What is Educational Technology?
References to educational technology, learning technologies, and instructional technology pervade professional journals and magazines throughout education. Yet no single, acceptable definition for these terms serves the field, and there is uncertainty even about the origins of the terms (Reiser & Dempsey, 2006). Educational technology historian Paul Saettler (1990) says that the earliest reference to educational technology seems to have been made by radio instruction pioneer W W Charters in 1948, and instructional technology was first used by audiovisual expert James Finn in 1963. Even in those early days, definitions of these terms focused on more than just devices and materials. Saettler notes that a 1970 Commission on Instructional Technology defined it as both "the media born of the communication revolution which can be used for instructional purposes ... " (p. 6) and "a systematic way of designing, carrying out, and evaluating the total process of learning and teaching. . ." (p. 6).
While today's educators tend to think of educational or instructional technology as equipment—particularly electronic equipment—Saettler (1990) reminds us that such a limited definition would have to change over time as resources change. Only about 20 years ago, Cuban's history of technology in education since 1920 (1986) placed the emphasis on radio and television, with computers as an afterthought. If such a description were written now, the focus might be on the Internet, while 20 years from now, it might be on intelligent computer-assisted instruction or virtual reality or whatever these technologies are called then. As the 1970 commission concluded, a broader definition of educational technology that encompasses both tools and processes "belongs to the future" (Saettler, 1990, p. 6).
Therefore, in the view of most writers, researchers, and practitioners in the field, useful definitions of educational technology must focus both on the process of applying tools for educational purposes and the tools and materials used. As Muffoletto (1994) puts it, "Technology. . . is not a collection of machines and devices, but a way of acting" (p. 25).
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