By: Joshua A. Ellis, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Teaching & Learning, Florida International University
The field of teacher education has experienced incredible challenges, upheaval, and opportunities over the past few years. The twin catalysts of a worldwide pandemic and social activism related to pervasive issues of inequity have caused many in the education community to rethink the state of the profession and the ways that teachers are prepared to meet the needs of today’s learners. Increasingly, conversations about the role of technology in supporting all K-12 learners are occurring among teachers, administrators, parents, and policymakers (e.g., Thornburg, 1999; Svihla et al., 2015; Foulger et al., 2017, Asim et al., 2022). Teacher education programs have historically prepared their teacher candidates to use technologies associated with productivity (i.e., word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation tools), and some have engaged their candidates in the exploration of student-facing technologies associated with management (i.e., attendance tracking, clicker response tools, and online learning management systems). Although these uses of technology may be appropriate and beneficial in many contexts, I offer another view of technology that may be more applicable to today’s challenges:
Technology is the application of knowledge, tools, and skills to solve practical problems and extend human capabilities. Technology is best described as a process, but it is more commonly known by its products and their effects on society. It is enhanced by the discoveries of science and shaped by the designs of engineering. It is conceived by inventors and planners, raised to fruition by the work of entrepreneurs, and implemented and used by society. Sometimes, though, it enters the social system imperceptibly and brings about many changes, often in unforeseen ways. Thus, people need to understand the interactions of technology and its various fields with human social systems and the values that society may apply. The results and dynamics of these interactions are key to the ways in which technology affects people’s lives. (Johnson, 1989, p. 1).
If you believe as I do that these statements ring true today, then you may be surprised to know that they were originally shared by the members of the Project 2061 Phase I Technology Panel, which was convened by AAAS in 1989. Although the technological products of today are surely different than those used by the panel members, their insights into the nature of technology and its interactions with both science and society seem more prescient than ever. It is becoming increasingly obvious that technologies are no more neutral than the societies that create them (Civics of Technology, n.d.), and their use by citizens of all ages can serve to either redefine or reinforce ways of thinking and learning – for good or for ill.
The panel also considered the role that technology should occupy in K-12 schooling, as technology was not enshrined as a discipline in the same way that science and mathematics were. Although the concept of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education had not yet been popularized by 1989, the panel members articulated on how students should engage with technology in their K-12 education:
Technology education should emphasize problem solving. The posing and solving of problems, increasingly complex as students move from kindergarten through the twelfth grade, will enable students to develop techniques that are vital to living in a technical world of diverse cultures and technical status. The problems and their solutions may be technical, experimental, mathematical, technical-social, or value-laden (Johnson, 1989, p. 7).
The continuing salience of this vision after more than thirty years since their writing is a testament to the foresight of the Project 2061 Phase I Technology Panel members and an indictment of our meager progress since the convening of that panel. As I reflect on the ways that K-12 students engage with technology, I fear that too many classrooms fall short of the vision articulated by the panel members. Many schools do not have the resources to procure relevant classroom technologies, and those technologies that do find their way into the classroom are often geared toward teacher use, not student use. Moreover, those technologies often merely replace a less efficient tool, potentially saving the teacher time but not meaningfully changing the student’s educational experience. As a result, educational technology has become conceptually diluted, misapplied, and trivialized within the K-12 classroom (Bull et al., 2019), where the most commonly observed technologies are those that may replace traditional activities and tools, but cannot amplify or transform the student learning experience (Hughes et al., 2006).
As teacher educators who are committed to supporting the learning of all students in a post-pandemic landscape, we should view this state of events as a call to action – especially for science teachers. The 2018 Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) assessment was designed to measure the degree to which K-12 students experience technology and technological principles to achieve learning goals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Some examples of these experiences include students analyzing the pros and cons of a proposal for a new source of energy, using the Internet to locate information that will help them solve a problem, and understanding both how and why new technologies are created to address human needs and wants (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2018). This assessment revealed that a majority of 8th grade students identify their science classroom as the place where they learn about technology (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2018), suggesting that we cannot expect K-12 teachers from other disciplines to take up this charge, nor should we.
The importance of educating students about technology within the science classroom is even more pronounced for underrepresented groups of students who have been historically excluded from opportunities to engage with STEM learning. Black and Hispanic female students in the 8th grade enroll in K-12 technology and engineering courses at rates far below their White male colleagues (Change the Equation, 2016). Far from being an additional burden for science educators, I believe that the integration of technology in science learning is natural and practiced by many science teachers to some degree; “One cannot truly experience science without experiencing its technological dimension” (Oliveira et al., 2019, p. 149), as the practices of both science and technology are intertwined in a symbiotic relationship (Ihde, 2009).
Winston Churchill is credited with making the following observation: You can depend upon the Americans to do the right thing after they have exhausted every other possibility. I believe that we are at a similar juncture when it comes to technology in education and in the preparation of our K-12 teachers. After exhausting nearly every other top-down application of technology in education – “drill and kill” remedial computer lab activities, plagiarism detection, and so many more – we may finally be ready to return to the guiding principles that the Project 2061 Phase I Technology Panel articulated over thirty years ago:
- Focus on technological significance, identifying only the technological knowledge and skills that can sustain growth over a student’s entire lifetime;
- Apply considerations of human significance, choosing the technologies that will foster responsible civic engagement and uphold a democratic society;
- Begin with a clean slate, given that the technological and societal realities of today are different from those that came before;
- Ignore the limitations of present-day education, realizing that the state of technology, society, and education today is also impermanent and need not constrain our thinking;
- Identify only a small core of essential knowledge and skills, focusing on quality over quantity when it comes to technology integration; and,
- Keep in mind the target population – all students (Rutherford, 1989, viii-ix).
It is therefore my privilege to introduce our invited blog authors, whose work embraces these principles and advances our understanding of how our future K-12 educators can leverage technologies in support of equitable learning. Dr. Salvatore Garofalo will share his work, Teaching Out-of-the-(Zoom)-Box: Outdoor, Informal, and Appropriate Technology Education for Recruitment, Retention, and Motivation of STEM Teachers. Drs. Ryoko Yamaguchi and Cyntrica Eaton will share their work, Empowering Educators to Enact Equity via Computational Thinking in the coming months.
I encourage our community of scholars to keep an eye out for these authors’ posts and participate in the conversation about how we can best support our teachers in centering technology’s role in a just classroom.