One of the many things I have to do as a faculty member is review grant proposals. This is an important service to the field, but truth be told, given how busy I am I do see it as somewhat of a chore. I was recently reviewing some educational research proposals for a grant giving agency – and I was struck by something that led to this post. (I guess, it is less of a chore if it leads to a blog-post!).
I must say, without giving too much away, that these proposals were broadly related to education and not restricted to just the field of educational technology. That said there were two that were directly technology related, one having to do with virtual partners and the other with webbased learning. It is not surprising that these two would focus on technology directly.
What was surprising however was just how infused with technology all the other projects were. In each of these “non-tech” proposals various forms of technology were used for every aspect of the research from the kinds of information being collected, to how the information was collected; from how the informaiton was analyzed to how it would be reported and disseminated. For instance, there were studies on probing athletes cognition using fFMRI technologies, and another on collabrating across continents using webcams. There was one study that handed student-teachers Flip cameras to help them create digital stories, and subscriptions to surveymonkey or specialized statistical analysis packages!
What this shows clearly is just how fundamentally how we conduct research (in the field of education) has changed with these new digital technologies. And it has changed not in some flashy “pay attention to me, I’m so cool!” kind of a way but in a more insidious and sneaky manner (but no less revolutionary for that). These technologies have become transparent to the researchers – and are just seen as being part of what they do. Now I am sure this is not something unique to education. This is happening in each and every discipline from astronomy to zoology. What this means is that our disciplinary relationship to the world is now mediated through these new tools and devices.
What this means is that for a researcher today there is really no separation between knowledge of their discipline and knowledge of the tools required to actually conduct research in that discipline. Knowledge of technology and knowledge of the tools are now intimately connected.
Two key issues came mind as I thought about this.
First, this is what Matt Koehler and I have described as being Technological Content Knowledge in the TPACK framework — this melding together of technology and content till one cannot think of doing research in black-hole dynamics without knowing the ins and outs of some specialized software program, or studying how beginning teachers make sense of their first forays into classrooms without knowing how to edit digital video in Movie Maker or iMovie. This is not something new that we are saying here. Human knowledge has always developed through the advent of new technologies, be it the microscope or the telescope, the x-ray or the computer. What has changed in the recent past has been the rapid advent of new digital tools – with their protean, portable and permeable nature. (We have written more about digital technologies and their characteristics in our handbook chapter)
Second, I wonder how many teachers understand this intimate relationship between tools and disciplines. This to me is an extremely powerful argument for the inclusion of technology in teaching. If it is disciplinary knowledge we have to convey, and if the very nature of disciplinary knowledge has changed due to technology, it seems surprising to me that there is even any discussion about using technology in teaching.
Now, of course there are other technological innovations that do not emerge from within the disciplines – and ones that can have significant impact on how we teach (the rise of the Web and online learning are good examples) but that does not mean that we can ignore the important role that technologies have played in developing disciplinary knowledge and attempt to bring these into the classroom.
We are doing an injustice to our students and the disciplines of learning we seek to convey if we do not use technology in our teaching of this disciplinary knowledge.