<span class='p-name'>Making sense of teaching, learning, & assessing with technology</span>

Making sense of teaching, learning, & assessing with technology

When I teach classes, or present at workshops, there are often questions about the different names and perspectives in the field. I studied in the New Literacies Research Lab, and helped write, research, and develop in the various aspects of new literacies. I’ve also written a lot in the labels or fields of multiliteracies, web literacies, digital literacies, and information media literacies.

Each of these areas has its own specific areas of beauty and it is my responsibility to know these, and not conflate them as I write and research across them. But are these areas important for the regular educator and instructor to know? I don’t think so. I want you to consider ways to effectively and authentically embed digital texts and tools in instruction. I want you to consider your choices and identity construction in the process. I want you to consider how your choices and practices support or detract from your freedoms, and the rights of others.

But, at the core, we need to start with understanding what it means to teach, learn, and assess with technology. From there we can begin to think about the literacy practices involved in these spaces. This means understanding the differences between educational technologies, instructional technologies, & digital literacy

When considering the use of technology as a tool to support learners in educational settings, historically the terms educational technology and instructional technology each have their own meaning. Each of these terms has a long historical context, yet recently they’ve been conflated into one another, and also impacted by a growing desire by institutions to identify strategies to build the digital literacy of students and faculty. Each of these has historically provided challenges for education institutions as they struggle to effectively embed them in their programs and systems.

Educational Technology

The “educational technology” community comes from a focus on using technology to support education, for example starting with movies in the classroom and progressing to the use of computer aided instruction. Educational technology encapsulates a broader scope of approach for literacy with technology as a content aspect. Educational technologies could be identified as smart boards, computers, educational platforms, or devices. Educational technology considers the affordances of specific tools, meaning what does this technology allow us to do in education to better achieve learning outcomes. From an educational technology perspective, there is a focus on what the technology facilitates, more specifically, what learning or actions are facilitated (i.e., afforded) by the use of the tool.

Educational technologies have expanded into a number of different platforms in the last decade becoming more available to a wider constituency. Although ever improving and frequently changing, for most populations educational technologies lag slightly behind the overall development of technological capabilities.   

Early modern educational technologies commenced with the development of audio-visual equipment used to enhance students’ learning experience in a convenient and captivating manner.  More recently, the advancement of distance learning classes have exploded as colleges and universities have found them to be unabashedly economically rewarding. Instructional websites such as Blackboard and D2L allow academic communities to widen both their diversity and inclusiveness in student population and course offerings.  

Online classes are constantly enhanced with a variety of technologies including live classrooms, electronic books, simulations, text messaging, podcasting, wikis, blogs, vlogs,  instant messaging, modules, audiovisuals, social networking sites classified to instructional institutions, Web 2.0, digital mash-ups, websites, and various other programs and telecommunications. In the past e-learning was a means of simply delivering content, but has grown to include interactivity and activities allowing the clarifying of content and improving the learning experience.  These technologies allow students to collaborate and communicate ideas with one another bringing enlightenment and a better experience to all types of learners.

Instructional Technology

Instructional technology (also sometimes used in association with the terms instructional systems design, instructional systems technology, or instructional design) looks at systematic approaches to design instruction for a specific audience to fill a specific skill or knowledge gap, making use of the appropriate technology solutions (e.g. ranging from classroom-based instruction to online asynchronous instruction to online synchronous virtual instruction.) Instructional technology is more framed by a focus on teacher, or instructor oriented tools. As an example, instructional technology focuses on tools that help educators and instructors create a program, divide it into a series of classes, divide these classes into a curriculum or series of module or lessons.

Instructional technology is technology that primarily is applied to enhancing the communication of learning material. It can refer to modifications, tools, or processes that can add additional dimensions to instructional content, anything that can “bring it to life”, so to speak. It is best appreciated from the point of view of the instructor. Put simply, instructional technology is more about creating and structuring learning materials using technological tools. Instructional technology is narrower in scope (a learning system that uses technology) involves employing educational solutions and tools to effect better learning engagements.

