The term educational technology refers to the use of technology in educational settings, whether it be elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, corporate training sites, or independent study at home.
Educational technology has both general and specialized meanings. To the lay public and to a majority of educators, the term refers to the instructional use of computers, television, and other kinds of electronic hardware and software. Specialists in educational technology, in particular college and university faculty who conduct research and teach courses on educational technology, prefer the term instructional technology because it draws attention to the instructional use of educational technology. This term represents both a process and the particular devices that teachers employ in their classrooms. According to the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, one of the principal professional associations representing educational technologists, “Instructional Technology is a complex, integrated process involving people, procedures, ideas, devices, and organization for analyzing problems, and devising, implementing evaluating, and managing solutions to these problems, in situations in which learning is purposive and controlled.”(p. 4). Educational technologists often employ the term instructional media to represent all of the devices that teachers and learners use to support learning. However, for many educators the terms educational technology, instructional media, and instructional technology are used interchangeably, and they are used so here. In addition, the principal focus will be upon the most modern computational and communication devices used in schools today.
History of Educational Technology
The history of educational technology is marked by the increasing complexity and sophistication of devices, exaggerated claims of effectiveness by technology advocates, sporadic implementation by classroom teachers, and little evidence that the technology employed has made a difference in student learning. Although technology proponents have from time to time claimed that technology will replace teachers, this has not occurred. The typical view among educators is that technology can be used effectively to supplement instruction by providing instructional variety, by helping to make abstract concepts concrete, and by stimulating interest among students.
The terms visual education and visual instruction were used originally because many of the media available to teachers, such as three-dimensional objects, photographs, and silent films, depended upon sight. Later, when sound was added to film and audio recordings became popular, the terms audiovisual education, audiovisual instruction, and audiovisual devices were used to represent the variety of media employed to supplement instruction. These were the principal terms used to describe educational technology until about 1970.
The first administrative organizations in schools to manage instructional media were school museums. The first school museum was established in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1905. Its purpose was to collect and loan portable museum exhibits, films, photographs, charts, stereographic slides, and other materials to teachers for use in their classrooms. District-wide media centers, common in school systems today, are descendants of school museums.
By the first decade of the twentieth century, silent films were being produced for instructional use. In 1910 George Kleine published the Catalogue of Educational Motion Pictures, which listed more than 1,000 titles of films that could be rented by schools. In 1913 Thomas A. Edison asserted, “Books will soon be obsolete in schools …. Our school system will be completely changed in the next ten years” (Saettler 1968, p. 98). In 1917 the Chicago public schools established a visual education department to take responsibility for the ordering and management of films, and by 1931, thirty-one state departments of education had created administrative units to take charge of films and related media. Despite these efforts, films never reached the level of influence in schools that Edison had predicted. From evidence of film use, it appears that teachers used films only sparingly. Some of the reasons cited for infrequent use were teachers’ lack of skill in using equipment and film; the cost of films, equipment, and upkeep; inaccessibility of equipment when it was needed; and the time involved in finding the right film for each class.
Technology is a powerful tool that can support and transform education in many ways, from making it easier for teachers to create instructional materials to enabling new ways for people to learn and work together. With the worldwide reach of the Internet and the ubiquity of smart devices that can connect to it, a new age of anytime anywhere education is dawning. It will be up to instructional designers and educational technologies to make the most of the opportunities provided by technology to change education so that effective and efficient education is available to everyone everywhere.