Tech integrate or not tech integrate…

When we talk about the meaning of tech integration, we have to first start with the meaning of technology. The best definition of technology that I’ve heard comes from Alan Kay, who said in the 1980s that “Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.” (Wikiquote) Perhaps his most famous quote is “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

What’s fascinating to me about this definition is that it shows that our understanding of technology is inherently subjective; there is no objective reason why we talk about technology as computers and electronics but not pencils, chalkboards, and scissors.

Kay’s colleague Danny Hillis expanded on the definition when he said in an interview that “I think technology is all the stuff that doesn’t work yet” (Newsweek, “Disney’s Wizards”).

In his article “99% Invisible” for the New Media Consortium (that of the Horizon Report), Tom Haymes writes that “Unless you are a technician or technologist, the central function of technology should be as an invisible augmentation of the hard tasks we face every day.” From the perspective of Harris, once technology functions actually works and invisibly it actually ceases to be technology, much like chairs are not seen as technology.

Douglas_adams_portrait.jpg: michael hughes from berlin, germany derivative work: Beao (Douglas_adams_portrait.jpg) [CC BY-SA 2.0

Satirist author Douglas Adams (from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame), took both of these ideas and put his own spin on them. In 1999 he wrote on his website:

  • everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
  • anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
  • anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.

If we talk about meaning of ‘tech integration’ it seems to me that we are talking about teaching and learning where technology isn’t seen as ‘technology’ but rather just a part of the lesson. In that sense, despite Jeff Utecht’s objections over the term, the term ‘integration’ is in my mind an appropriate one. To ‘integrate’ comes from the Latin integrat, which meant ‘made whole’. It seems that is our goal – to make technology as much a part of a lesson as people or pedagogy, not something in addition but something that is part of the whole.

And yet, as we see from Alan Kay’s definition of technology, there is something almost generational that makes technology been seen as technology rather than an integral part of the learning experience.  While Douglas’ age cut off at 30 is perhaps more figurative than literal, it does point to the bewilderment that many people feel towards change and technology later in their lives.

This, then, is the challenge of technology integration: we must reverse the psychology age of teachers so that they all have the wonder of youth, and we must make the latest technology as integral a part of learning as chairs, paper and people.

And yet, as I commented in an article from Edutopia, that’s not quite it either. If we talk about Tech Integration Specialists, we are talking about an oxymoron: technology that is integrated into a curriculum is not thought of as ‘technology’ as such, it is simply part of teaching and learning.

Rather than looking at technology integration, I think we should be talking about learning innovation. How do we help teachers and students find the best ideas, practices, and tools to promote learning? Because the teachers, students, tools, and environment are constantly changing, there is no single technique or lesson that we can cling to. Instead, we need to create places of learning that can themselves learn and grow.

Tech integration frameworks like SAMR, TPACK or Grapplings can be useful in this process. My own thinking about SAMR underwent a fairly substantial evolution after I did a workshop with its founder, Ruben Puentedura, last December. I find TPACK more useful for me as a Tech Coordinator than for actual teachers, for it helps me keep in mind the different types of knowledge needed across subject areas. The Grapplings model is somewhat less popular, though in some ways I find it more helpful. The difficulty with it is that (like many interpretations of SAMR) its example seem to downplay the importance of tech literacy as well as ‘transforming’ uses of technology.

I don’t think any of them are particularly helpful as tools to measure where individual teachers are along a spectrum. Even if a teacher could say that they are using technology for ‘Redefinition’, in the TPCK part of the diagram, or using tech transformatively, does that mean that there is nowhere to go or grow?

For myself and in my experience, there is always a way of taking a learning experience up a notch, whether through a change in pedagogy, execution, technology, or conception. This is part of our learning process as teachers, and it is not something that happens in a single lesson, year, or even decade.