Technology often garners a reputation for societal reform among a variety of experts including historians, reformers, politicians, and other specialists. Many believe that a new device has the deterministic power to change the world as we know it. After all, history classes continue to learn that Eli Whitney’s cotton gin essentially led to the Civil War. Educational technology is undoubtedly a critical component in today’s academic world but it must be implemented in classrooms on an educator’s own terms.
In Defense of Choice for Educational Technology
As technology continues to evolve and change at an increasingly rapid pace, the pressure to implement it into classrooms surges (Friedman & Friedman, 2013). Regardless of funding issues or background knowledge, reformers, politicians, and other stakeholders criticize schools for not using technology. Proponents of educational reform often cite rapid changes in the business world as a major factor for the preparation of students for the workforce. When these rapid changes are not matched in the classroom, schools and teachers are branded as failures (Selwyn, 2011; Sheninger, 2014).
This pressure to emulate the business world or other societal domains places unwarranted pressure on schools to implement technology in ways that do not benefit the unique needs and challenges of their students and communities. Educators and leaders of schools struggle with methods of technology integration into established systems of curriculum and procedures.
It is within this maelstrom of policy and opinion that educators must learn to navigate a new age of education in a way that best fits their students, schools, and community. Educational technology is undoubtedly a right for students and a needed element in all schools. However, what that implementation should look like must be catered to the needs of students. What works for Wall Street or even the campus down the street may not work for another school. Educational technology should have a presence in every school. That presence, however, should not be dictated. Educators and school leaders must have the space and time to find innovative ways to implement technology in a manner that solves local problems and best fits their unique situation.
When unique solutions can be found, student learning moves to new levels resulting in experiences that were not possible previously. Students well-versed in the world of technology can use it to interview experts, create professional products, and communicate with an audience beyond their immediate geographic region. Take for example John Boyer’s World Regions class at the University of Virginia. Through the power of Twitter, his entire class made enough requests to get to interview Noble Peace Prize winner and Burmese human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi (under house arrest at the time) via Skype (Boyer, 2011; Marshall, 2011). When harnessed in fitting ways, technology can transform students and teachers alike. When forced, technology results in failures, frustration, and eventual abandonment.
What issues can educational technology address in my area?
My geographical area is somewhat desolate. Despite living in a city of a moderately-sized population (approximately 200,000 people if you include our sister city 30 minutes away), many of our students have never left the region. When it comes to teaching social studies, lack of exposure to other cultures and places can prove detrimental. Educational technology has the power to open student’s minds to these experiences without physically leaving West Texas. Ultimately, this exposure would facilitate student growth in the social studies content.
Another major issue in our area relates to pedagogical practice. Many of the teachers in my region have not yet begun to shift away from daily lecture-based, whole class instruction. Our state standards and assessments have increased in depth and rigor in an attempt to test student’s ability to apply history knowledge and skills. The lack of student-centered instruction has left our students unable to apply their history knowledge and skills at a high level – both in assessment and higher education situations. Educational technology has the capacity to increase student engagement by giving teachers new opportunities to shift their mode of instruction towards more personalized, student-centered activities.
As such, my overarching goal for educational technology implementation in social studies is to increase student-centered learning opportunities, expand student horizons (knowledge, exposure to other cultures), and provide digital opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge through assignments that promote the application of history content and skills. Building professional skills and digital citizenship characteristics will also exist as benefits of technology implementation in our courses.
What learning theories that drive educational technology?
The same learning theories that drive education today also support education technology. Directed instruction (based on objectivism) and Inquiry-based instruction (based on constructivism) support the different viewpoints on technology integration (Roblyer, 2016). Directed technology integration models are rooted in behaviorist, information-processing, cognitive-behaviorist, systems approaches, and objectivist learning theories. Alternatively, constructivist technology integration models are rooted in social activism, social cognitive, scaffolding, child development, discovery learning, multiple intelligences, and constructivist theories (Roblyer, 2016).
Roblyer (2016) support a needs-based approach to choosing a learning theory when considering technology integration. Depending upon the instructional situation and a student’s needs, an objectivist or constructivist approach may work best for a learning environment on any given day. If a student struggles to recall the sequence of battles in the Revolutionary War, an objectivist approach with digital flash cards may best suit the student. If students are exploring the concept of war and what causes it throughout all of American History, a constructivist approach where students collect sources and build an eBook or web page may be best.
Boyer, J. (2012). Aung San Suu Kyi interview with Prof. Boyer’s World Regions class at Virginia Tech [Video file]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/33219064
Friedman, L., & Friedman, H. (2013). Using social media to enhance online learning. Journal of Educators Online, 10(1), 1-22. Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/114389/
Marshall, J. (2011). A memorable Skype call between Aung San Suu Kyi and Virginia Tech students. Retrieved from http://blogs.skype.com/2011/12/16/a-memorable-skype-call-between/
Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.
Selwyn, N. (2011). Education and technology: Key issues and debates. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group.
Sheninger, E. (2014). Digital leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Smith, M. R. (1994). Technological determinism in American culture. In M. R. Smith & L. Marx (Eds.), Does technology drive history? The dilemma of technological determinism (pp.1-35). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.