EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY: The study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.
The Association for Educational Communication and Technology (AECT) adds the word appropriate in their 2008 definition of educational technology. This is a key element, especially in a global environment, and in the paragraphs below I will explore why appropriate technology is so critical in the overall definition and practice of educational technology.
At first, I took its meaning to refer to appropriateness of content, avoiding things such as offending language and images. However, as the AECT’s definition article points out, “the term appropriate is meant to apply to both processes and resources, denoting suitability for and compatibility with their intended purposes.”
Further exploration of the meaning, as also noted in the article, demonstrates that appropriate technologies are those that are:
- connected with the local users and cultures
- sustainable within the local economic circumstances
The AECT’s article explains, “Sustainability is particularly critical in settings like developing countries, to ensure that the solution uses resources carefully, minimizes damage to the environment, and will be available to future generations.”
This statement really resonated with me because of my current experiences. I live in Kathmandu, Nepal, which by all standards is a developing country. There is tremendous poverty and need here.
Recently, I have been given the opportunity teach an ongoing course about technology to Nepali teenagers. These youth, who are aged 14-16 and half male, half female, come from very underprivileged backgrounds. Through a partnership of the U.S. Embassy and the Nepal English Language Teachers Association (NELTA), these students learn English and gain insight and exposure into American culture. They are the recipients of the English Access Microscholarship Program, which provides for them this tremendous opportunity they would not otherwise have. Through donations of it’s members, NELTA now has a computer lab with five computers for the 40 students who meet here in Kathmandu. These computers are older PC models, yet perfectly appropriate, and will give these students access to the Internet. I have volunteered to come in every few weeks and teach them anything I can about technology, how it fits into American culture, and how it can help them in their lives.
This is a wonderful opportunity for me, especially in light of my current studies in the EDTECH program. I have given a lot of thought as to what I will teach them and what will give them the best education possible.
In short, I need to choose both appropriate processes and resources.
Where do I start? How do I begin to expose them to what’s out there? How can I help them see, feel, and experience technology for themselves, in a way that they can go forward and create opportunity?
I will also travel to three remote areas of Nepal, where students participate in the same program. In such places, the need is even greater, as these students have extremely limited computer access and very little exposure to technology at all. As the AECT’s definition article suggests, I need to use tools and practices that are the “simplest and most benign solution to a problem”. I am still trying to sort out what that entails for these children.
Sure, I can bring in my iPad (with all its bangs and whistles) and show some great projections onto the wall. This is important, since I want them to see, feel, and experience the joy and energy of technology. But if, using my iPad and other devices, I can open their eyes to what’s out there, show them tools that will empower them with skills and confidence, and help them access a wealth of resources online, then I have really made a difference. On the flip side, if I can’t teach them skills that will be applicable for them, in their particular circumstances, then my best attempts will not be deemed appropriate.
For example, let’s look at Google docs. What a fabulous tool this is for these students! They will most likely never own a computer, especially one with Microsoft Office and other creative software. Through Google docs, however, they can create beautiful documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. They can search through numerous templates to create a resume or report. They can share with their classmates, and have a safe and secure means of storing their schoolwork. They can do this all from any Internet cafe, anywhere. If they later need to use Microsoft Office in the workplace, they will be familiar with its interface, because of its similarity to Google docs. All in all, Google docs is a practical, appropriate, tool to teach them.
As the AECT’s definition article points out, appropriateness also has an ethical dimension. One aspect of this emphasizes that since we are a multicultural community, we need to provide “opportunities for culturally and intellectually diverse points of view.” On the surface, this sounds ideal. But what if, through our exposing these youth to other countries and cultures, we also encourage them to speak up in ways their families or governments aren’t ready for? What are the cultural ramifications of their becoming more technologically literate? These are big questions with complex answers.
Finally, as stated in the AECT’s definition article, educational technologists have a responsibility to be informed, to stay up-to-date on current trends and tools, and to use that knowledge in ways to find the best, most appropriate, solutions for others.
The challenges are real, but I feel it is an exciting time to be involved in technology. I look forward to empowering others through educational technology, and I hope it will help them open new doors of opportunity in their lives.
Association for Educational Communications and Technology. (1977). The definition of educational technology. Washington, DC: AECT.
Commission on Instructional Technology. (1970). To improve learning: A report to the President and the Congress of the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Ely, D. P. (1963). The changing role of the audio-visual process: A definition and glossary of related terms. Audiovisual Communication Review, 11(1), Supplement 6.
Januszewski, A., & Molenda, M. (2008). Chapter 1: Definition. In Educational technology: A definition with commentary (pp. 1 – 14). NY: Lawrence Erlbaum, Inc.
Reiser, R. A. (2001). A history of instructional design and technology: Part I: A history of instructional media. Educational Technology Research and Development, 49(1), 53-64. doi: 10.1007/BF02504506
Seels, B. & Richey, R. (1994). Instructional technology: The definition and domains of the field. Washington DC: Association for Educational Communications and Technology.
Nepal English Language Teachers Association
http://exchanges.state.gov/englishteaching/eam.html English Access Microscholarship Program