Affordances of Educational Technology

Computers, networks, and mobile devices are deeply embedded in classrooms. Even if we avoid their use in formal lessons, students are going to arrive with the devices in their bags and pockets, and they will use them for research, calculation, writing, and other information tasks. It seems reasonable to expect all instructors to teach, model, and expect information technology use in their classes.

As we plan to use computers, educators should be aware of several affordances of instructional technology. These are “things” we can do with technology that are difficult or too time consuming to do without technology. If your students are simply clicking on screens to respond to questions presented on the screen, then they are unlikely to be using these affordances.

Interactivity—Technology can respond to user input in complicated ways. Consider strategy games and models which present problems to students, respond to their input, and vary the display (often in multimedia).

Adaptive—Technology can be programmed to behave in an “intelligent” manner. Providing feedback, alternative pathways, and further instruction in response to students input. Consider tying tutorials that vary speed and letters to promote faster learning of the skill.

Feedback—Technology can be programmed to provide immediate feedback to students. Consider the online testing that is built into learning management systems. Instructors can praise correct answers (let’s not get into the debate over the effects of such praise) or provide specific feedback for specific incorrect answers.

Choice—Because information technology has effectively infinite capacity to present information, it can be used to promote students’ selection of what they need. For example, students can access tutorials, worked examples, and other resources whenever they need.

Non-linear access—Choice and the adaptive nature of information technology contribute to the capacity to access curriculum materials in any order that is reasonable. Students can review materials of skip materials as needed.

Linked representations—Information technology has become a media-rich phenomenon. This means teachers can point students to audio, video, images, or text materials that provide clarifying information, alternative interpretations, extensions, or other applications of the ideas being taught. Combined with the non-linear nature, this can provide choice and interactivity for students.

Open-ended input—Computers were originally devices in which user input and computer output was alphanumeric characters. Over time, IT has become media-rich. User can create audio, video, drawn, and other forms of information to digital tools.

Communicate—As much as computers and associated digital tools are information technologies, they are also interaction technologies. Email, chat, and similar tools can be used for synchronous and asynchronous communication with both internal and external populations.