On Educational Technology Rather the IT in Schools

In 1993, Seymour Papert imagined two time-traveling professionals from 100 years earlier; he speculated the physician would be flummoxed by the activity and the technology in the 20th century clinic, but the teacher would find the activity and the technology in a 20th century classroom very familiar. Papert based his speculations on the degree to which medical practitioners had adopted and adapted to technological innovations compared to educational practitioners. In the decades since, we who work in educational technology have made some progress in creating schools that would flummox the teacher in Papert’s tale, but the work is far from complete.

The technicians among us have installed computers, servers, switches, routers, and other network devices; we use sophisticated software to manage networks; our networks store and protect all varieties of school data; and we provide access to vast information and global interaction through the IT networks in our schools. That infrastructure has not, however, transformed teaching and learning in a manner that would confuse a time-traveling teacher. I see increasing disparity between the experience of school and the experience necessary to participate in the IT-rich society we have created.

We can identify many reasons there appears to be a widening gap between the education students need and they education they get. Curriculum—the stuff we teach—is evolving rapidly. Discoveries are made and events happen daily that affect what we teach and the circumstances of our students’ lives. It is no longer possible to find the relevant and necessary curriculum in a textbook or a set of standards; students’ education must prepare them to accommodate new ideas and new situations. Pedagogy—the manner in which we teach is evolving with similar rapidity. Cognitive scientists are discovering minute details of how brains function and learning scientists are applying those to the design and implementation of classroom and other learning environments. Technology—the tools we use to teach are a third factor evolving with amazing rapidity. Students entering school (along with their parents) have lived in a world where infinite information and ubiquitous interaction have always been reality. That reality has affected what and how they understand. The themes of content, pedagogy, and technology will be encountered in later chapters, as these are components of important theory regarding teachers’ preparation for and their continued development for digital learning.

At this point, it is important to recognize the information technology (IT) infrastructure installed in schools is very complex. While almost any technology-savvy person was capable of managing the first few generations of computers that arrived in schools (when the numbers were few and the systems were stand-alone), todays schools are filled with enterprise level networks, and ensuring these system remain functional and the data on them secure requires specific knowledge and expertise. IT professionals are essential to educational technology decisions, but they often lack experience managing IT for educational populations whose characteristics are quite unlike IT users in other organizations. 

The leaders of almost every school face the same situation: teaching is an increasingly sophisticated endeavor that depends on increasingly sophisticated information technology. The expertise necessary to maintain and operate this information technology is frequently “imported” into education. IT professionals’ professional preparation (including licensing exams) is to be industry-neutral; the rationale is that professionals can configure IT infrastructure for any organization. There are differences between users of IT in schools and users of IT in other organizations, however, that do affect the patterns of use, and those are relevant to the degree to which IT serves users. Consider network credentials, the user names and passwords used to log on to computers. In professional organizations comprised of adults, IT professionals can assume literacy skills and competence with a keyboard; so complex credentials (necessary to secure the system) do not pose a threat to IT use. In schools, young students who must key many characters and sophisticated passwords may find the same credentials an obstacle to IT use.