I should be able to answer that question. After all, my job title says I’m a specialist on the subject.
Seriously though, that relatively simple question has been running around in my head for the past few months, triggered by a major (re: expensive) project being rolled out this year by our overly-large school district.
The effort is supposed to provide schools with an online “curriculum resource tool” – basically a large database that will give teachers access to practice standardized test items and other curriculum materials.
Whatever you call it, the system will take up a lot of our training time and just about everyone in the schools is going to under a lot of pressure to use it.
But in spite of the fact that the project is listed under the general category “instructional technology” in the budget and the phrase is even in the name of the office responsible for managing it, can you call this “instructional technology”?
And what about the gradebook, attendance, and IEP tracking systems we’ve also spent lots of dollars and manpower on in the past? Do they fit in the category?
No. At least not according to the definition of the term that has been evolving in my head.
Instructional technology is any digital tool that someone could use to enhance their personal learning.
That may need a little work. Maybe a lot of work.
But my intention here is to find some simple terminology that will differentiate between tools for managing grades, attendance, and other classroom paperwork, and those that are used by learners to create, collaborate, communicate, and improve understanding.
Our new “curriculum resource tool” doesn’t qualify as “instructional” since it won’t be used directly with kids.
And, let’s be honest. It’s function is really more about teaching them to pass tests than it is about increasing their ability to learn.
Which is another reason why I’m trying to sort all this out.
We talk a lot about using technology in the classroom, often in very general, somewhat vague terms.
I think we need to make clear to everyone involved that there’s a big difference between the tools that teachers use for their administrative tasks and those that need to be in the hands of – and controlled by – their students.
Between a single-purpose system used to increase scores on standardized tests and tools that can empower genuine learning.
So, I’ll continue working on the wording and the concepts as I try to find a simple way to explain to our teachers (and others) that instructional technology is about far more than this district-wide project with a clever acronym and nice logo.
It’s about putting powerful technology in the hands of kids and then helping them understand how to use the tools for learning beyond just this school year.