I work to provide teaching and learning on every desk and in every home. Making education available to the human race will make the world better, relieve suffering, and facilitate great human achievement.
While researching for a conversation with colleagues at Microsoft, I ran across a video that struck me. It was proposing to laud the application of digital technologies in the learning of children. A lovely young person, appearing to be about five years of age, proudly presents her version of the quintessential childhood art work involving a house, a tree, and several stick-figure family members. She accomplished this with a stylus and a Microsoft Surface Pro. Adorable. And so wrong.
Why did I think so? The video was designed to speak to the significance of digital technologies in advancing education. I was immediately struck by the question: what did the digital technology contribute to this educational endeavor? At the immediate level of the learner, what does any particular digital solution solve? And when we look across the whole landscape of #EdTech, what is our reason for being?
Technology or tools play a critical role in our ability to pass on knowledge and understanding. Passing along this understanding of ourselves and the world sets our children on a path to improve that understanding and hand it off to their children. This iterative cycle builds a better world, relieves suffering, and facilitates great human achievement. Of course, there are mistakes. There are disasters in our movement to understand ourselves and the world. But we learn and move to a deeper understanding.
Technology (“science of craft”, from Greek τέχνη, techne, “art, skill, cunning of hand”; and -λογία, -logia) is the collection of techniques, skills, methods, and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation.
Technology has always been part of this work. Words and then writing are technologies. Scrolls and then books are technologies. Paper and crayons are technologies used by lovely young people to explore an understanding of ourselves and our world. What is the problem we can solve with digital technologies in teaching and learning?
I suggest that the answer lies in the concept of availability. This is not something unique to digital technology. Paper makes knowledge available to someone at a distance in space or time. As we move forward with our work in educational technology, I find this concept of availability a rich source for understanding our work.
I know I have occasionally confused a sparkling new technological tool with an advance. Sometimes, the tools we build do not solve an educational challenge. They might solve challenges in other areas of human endeavour. We do better in understanding the contribution of a particular tool if we have a framing vision for the field. In the case of education, I find the challenge of availability compelling.
There are billions of people in our world. For many, their access to knowledge and understanding is limited by the ability of the necessary tools to reach them. Consider the significance of the technology of moveable-type printing presses. This is a technology that made books available to more people, expanding knowledge and understanding. Then move that technology to the 17th century and we see a proliferation of lending libraries to increase availability of these printed books. With our digital technologies, we have the potential to massively increase the availability of learning, both in raw terms and in pedagogical terms with granular learning adapted to the particular learner.
So I suggest that our educational technologies are strongest when they address this core challenge of availability. They are rightly challenged for their place in our educational ecosystem when they are merely replacements for older technologies that function well. To paraphrase the original vision of Microsoft, I ask of myself and my colleagues: what does any solution accomplish to move us closer to education at every desk and in every home?
Technology. (2017, December 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13:05, January 20, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Technology&oldid=815712120
Nadella, S., Shaw, G., Nichols, J. & Gates, B. (2017). Hit refresh : the quest to rediscover Microsoft’s soul and imagine a better future for everyone. New York, NY: HarperBusiness, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers. Page 69.
File:Metal movable type edit.jpg. (2017, May 17). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 14:12, January 20, 2018 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Metal_movable_type_edit.jpg&oldid=244435063.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on January 20, 2018.