501: The Case for Ed Tech

May 6, 2010 Justin 3.2: Diffusion of Innovations

“I can’t believe you let students access the Internet without even talking to us parents about it. I don’t see why they need to be online. We didn’t have these things when we were in school and we got a good education. Kids are just wasting their time online on websites like Myspace and schools are doing nothing about it. How about you use the taxpayer money you waste on expensive computers to fix up the schools or pay the teachers more?”

This is just one of many messages that I’ve received from parents who are upset about the fact that our schools use technology. With a career in educational technology and having tinkered with computers since the age of seven, I sometimes find these statements foreign and quite confusing. It’s not uncommon to find parents who think schools are wasting their time buying new computers, and many of them have never even heard of an interactive whiteboard or a document camera. However, it’s a perfectly valid concern. They have good intentions. They believe education should come first, but it may not be readily apparent just how technology improves the quality of education. If we as educators are making decisions to adopt additional technology, the justification for its use rests on our shoulders. Fortunately, there is a wide body of evidence that demonstrates the powerful and beneficial impact technology can have on an educational environment.

What is Educational Technology?

So there’s no ambiguity, let’s define exactly what is meant by “educational technology.” According to the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), it is “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources” (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008, p. 2). What this means in a nutshell is that educational technology exists specifically to help students become better learners. If it does not help them in this capacity, it is not an appropriate technology.

Insisting we shouldn’t be using technology in a school is like saying we shouldn’t be driving cars because we have perfectly good horses. There are things a car can do that a horse can’t, such as travel 80 miles per hour and get people to their destinations faster. On the other hand, a horse can travel on rugged terrain most cars can’t reach.

Perhaps it’s ironic that the parent who sent the complaint did so through email. Why was email used instead of the traditional postal service? Because modern technology advances allow near-instantaneous communication across the world, and since my email address was readily available to this parent, it was the obvious choice. It was the best tool for the job, just like depending on the situation, a car or horse may be the best means of transportation.

A proper study of educational technology identifies the best tools that will create optimal learning experiences for students, or benefit teachers in some way that helps them communicate their instruction more efficiently and effectively. One important fact should be kept in mind: Technology is not a replacement for a teacher. There is no time in the foreseeable future when a teacher’s job will be made obsolete. Instead, when placed in the hands of a good teacher, technology can improve teaching skills and cultivate an improvement in students’ learning.

Technology Transforms the K-12 School System

Most of our students are already immersed in a technological world. They’re skilled users who have grown up with technology in their daily lives. They’re users of cell phones, iPods, video games, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and many other technology tools. Prensky (2001) refers to these children as “digital natives,” young people who are adept users of technology and have always been surrounded by it. They are familiar and competent with the digital tools, and embrace new technologies as they appear. Contrasted with “digital natives” are the “digital immigrants,” the older generation who recall a time when modern technology tools did not exist, and who often have an awkward time adopting them. Students today have different expectations of technological engagement than students used to, and they may expect the same level of engagement in their schools.

Fortunately, there is a wide spectrum of technology tools that can benefit learning in a K-12 environment. For example, teachers can use podcasting to improve their students’ reading, literacy, and language skills, and use auditory playback to identify where they need additional instructional assistance. Podcasting can also be used to share lectures that students may have missed (Hew, 2009). Document cameras and digital projectors allow teachers to display papers, photographs, books, and lab specimens on a big screen (Doe, 2008). Google Earth allows students to instantly explore the world, locate famous landmarks, and watch embedded instructional videos. Blogs allow both students and parents to instantly communicate with the teachers, and provide a window into the classroom. When used by students, they can increase literacy skills and promote global citizenship (Witte, 2007). Augmented reality devices project images over real-life objects, creating visual, highly-engaging activities (Dunleavy, Dede, & Mitchell, 2007). Even the video games students like to play online have educational promise because “they immerse students in complex communities of practice” and “invite extended engagement with course material” (Delwiche, 2006). Our youngest learners can benefit from technology, too, as one study showed that preschoolers who were introduced to video and educational games experienced marked improvement in literacy and conceptualizing skills over students who did not have access to these technology tools (Penuel, Pasnik, Bates, Townsend, Gallagher, Llorente, & Hupert, 2009).

