The Spectrum of Educational Technology

The body is a frontier between myself and everything else

The spectrum of information communication, which I mentioned in my Vygotsky post and in another previous post, is a perspective on educational technology worth detailing a bit deeper. It’s probably a common concept, but I could best explain the idea as an x and y axis where one plain would represent communication duration, the other communication range. They could be called time and place, or by various other names, but the basic point is that communication technology has some aspect that enables information to last over some period of time, and has some aspect that enables information to reach over distance.

After the development of language itself, one of the earliest extensions of information distribution would have occurred before print, when stories were told over and over again in such a way that allowed people to remember the content. Repetitive phrasing, rhythm, alliteration, and other mnemonic devices provided the duration over time that extended beyond the limits spoken word that evaporates as sound into air; these devices also extended information beyond the range of even a booming voice, letting stories be told across the land. Carvings and drawing on rocks would also have been one of the first durable extensions of information, however they weren’t so portable enough to reach over distance. As papyrus and paper developed, these mode of information distribution started to give humans more options for storing and sending information. Different degrees of duration and reach were innovated, slowly giving societies more ways to contain information and to communicate. Guttenberg text eventually came along, then electric devices in the form of telegraph, photograph, audio, video, recordable devices, all began plotting the plain of time and place axis more frequently.

More recent developments in electronic text and in the digital frontier have increased this frequency quite significantly, perhaps over a hump of synthesis – if print and distribution had fragmented our interaction with information, then the digital age has started bringing the pieces back together into a unified ecology of the senses. Terms like Web 2.0 reflect aspects of per-literate days, re-introducing the idea of interactivity that had been lost when wide gaps in the available communication technology made such an idea a luxury of limitation. For centuries, powerful print and electric technology forced people to forgo the interactivity of face-to-face conversation in order to benefit from the affordances of these technologies. And, the human psyche adapted to this. Literate cultures adapted to this.

It’s now possible to see a point when all frequencies and ranges may be filled in one day. As this happens, it may be a bit like wearing a Gundam suit – human abilities will not change (we can do what we have always does before, jump, run, throw things, absorb impacts), only our abilities increasingly are capable in greater and greater amounts. Our abilities of educational communication, the basis of learning and education, will become similarly enhanced. This perspective on educational technology as spectrum gathering mass is important for three reasons that I can think of now. Perhaps there are others?

  • It puts the focus of educational technology on choice, rather than availability. As access to information forms an ecology around learners, ability to choose what is best suited for educational targets comes to the forefront. The major implication of this is the astounding importance of learner autonomy. Educational strategies that focus less on content and more on meta-learning skills, the development of strategies for learning, should become foundational. Control over things like instructional design and pace of intentional learning can give learners more control over their learning and, equally important, more control over learning environment.

  • It liberates learners from the idea of progress. One of the major debates over the past decades has been the separation of method and media, and the danger of using media and technology simply for the sake of using media and technology. Progression will commonly, and hopefully, give way to the idea of suitability if it hasn’t already.

  • The gap between the haves and have-nots will continue to widen. Imagine an army of Gundams fighting against American civil war troops? Thank goodness education isn’t a war…although, maybe this only means that the gap and the ensuing impact is more subtle, more hidden, more difficult to measure. Not only does access to technology contribute to this gap, but many cultures are not ready or suited to educational strategies that presuppose heavily weighted aspects of Learner Autonomy. At least not without proper methodical considerations, or even a more patient, generational shift in ideals. As educational technology starts to surround the globe, the importance of suitability is a consideration for both media and method choice.

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10 thoughts on “The Spectrum of Educational Technology

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