So, what is Educational Technology? This is a question that may seem obvious, but a lot of aspects of Ed Tech may be missed on the first iteration. Conceptually, I’ve begun to break down Ed Tech into three pieces. While these often overlap, they are usually dealt with in different ways, and by different people, and can confuse an otherwise good conversation.
First is the most commonly considered piece – the technology used as a direct part of student instruction. While this may occur either in or out of the classroom, I’ll refer to it as “Classroom Technology” for simplicity. Broadly, this includes hardware (classroom computers, smart boards), software (Khan Academy, Code Academy), and methods (flipped classrooms, blended learning). I generally put everything in this category that involves delivering content of one sort or another to students.
The second piece of Ed Tech I’ll call “Computer Science,” although I think of it much more broadly. This is education delivered to students dealing directly with learning about computers and other technologies. Because of the common crossovers, I also include education in other technologies such as robotics and electronics in this group. Schools differ very greatly in their approach to these subjects, and many schools neglect this area altogether. Computer science instruction has often been considered a part educational technology, but where present these areas present a different set of concerns from classroom technology. An additional note here: at one time learning specific computer applications (such as Microsoft Word and Excel) would have been included here as well. For reasons I’ll explain later, I do not believe these should belong in this group any longer.
The final piece of Ed Tech is often not considered educational technology at all. It is what I’ll call “back-end technology.” This includes all of the school’s technology infrastructure, communications systems, and learning management systems. While the focus of a school is ultimately on its students, it is impossible to create an optimal environment for this without good communications, record-keeping, and scheduling technologies. Much of this is nearly invisible to end users, particularly if it is done well and working properly. But consider for a moment the amount and importance of email between teachers, parents, staff, and students on a daily basis, and it is clear how vital a school’s back-end technologies are to a school’s operations.
While none of these categories exist in a vacuum and there is considerable overlap, I find the distinctions very helpful in thinking about the problems faced by educational institutions. These areas all have room for improvement in a given school, and these areas are considered and implemented by different personnel (hopefully with input from all affected constituents.) At a large institution, these areas may be completely separated: the email system may be implemented by an IT department, classroom technology by an educational team and administration, and computer science by an individual teacher or department. At a small school, a single computer teacher may cover all three categories (although this is becoming rare indeed, as it is now probably more than an individual can handle even at the smallest institutions!)
So why not just consider the classroom technologies under Ed Tech? That is, after all, the most commonly discussed piece. Computer science has often been included in classroom technology by default, because the same teachers who can teach computer science are also the ones most likely to use new technologies in the classroom. Considering computer science under the classroom technology category does the teachers a disservice, tending to overburden them with extra, unrecognized duties and distracting from classroom instruction. I therefore think of computer science as a separate part of Ed Tech in order to dissociate it from classroom technology.
On the other hand, I include back-end technology in order to more closely associate it with Ed Tech. Many of these technologies have become an integral part of classroom instruction. Students email assignments to teachers, ask questions on chat, store documents in the cloud. All of these have become essential to the workflow in many schools, and yet are hardly considered educational technologies at all. But wait until the network goes down, and it is evident how dependent teachers and students are on the infrastructure!