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Examining the transient life of technology

image of old computer

The French "Minitel" Communication System (a videotex system in France that pre-dated the World Wide Web). Image from Wikimedia.

Dealing with technology transience–the speed at which technologies are appearing and disappearing–is becoming just as important for educators as the content they are teaching in the classroom.

College of Education Instructional Technologist Ray Amirault and College of Education Instructional Designer Yusra Visser take an in-depth look at the effects of technology transience upon education in a special issue of The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, which they co-edited this fall for Information Age Publishers. A team of 16 authors from North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia contributed content to the special issue, including Visser, Amirault, and Professor George Peterson-Karlan from the Department of Special Education.

Technology has always been traditionally connected with education from the earliest part of recorded history. And while technologies have become ever-more sophisticated over time, their lifespans have also simultaneously become much shorter in length. “The candle, for example, is a technology that has been in use for thousands of years, but the incandescent light bulb will probably not exceed a two-hundred-year lifespan,” said Amirault. Many technologies today, particularly software applications, may have a lifespan of only a few years before being replaced by updates and revisions.

The challenge of dealing with technology transience is amplified for those teaching in the online environment, since online e-learning is heavily dependent on advanced technology for course design, delivery, and maintenance. “This is very different than a traditional face-to-face class, [whose delivery] can remain relatively unchanged over many years, depending on the subject matter,” said Amirault.

It becomes a challenge for all educators to keep up with the technology, and to determine what is effective and what isn’t, particularly so for the e-instructor. “The transience of today’s technology is just shocking,” said Amirault. “For example, apps for cell phones are only lasting about 2-3 months before they are replaced by a better app.”

But it is not just online instructors facing the impact of technology transience. Students are showing up in classrooms—even at the lowest grade levels—with smartphones, which are actually highly sophisticated computers with ever-increasing capabilities and functions. Students are expecting these devices to be incorporated into the instructional sequence. Amirault and Visser believe it is only a matter of time before all instructional settings, including face-to-face, will have to adapt to this reality of rapid technological change.

Amirault and Visser feel that educators and educational institutions need to help guide how online education courses and programs will develop in the coming years. “Online education, for good or bad, is doing nothing but growing,” added Amirault. “In order for us to have any say in how it is implemented, institutions need to be involved now, before they lose the chance to have much say in it.”

Amirault and Visser have both been teaching, as well as developing, online courses and programs for over a decade. Amirault described that the transition from face-to-face classroom instruction to e-instruction can be a challenging one. “Experience is both a good and a cruel teacher. When I first started with online education, I was not very good at it,” but he also said that time and experience has helped him improve his online teaching skills. “I was able to identify the students that were not performing up to the standards that I would want them to, when the socialization aspect wasn’t present, and when students weren’t communicating with each other. I learned over time how to implement tactics and strategies to overcome those things.”

Amirault believes that traditional “brick and mortar” schools will never completely disappear, but he does believe that traditional institutions will have to increasingly address both changing technology and the growth of e-learning to maintain status as leaders in the educational world. “I believe that we will see a blended model of education—part online and part face-to-face—continuing to grow in the next 20 years,” he said. “Educators cannot afford to disregard this dynamic change process, but instead must come to understand it so they may maximize its potential for education.”

 

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