Students with disabilities also benefit from using technology tools. Rhodes & Milby (2007) found that students with disabilities are often proficient with using technology to accomplish learning tasks and interactive activities they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. Electronic books, with their text-to-speech capabilities, animation, and interactivity can boost their confidence, and encourage fluency, comprehension, and language skills.

Technology is more than just a gimmick. It can improve the cognitive learning abilities of students, and support and enhance their learning capabilities (Krentler & Willis-Flurry, 2007). Even students who generally struggle with learning or have disciplinary problems show improvement when technology is used (Dunleavy, et al., 2007). Technology can stimulate children’s cognitive development by improving logical thinking, classification, and concept visualization skills, and creating intellectually stimulating hands-on learning activities. Skills such as literacy, mathematics, and writing are improved and reinforced by a technology-oriented education (Mouza, 2005). Students who recognize technology’s educational benefits are more likely to become engaged in the learning process, seek out their own learning opportunities, maintain a stronger focus on accomplishing their learning tasks, and improve their higher-order thinking skills that allow them to become better problem-solvers (Hopson, Simms, & Knezek, 2001).

One benefit of the Internet is that students have an easy way to share their hard work with a wide audience. Students gain confidence and pride when they see their products in a visual form. The online social aspect can also reduce feelings of isolation, and encourage discussions and peer instruction (Mouza, 2005). One researcher commented, “Youth could benefit from educators being more open to forms of experimentation and social exploration that are generally not characteristic of educational institutions” (Ito, Horst, Bittanti, Boyd, Herr-Stephenson, & Lange, 2009). So important is technology to a K-12 school environment that the National Association for the Education of Young Children states that technology should be used as an active part of the learning process (Rhodes & Milby, 2007).

Technology Enhances Professional Development

Professional development refers to any skills or knowledge obtained that benefits one in their career. We are experiencing an unusual phenomenon in our school systems. For once, most of our students possess a greater knowledge and skill in a field than many teachers do. It’s important that teachers engage in professional development opportunities so they can “keep up” with the students’ extensive experience with technology.

Not long ago, the extent of a teacher’s learning didn’t stretch beyond the walls of the school. Teachers would gather in the teachers’ lounge to discuss their instructional strategies. One way to motivate teachers and provide ongoing work-related educational support is through online communities, where peers support each others’ learning. Hausman and Goldring (2001) found that teachers are most committed to their schools when they have a sense of community, and are offered opportunities to learn.

In an online community, a teacher can post a question and receive back insightful answers with minimal effort on their part. Teachers can also share their experiences, and gather evidence of the success of new techniques (Duncan-Howell, 2010). Online courses are prevalent, podcasts are available to extend learning, professional-oriented chat rooms spring up, educators share their thoughts on their blogs, and teachers set up and share webcam feeds at conferences so other members of the online community can learn the new techniques and skills necessary for teaching modern students. Technology has allowed teachers to figuratively break through the walls of their schools and engage a vast community of like-minded individuals who come together to interact, learn, and share knowledge with each other.

Technology is Necessary in the Outside World

One of the expectations of our education system is that students will be taught the skills necessary to be productive and competitive members of society and the modern workplace. As Harris (1996) pointed out, “Information Age citizens must learn not only how to access information, but more importantly how to manage, analyze, critique, cross-reference, and transform it into usable knowledge” (p. 15). Businesses are rapidly adopting new technologies to simplify and enhance their processes, and are demanding higher-order critical thinking skills of their job candidates. Adults who use the Internet have greater success at obtaining jobs, and have higher salaries (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Celeste, & Shafer, 2004), and technology prepares students for the modern-day jobs they will obtain by teaching them skills such as motivation, engagement, and online collaboration (Ringstaff & Kelley, 2002). If students are not taught the necessary skills they need during their K-12 education, they will be at a severe disadvantage when they are ready to enter the workforce.

Face-to-face communication skills are and likely always will be important in the workplace, but social business skills have expanded to include more than just face-to-face communication. Teleconferencing, collaborative document authoring, online correspondence, video conferencing, and more are common in modern workplaces. While parents think their children are wasting their time talking to others online, our youth are acquiring basic social and technological skills they need to fully participate in contemporary society (Ito, et al., 2009). If we restrict our children from using these online social forms of learning, we are stifling their future careers, and preventing them from being able to compete in this digital age.


