I had the opportunity to give the keynote at the University of Nebraska Lincoln Tech Edge Conference a few years ago. I was invited to speak about the future of education in an increasingly technological world. While futures is a more common theme for my work now, at that point, I focused more upon the current and emerging trends. Regardless, I enjoyed the opportunity to think about the future. Not being a futurist, I instead looked at the present and offered four or five candid statements about what I think is worthy of change. Looking at the present state of education, especially as it relates to educational technology, what changes should we make to collectively create a positive move in the broader field of education? With that in mind, I suggested that it is time to “move beyond” four or five things. This post is a reflection on the first of those. It is time to move beyond integrating technology.
By that, I do not mean that it is time to stop using technology. My concern is with the nature of the discourse that so often surrounds the phrase, “integrating technology.” My greatest concern comes when working with the administrators of our learning organizations as they talk about broad integration efforts. One of the more dominant efforts the past decade or two is the move toward school-wide one-to-one programs. Please note that my concern is not with 1:1 programs, as they can bring some wonderful affordances for learning environments. What concerns me is that the integrating technology discourse among administrators has great attention to the “what” with often absent or limited interest in the “why.” Without asking why questions, we lose opportunity to attend to organizational mission, vision, and core values.
Either we need to add new and powerful “why” words to the integrating technology discourse, or we need to start a new discourse altogether. Some might point to the digital media and learning movement as one attempt at a new and more substantive discourse, and I do see great potential in it. Time will tell if it finds dominance. For now, let me offer a little more commentary to the existing “integrating technology” discourse that continues to lead the way in many learning organizations.
First, let us consider the simplicity and even absurdity of the question, “How can we integrate more technology in our school or classrooms?” What other community or organization is driven by such a question? Can you imagine the coach of a football team setting the goal of integrating more technology into the team? Or, what about a couple, concerned about their relationship, deciding that the integration of communication technology is the most important remedy? These examples point to the simple goal of adding more technology lacks the ability to get at the things that we most value, unless technology in and of itself is the value. At the same time, consider the medical field. None of us would want a doctor who refused to use current and modern medical technology. In fact, in some instances, to do that might even be a form of malpractice. To use the best tool for the task is important. Now that is a much more helpful question. Given time, resources, and other important factors, what is the best tool for this task? That is an integrating technology question that gets at mission, vision, and especially values. This is the type of question that I contend needs to be commonplace when discussing educational technology.
Here are eight questions that have often led me to more mission, vision, and value-driven technology integrations.
- How can I/we improve student learning in this lesson, unit, class, or across the organization?
- How can I/we increase learner engagement in this training, lesson, unit, or organization?
- How can I/we increase long term retention of key concepts in this training, unit, or lesson?
- How can I/we increase educational access and opportunity in this learning organization?
- How can I/we meet the education and training needs of a diverse and dispersed group of employees or learning organization members?
- How can I/we provide a learning experience that adapts to the distinct or even unique situation of each learner (prior knowledge, existing strengths and limitations, their current demands beyond the classroom, their level of confidence, etc.)?
- How can I/we create a learning organization that moves beyond the mass production model to a mass customization (still scalable, but not expecting that everyone should get the same treatment)?
- How can I/we best equip learners for the nature of life and learning in an increasingly digital world?
I suspect that these are the types of questions that will help us move beyond the current integrating technology discourse to conversations that can help us more fully embody the distinct missions, visions, and core values of our learning organizations.