What is Instructional Technology?

The following is a slightly modified post I wrote for the Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE), our state affiliate of ISTE (full disclosure, I am a member of the VSTE Board of Directors). If you arrived here from that link, welcome. Please feel free to comment and let me know just how far off base I am with this rant. :)


A primary mission of VSTE is, of course, to help empower educators to make great use of technology for teaching and learning. Many of our members even have “instructional technology”, or some variation on the phrase, in their job title.

But what exactly is “instructional” technology? As opposed another variety of tech, like the 1977 Ford Pinto.

Ask around and you’ll probably get many different answers to that question, but, since this is my post, here is my twitter-length definition:

That would exclude the student information system many teachers use every day. Certainly the online grade book, attendance system, and other tools in most SIS packages is an essential part of classroom management. But it’s not used by students in any part of their learning.

We also drop the learning management system (LMS) many districts provide for their teachers. Think Blackboard, Edmodo, or Google Classroom. Also not “instructional” technology.

I suppose you could make the case that students might use parts of some LMS directly for their learning (a blogging tool, for example). But that’s not how they are commonly used. Most LMS function as organizational and distribution systems for content pushed to students, again to improve classroom management.

Also not “instructional”: response tools (Kahoot, Socrative), interactive whiteboards, video tutorials (Khan Academy), and a long, long list of curriculum games. Although I’ve seen a few (very few) special cases, student interaction with these resources is almost always as consumers, responding to material provided by publishers and teachers, not using them as creators.

And for me, that is the fundamental component for any technology to be considered instructional: control. When I say “directly by students”, I expect them to have some meaningful control as to how the technology – device, software, website, whatever – is used in the learning process.

So, what would I consider some examples of “instructional” technology?

That word processing program most students use would count, but only if they have some decision about what they will write. It would be even better if their writing was connected to the web, allowing them to present their ideas to a larger, more meaningful audience. One without a red pen.

We could include one of those slide show presentation programs, but only if the student has some control over the content. And again, let’s extend that control and let them determine the tools that will allow them to best explain their ideas to an audience beyond the walls of their classroom.

Then there are the devices that many students bring to school everyday, the ones that too many of their teachers still consider as the antithesis of “instructional”. Beyond providing access to vast amounts of information, those so-called phones are also powerful creative tools that can be used to record, edit, and distribute still images, audio, and video. Tools students can use in many, many ways to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and learning.

Of course, all of the above is only my opinion. But what do you think? How would you define “instructional technology” (or it’s shorter, equally vague sibling “edtech”)? Tweet your ideas to @timstahmer and @vste and let’s have that conversation. Or post a longer comment to this post on my blog.

Because in the end, the terminology we use when discussing these issues – with our colleagues, the community, legislators – does matter. We must be very clear when advocating for the use of technology in our schools and why it makes a difference for students.

Picture Post #5, VSTE Edition

A few of my favorite shots from the Virginia Society for Technology in Education conference from a few days ago. More are in theVSTE 2015 album on Flickr.

Dean

Dean Shareski was our keynote speaker and reminded everyone about the need to keep joy in our work. He was watched over by Yoda himself.

Jumping for Joy

And later Dean and some friends jumped for joy.

Selfie

Margaret takes a selfie, from my point of view.

Hackerspace

With Josh leading the way, the Hackerspace playground at the conference was usually busy.

Social Media Board

I was surprised that so many people liked this very analog way of capturing digital information.

A Few Learning Opportunities

For those who read my rants here in the northern part of Virginia – or the extended area that is annoyingly called “the DMV” (DC, Maryland, Virginia) by some local media outlets – I’ll be participating in these close-by learning events in the next six weeks or so.

Next weekend, November 7 and 8, I’ll be doing two of my Google Earth/Maps-related sessions at the EdTech Team’s Northern Virginia Summit. We’ll be at George Mason High School in Falls Church and there are still a few tickets left.

Later in the month, November 21, join us for edCamp NoVA at Eagle Ridge Middle School in Ashburn for a morning of collaboration, discussion, and learning. Learning about what? Well, that’s the beauty of the edCamp concept. The content is totally up to the participants. Did I mention it’s free?

And then there’s the annual VSTE Conference, the premiere learning experience in Virginia. We’ll be in beautiful downtown Roanoke for three days, December 6-8, of sessions and activities covering everything about using technology in the classroom. I’ll be in the Hackerspace area most of the time but also out taking pictures.

If you also plan to be at any or all of these events, please track me down and say hi.

Life, Actually

If things were going according to plan, right now I would be at the Virginia Beach convention center starting the second day of the VSTE1 annual conference. I would have arrived early on Saturday for set up and worked with a large group of wonderful people to make the event a success, going steadily through tomorrow evening.

Instead I’m home taking care of my wife2 and watching the conference as filtered through Twitter and other media.

It’s very much a cliche, but I’ll say it anyway: occasionally life doesn’t follow “the plan”. So you make adjustments and move on.

Not great philopsophy, just something on my mind this morning.

Moving on.

Are EdTech Conferences Still Relevant?

I drove home from our state edtech conference earlier this week with lots of ideas, questions and conflicts. Nothing new there.

But one of those questions has been stuck in my head for a while: Are “tech” conferences like VSTE really necessary anymore?

Becker tweet

Adding to the conflict was a recent tweet from Jon Becker suggesting a conference merger between the Virginia affiliates of ASCD and ISTE.

He has a good point. VASCD could probably use a good dose of technology and grassroots social networking (as opposed to the manufactured version used by many organizations and most corporations).

And VSTE’s conference needs more focus on instruction and less on scattershot dispersal of tips/tricks/apps of the kind we saw in the closing keynote.

However, edtech conferences like ours (and the giants like ISTE and FETC) are only part of the problem. For the most part, their programs are very much reflective of the way technology is still used in most schools.

Despite decades of spending on “educational” computing and talk of web 2.0/21st century skills, actually using all that technology is still optional.  For most administrators and teachers – and students for that matter – it is not an essential part of the school learning process.

Thus we have conferences about education separate from those about technology in education.