In the parent’s message at the beginning of this paper there was one fundamental misconception: that technology and learning are at odds with each other. This is simply not the case, and the research paints a very different picture. We are experiencing a “shrinking world” as technology has opened lines of communication that just 20 years ago were either impossible or a monumentally expensive feat. Students should realize the educational potential of technology, and we must be prepared to create learning opportunities that encourage them to use technology in their education. Ultimately, if we wish to create motivated, lifelong learners with the necessary knowledge and skills that give them a competitive advantage in modern careers, we must embrace technology in our schools.


Delwiche, A. (2006). Massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) in the new media classroom. Educational Technology & Society, 9(3), 160-172.

DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Celeste, C., & Shafer, S. (2004). From unequal access to differentiated use: A literature review and agenda for research on digital inequality. Social inequality, 355–400.

Doe, C. (2008). A look at document cameras. MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 15(5), 30-33.

Duncan-Howell, J. (2010). Teachers making connections: Online communities as a source of professional learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 324-340. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00953.x

Dunleavy, M., Dede, C., & Mitchell, R. (2009). Affordances and limitations of immersive participatory augmented reality simulations for teaching and learning. Journal of Science Education & Technology, 18(1), 7-22. doi:10.1007/s10956-008-9119-1

Harris, J. (1996). Information is forever in formation, knowledge is the knower: Global connectivity in K-12 classrooms.  Computers in the Schools, 72(1-2), 11-22.

Hausman, C. S., & Goldring, E. B. (2001). Sustaining teacher commitment: The role of professional communities. Peabody Journal of Education, 76(2), 30-51.

Hew, K. (2009). Use of audio podcast in K-12 and higher education: A review of research topics and methodologies. Educational Technology Research & Development, 57(3), 333-357. doi:10.1007/s11423-008-9108-3

Hopson, M. H., Simms, R. L., & Knezek, G. A. (2001). Using a technology-enriched environment to improve higher-order thinking skills. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 34(2), 109-120.

Januszewski, A., & Molenda, M. (2008). Educational technology: A definition with commentary. New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum, Inc.

Ito, M., Horst, H., Bittanti, M., Boyd, D., Herr-Stephenson, B., & Lange, P. G. (2008). Living and learning with new media: Summary of findings from the digital youth project. Retrieved May 4, 2010, from http://digitalyouth.ischool.berkeley.edu/files/report/digitalyouth-WhitePaper.pdf.

Krentler, K. A. & Willis-Flurry, L. A. (2005). Does technology enhance actual student learning? The case of online discussion boards. Journal of Education for Business, 80(6), 316-321. doi:10.3200/JOEB.80.6.316-321

Mouza, C. (2005). Using technology to enhance early childhood learning: The 100 days of school project. Educational Research & Evaluation, 11(6), 513-528.

Penuel, W. R., Pasnik, S., Bates, L., Townsend, E., Gallagher, L. P., Llorente, C., & Hupert, N. (2009). Preschool teachers can use a media-rich curriculum to prepare low-income children for school success: Results of a randomized controlled trial. Summative evaluation of the “Ready to learn initiative”. Education Development Center. Retrieved May 4, 2010 from http://cct.edc.org/rtl/pdf/RTLEvalReport.pdf.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). Retrieved May 4, 2010, from http://www.hfmboces.org/HFMDistrictServices/TechYES/PrenskyDigitalNatives.pdf

Rhodes, J., & Milby, T. (2007). Teacher-created electronic books: Integrating technology to support readers with disabilities. Reading Teacher, 61(3), 255-259.

Ringstaff, C., & Kelley, L. (2002). The learning return on our education technology investment: A review of findings from  research. San Francisco: WestEd. Retrieved May 4, 2010, from https://www.msu.edu/~corleywi/documents/Positive_impact_tech/The%20learning%20return%20on%20our%20educational%20technology%20investment.pdf

Witte, S. (2007). “That’s online writing, not boring school writing”: Writing with blogs and the talkback project. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 51(2), 92-96.

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