my (non) definition of "educational technology"

I wrote this for an assignment in the Conceptualizing Educational Technology grad course I’m taking. I figure it’s worth planting my flag publicly as well…

“Educational Technology” is one of those terms that makes me squirm. I’m not comfortable with any of the definitions of it, primarily because they posit that “educational technology” is a separate, different thing that somehow needs to be integrated (somehow) into the “real” education. It positions technology as being “hard” and needing “experts” and “support” in order to be used by mere mortals. It raises the anxiety to a level that scares many people away. They don’t have time for “educational technology.” Or they don’t have the training. Or the budget. Or the support. Or the infrastructure. Or any of a long list of things that are suggested (explicitly and implicitly) by defining something like “educational technology.” It also aligns with the notion of a consumer-based society - educational technology is something to be produced in a laboratory somewhere, to be consumed in the classroom.

My personal stance is that there is no such thing as “educational technology.” Was chalk labeled “educational technology”? Were there educational conferences spawned around the notion of pen and paper? Perhaps there were, but more likely, these technologies were adapted and integrated because they were inherently useful to the practice of teaching and learning.

The idea that we can have a 360 page textbook that bills itself as “a definition (of educational technology) with commentary” boggles my mind. It sets the field up to be esoteric, distant, and isolated.

The one-liner definition provided by Januszewski and Molenda - that “educational technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological proceses and resources”1 - is not a bad definition. But this usable version of their definition leaves so many unanswered questions as to be nearly meaningless. It requires an additional 360 pages to define all of the terms, and to describe implications and strategies. Any definition that complex is not likely to be relevant or useful. It seems more like a definition written by a committee, designed to appease an untold number of stakeholders.

My definition, if I’m pressed to give one, is probably “educational technology is whatever stuff you need to use to support the practice of effective teaching and learning.” Sure, it’s overly simple, and doesn’t additionally define any of the terms, but this concise definition leaves the definition open enough to be useful.

There isn’t really such a thing as “educational technology” - there is technology, used in the context of teaching and learning.

  1. AECT. (2008). Definition. In A. Januszewski, & M. Molenda (Eds.), Educational Technology: A Definition with Commentary (pp. 1-14). New York & London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ↩︎

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Last updated: September 16, 2023