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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Which Comes First in EdTech: Ed or Tech?

Don Boyes, who teaches GIS at the University of Toronto, wrote a thoughtful post last week about his current work preparing to move one of his face to face GIS classes to an online format. He addresses the key areas he needs to explore: content, pedagogy and technology. It's the last one that interests me. Boyes writes:
Teaching GIS in general, and certainly online, requires more than a passing familiarity with a host of technologies.  I have been thinking about the software I use, or might use for my online course.  Just off the top of my head, the list includes: PowerPoint; Adobe Photoshop, Captivate, Presenter, Premiere, and Connect; Blackboard; and Citrix XenApp.  I also have to understand issues concerning bandwidth, mobile devices, podcasting, open learning, etc.  As a technophile/early adopter, I love learning about all these things, but it takes a lot of time.  For every technologic tool or solution, I have to be mindful of the actual benefits for improving communication, teaching, and learning and judge whether the invested time will be worth it.
I am pleased Boyes has such a long list of tech tools in mind. And, I'm pleased he's aware that it's possible to get swept up in the tech and perhaps lose site of the goal, that is, learning.

That brings me to the question in the title: In the development of a course (residential or online), which should come first: the full syllabus with course and lesson objectives or the tech that will enable to objectives?

In an ideal world, educators would have the luxury of paid time to consider the content and pedagogy and develop a course. Then and only then, they'd have the resources (skilled instructional designers, hardware, funds, time to test implementations, etc.) to weave in the appropriate technology. I'm sure I'm not the first to notice it rarely works quite that way.

Still, I think it's valuable to try to work that way, especially now when education technology tools are exploding. Why?
  • While the tool you may want may not be available when you begin to develop the course, it might be in beta by the time you start to select technology. And, if technology literacy goals are among of the course, why not consider new or beta offerings? Students can learn a lot from how software is tested and input collected. Moreover, you can often use such products for free as part of a beta program or the like.
  • You can't possibly keep up with both educational technologies and your discipline. Don't try; rely on others to help identify and select appropriate technology. 
  • It's so easy to get swept away by new sexy software and hardware. Just consider the big rush to the iPad when most of the research on its impact on learning is still anecdotal. Hold tight to your educational objectives; don't be swayed by flashiness. 
Education technology is supposed to enhance learning. Thus, by definition, an educator must know what is to be taught and learned before such tools are selected. Be sure Ed comes first when considered EdTech.