’s technology in the classroom has grown in leaps and bounds, or at least the hardware has. Today we have projectors, interactive whiteboards, HD video players, tablets in every student’s hands, laptops, and probably a few more devices I am unaware of, not to mention the internet and all that it brings as a tool of shared knowledge, but what hasn’t changed is many teachers inability to use them. Just as the TV was once erroneously predicted to replace the teacher and perhaps the school, the focus is once again on the technology, the gadget in our current way of thinking, not on the application of it. As I have always said, “Buying hardware is the easy part. Figuring out how to use it effectively in the classroom is the hard part.” In my view, though the promise of new technologies in the classroom may be great, it is an incontrovertible fact that the more things change the more they remain the same.

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