A Plea for Pedagogy

I sent off this piece of writing (and have yet to hear back with feedback/reviewer comments!) but figured I'd go ahead and share out the first section.

A Plea for Pedagogy
Matthew J. Kruger-Ross
matthewkrugerross@gmail.com

It goes without saying that technology is changing education. Children’s brains are being rewired, universities are being threatened with extinction, and we will be in serious trouble if we ignore the transformative power of new technologies. We live in an information/knowledge economy where we are constantly connected to networks of information, our experiences become more and more mediated. While I can meet virtually face-to-face with colleagues on the east coast, children’s attention spans decrease and their ability to think beyond the first few entries of a Google search are beyond alarming. I can access the work of any scholarly journal imaginable, but university and public libraries come closer and closer to financial ruin from the same journals’ subscription fees and access rights. It seems that technology changes everything in life, including educating.

Or does it? Over the past few years I have read extensively in the field of educational technology as well as taught and led training/professional development sessions for K-16 teachers interested in integrating technologies into their classrooms (face-to-face or otherwise). I have, unfortunately, been one to raise the banner of new technologies and their ability to transform teaching and learning. However, it occurred to me recently that much of the hype surrounding the influence of technology on educating were due more to pedagogical principles rather than some inherent feature of the technology in question. In this essay I select and discuss a four approaches* to educating that focus on the use of technology. In these approaches, it is assumed that technology provides some sort of innovation, a way of doing and thinking about teaching and learning that did not exist before the entrance of the technology. Therefore, it is the technology that has transformed the teaching and learning.

Or is it?** In the same way that Egan (1997; 2005) sketches out the three irreducible aims of education, it seems to me that so-called innovations attributed to technology are mostly pedagogical strategies cloaked in digital media. This may be a growing realization in the field of educational technology***, but this is yet to be fully realized. The question at the heart of this analysis is Are approaches to educational technology truly innovational or transformational? And, if they are not, as I suppose, what is the foundation of the approaches? These questions do not rule out the possibility of the ability of technology to transform human experience, understanding, and so on. However, they do attempt to reverse much of the rhetoric surrounding the influences of technology as they are currently understood and experienced while leaving space for the potential of truly interesting and innovative pedagogical strategies that might be enhanced via communication technologies. To begin, a quick overview of the field is helpful.

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* The term “approaches” I am using liberally; some practitioners would prefer their perspective of choice to be labeled a program, theory, or framework. This in itself is interesting, but must be saved for a later date.

** This is difficult to describe, but I am officially rejecting much of the field of educational technology. Other than my own ineptitude, the difficulty you may encounter in reading may be due to my attempts to work within a language I learned in my instructional technology Masters program, while still trying to connect these ideas and concepts so that they might be understandable by educators outside of the field. So while to someone unfamiliar with the ongoing work in the field of educational technology my argument may not be fully effective, I think it important to note that most of my peers would consider these ideas to be heresy.

*** I say a “growing trend” with a great deal of wishful thinking. While attending a forum on MOOCs a few weeks ago, Alyssa Wise (SFU Faculty of Education) reflected that scholars of educational technology are finally beginning to realize that, for the most part, new and innovative technologies - regardless of their inherent and apparent innovativeness - recapitulate teaching and learning approaches that human beings have been aware of for quite a long time.

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