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Instructional Technology

What is Instructional Technology?

Instructional technology, sometimes also called educational technology (or EdTech), is a broad topic full of a variety of potential uses and affordances. However, it is important to distinguish between technology (the hardware and software used) and instructional technology, which uses technology to support educational and pedagogical theories and practices to facilitate learning. That being said, an important part of instructional technology is not just the what of the technology being used, but the why and how it is being used to support learning. Technology provides powerful opportunities for learning and engagement, but only if it is used strategically with purpose; technology should not be used for the sake of incorporating technology.

Why is it beneficial?

Intentional technology use is beneficial because its primary goal is focused on supporting and enriching pedagogical needs to support student learners. Varied forms of technology used in the course for instruction provides students with multiple ways to access disciplinary content (e.g. infographics, videos, podcasts, journal articles), which supports the needs of diverse learners. Having students use different technologies can help them build communication and critical thinking skills. 

In his book Intentional Tech: Principles to Guide the Use of Educational Technology in College Teaching, Derek Bruff discusses how the instructional objectives of the course should drive the pedagogical principles used, and that technology should be used to support or match that pedagogical need. He discusses pedagogical principles such as having students apply skills to receive feedback, problem solve, organize knowledge through visual or multimedia representation, learn from each other, and connect to authentic disciplinary audiences, and how technologies are matched to those pedagogical needs. His book is grounded in discussions with practicing faculty and mapped to existing research. When technology was paired thoughtfully and intentionally with the pedagogical need it was supporting, students were able to make deeper connections to the course material and they valued the use of technology in the course to enrich their learning experience.

What are the challenges?

Technology evolves quickly and there is a plethora of technology and software to choose from. How do you know what's right for you? It may take time to research and decide upon what technology will best fill the need(s) you have identified for your course.

Furthermore, depending on the technology, there might be a learning curve for both you and your students to use it. This is expected for some courses, such as Geographic Information System (GIS Software) for a Geography course or Adobe products for a Graphic Design course. Software such as these, and technologies needed to use and interpret such software, should be built into the course content as a disciplinary tool to be specifically taught to students for disciplinary use. However, this isn't true of all software and technologies you may choose to use in your course. People often think of modern college students as 'digital natives' but research shows that students may be familiar with digital technologies and software, but that digital skills frequently don't transfer between personal use and educational use. Therefore, it is important to be able to teach students how to use any technology or software you require in your course instead of expecting them to be able to figure it out on their own.

How can this be implemented?

When incorporating technology into your course, you should be asking yourself some key questions about the technology you are using and why you're using it, such as:

  1. What need is this technology supporting?
  2. Who is using the technology - me to teach or students to learn?
    1. If it's "Me to teach" - follow-up by asking, "Is this the best way to provide this material?"
    2. If it's "Students to learn" - follow up by asking, "Do students have the support they need to use this technology?"
  3. What technical support can you offer when troubleshooting needs arise?
  4. What is the cost of this technology? (Not just in money, but in time investment to learn it.)
  5. Have I searched for better technological alternatives before committing to using a particular technology, software, or tool?

To get started in exploring instructional technology: