The Purpose of Technology in Education is Not to Enhance, Extend or Support Teaching

By: Nitipong Ballapavanich
Thirty, Twenty, Ten, even perhaps five, years ago, if you had said to me that the purpose of technology in education is to enhance, extend or support teaching, then I would have said that that was a very perspicacious summary of the role of educational technology. Now, though, that view seems very old-fashioned and outdated. In their early days, I would suspect that the role of chalk and blackboard would have been seen as enhancing teaching whereas when I was a pupil, they were seen as much more fundamental to teaching. The same may also be true for textbooks, at one time they may have been seen as enhancing teaching but by my time as a school pupil they were pretty much fundamental. I would argue that the same is now true for technology, which was once regarded as an enhancement but which should nowadays be seen as fundamental to good educational practice. I say it is fundamental for two reasons; firstly we have over 30 years of experience of using the technology, we have built up a great deal of insight and experience in using technology in a variety of ways. It is now commonplace and usual to see computers and other devices being used in our schools. As I have argued elsewhere in this blog, a good teacher who does not use technology is not a good teacher. Secondly, there has been a subtle but fundamental shift in the way the use of technology is viewed in schools; in the past it has been regarded as a teaching resource ( a role it still fulfils) but in recent times it has become much more regarded as a learning resource. That is not just a play with semantics, it is a significant change; it means that technology is viewed more as a tool for pupils and students to capture, create and share their learning and experiences. I have a third objection to the notion that the role of technology is still to enhance, extend or support teaching but this is one which is more difficult to express. If we accept that these three roles are the purpose of technology, then if the technology does not enhance, does not extend nor support teaching, then we have a reason for not using the technology. This then leads to teachers foolishly and narrowly planning or evaluating their use of technology based upon whether it meets one of these criteria or not. When planning a lesson, if the teacher does not know how the technology can be used to enhance, extend or support the lesson then they will not use it. Yet, this comes down to a lack of knowledge or experience on behalf of the teacher rather than a failing of the technology. It is often when they try to use technology or allow the pupils to use technology that the teacher learns how it can be used. Without that prior experience, experimentation and exploration, a teacher will often not know whether technology can be used. It is important that teachers are encouraged and supported to explore the uses of technology before they are allowed to reject it out of hand. The world of education has moved on from where a single computer was the only piece of modern technology in the class. Nowadays we have to consider the world of e-learning, where learning is delivered online and the technology is not an enhancement or an extension but becomes a delivery system. Okay, so this post risks becoming a bit of a rant but there are influential people in schools and in wider education who maintain that the role of technology is only to enhance, extend or support teaching and I sincerely believe that view is wrong and that it could hold back the future development of educational technology. To my mind, the future of educational technology lies not in regarding it as an add-on or enhancement but as being fundamental to education.  

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