In 1943, at the start of the computer era, Thomas J. Watson Jr., then president of IBM is sometimes alleged to have predicted that “there is a world market for about five computers.” Regardless of whether he said it or not, neither Thomas J. Watson Jr. nor many of his contemporaries could have foreseen the technology revolution that has taken place over the past 70 or so years. Today, companies like Apple sell hundreds of millions of smartphones, tablets and computers every year. The biggest consumers of that technology are young adults. As far back as 2001, Marc Prensky coined the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” to refer to the generation that grew up using technology and those who only adopted technology later in life. Whether they’re accurate terms or not is debatable. The “digital natives” are certainly adept at using technology for personal use. Social media, creating and consuming multimedia and gaming, are definitely areas in which digital natives thrive. Where I think the divide between natives and immigrants narrows is in the use of technology for academic uses. That’s not stopping the business world from investing tremendously in educational technology and for schools and higher education institutions to follow suit. According to Gartner, Inc. global spending on technology in education was set to exceed $67 billion in 2015. While there is impressive evidence to suggest that technology can enhance education, not all technology is created equally. Technology by itself is just a tool and, like any tool, it has to be employed judiciously. Here’s the analogy I always give: Say you need to dig a hole to plant a flower. You have three options in front of you: you can use your hands, a shovel or an excavator. Too often people either pick their hands or the excavator. Using your hands may be fine in certain situations, but sometimes the earth is too hard. When they use the excavator they make a mess of the situation but rather than realizing that they didn’t pick the appropriate tool, they end up blaming all tools and eventually return to trying to use their hands.
So what is educational technology? Educational technology is technology that, used appropriately, can enhance education.