Instructional technology can mean a number of things to different professionals. Instructional Technology is also ever changing and adapting to the newest innovations. Early use included the aforementioned audio-visual support, but then grew to include communications and computer programs. Now, instructional technology is considered to rely almost solely on the Internet. Instructional technologies today are not only a way to convey information, although that is considered one of the main purposes, but it is also meant to be interactive and collaborative. The most fitting criteria that best classifies instructional technology today would any technology that can be used in a classroom to relay information, collaborate, or express learning. These technologies would ideally be centered around, but not limited to, the idea of being reachable from anywhere through the internet.

Digital Literacy

Traditional notions of literacy simply identify the skills and practices involved in reading and writing. In higher educational contexts, this simplistic framing of literacy is the complexity involved in decoding and encoding scholarly texts for educational and professional purposes. More recent views of literacy have expanded views of text to include not only traditional text, but also images, video, audio, and hypertextual content, such as the interactive modalities that are found in online, digital spaces. Over time, this framing has evolved to include not only technology-supported multimodal text in literacy practices, but also the larger societal use of these tools and practices as a means to communicate and participate with others. This intersection is often referred to as digital literacy, whereas this is where we’ll also find new literacies, multiliteracies, web literacies, information media literacies, & others.

We integrate a literacy perspective, because in a globally connected, hypertextual world, these skills and practices provide opportunities for individuals to educate, empower, succeed, and survive. These involve the skills and tools needed to emphasize learning, research, and critical thinking generally, within the context of knowledge production. These broad definitions of digital literacy are applicable in many educational contexts from Pre-School to adulthood; they are especially important in understanding digital literacy in undergraduate and graduate education and in professional scholarship.

There is some growing consensus within educational contexts that digital literacy should be a meaningful component of the skillset that students leave the institution or system. Even with this growing awareness, there is some disagreement as educators and administrators cannot agree on whether they should have to provide a critical understanding of the complexity of these spaces. This includes the contexts of information, media, and knowledge production, including not only the limitations and constraints imposed by the design of digital tools, but also the social, legal, political, economic, and cultural constraints of the media. There are also questions about whether or not faculty, staff, and administrators have the capacity, time, or expertise to provide this knowledge.  

Future contexts

For the most part, education has spent the last 12 years in the past. The same technologies have been used for instructional purposes in education since the year 2006. The difference between then and now, however, is the growing complacency.

Educators and instructors are often given incentives to become digitally literate in instructional technologies. These incentives are increasingly disappearing because of comfort with text and tool use, and the belief that everyone is automatically “digitally literate.” Some of the thinking behind this comes from the misguided, and misinformed “digital natives” debate, and the belief that younger people are hard-wired to be good with technology.

This is important to note this because educational systems and programs from Pre-K up through higher education question why they should offer educators payment for something that is believed to be common knowledge? There is also the growing mindset that there are other more important areas of focus and need in educational settings, and that digital literacy and technology use has already had enough attention.

The real truth is that educators claim to be digital literate, yet they still have basic questions about educational and instructional technologies. They continue to use the same technologies they learned previously, and have had success with. In the year 2000, being digitally literate meant that you could navigate a computer and use email. In the year 2018, there are many more technologies available to use, so would this definition still suffice? This raises the question of, what does it mean to teach, learn, and assess with technology? What will it mean to teach, learn, and assess with technology in the future?


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3 Comments Making sense of teaching, learning, & assessing with technology

  1. Aaron Davis

    I really liked the way that you break down the use of technology. Although I still find Belshaw’s digital literacies as a useful starting point for a deeper conversation. However, your differentiation between learning and teaching is a useful way of talking about context. I think it is also a reminder that technology is a system.
    In the past I have used the Modern Learners Canvas to break down the various parts of learning and classroom.
    “Modern Learning Canvas – Instructional Model” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA
    Technology has a part to play, but it is never in isolation.
    Lately, my take on educational technology has taken another twist. My focus lately has been on policy and the implication this has for technology and ‘efficency’. Whether it be reporting, timetables or attendance, what I am coming to realise is how much of this is assumed when it comes to instruction.
    Would love your thoughts? I wonder if in ten years we will have more agile systems, that combine the rigour with the flexibility called for in today’s day and age?


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