Final Reflection: What is Instructional Technology?

What is Instructional Technology?
Robin Fay, EDIT6100 Fall

At the beginning of this class, I defined Instructional Technology as
“Merg[ing] the fields of education and technology to better facilitate learning in various environments. Instructional Technology provides multimedia tools and new learning methodologies to achieve better knowledge transfer and fundamental learning.”

While I still agree the Instructional Technology merges the field of education (learning, educating, instructing, training, facilitating, supporting, evaluating) with technology (tools and mechanisms to better facilitate knowledge building), I now have a better understanding of the diversity of the field.
Instructional technology does not necessarily mean utilizing multimedia tools, although those tools are what most people commonly associate with interactive learning and instructional technology. Instructional technology can incorporate any tools into an educational environment from books, to television programs, to radio documentaries to flash games. All of those items are a form of technology and when used in an educational setting become part of instructional technology.
One of the more interesting aspects of Instructional Technology as a field is the varying opinions of the field. Experts in the field can not agree on even fundamental concepts of the fusion of technology and education –does the media impact the learning or is the learning independent of the media? (Kozmo vs. Clark) Do children learn with technology or from technology (Impact of Media and Technology in School, as well as other readings)? What is Media Literacy and how do you measure it (The Media Education Elephant)? Can we evaluate the effectiveness of technology use (The World Wide Web: A Technology to Enhance Learning, The computer delusion, among others)?

If experts and practitioners in the field can not clearly define Instructional Technology, moving forward to foundation beliefs and practices seems nearly impossible. Many of the articles that we read this semester seemed to recognize this ambivalence within Instructional Technology. Why does this exist?

Instructional Technology is hard to pin down in a single brief definition because it encompasses such broad concepts: learning, human nature and capabilities, and creativity, among others. Additionally, technology by nature is in flux. Any definition of a field related to technology will quickly become outdated, if not carefully thought out to provide flexibility for expansion and growth. Before computers and media centers were the new thing, there were AV labs, before AV labs, there were traditional libraries with books. Every innovation has cried of the demise of its predecessors, although some format continues to exist (e.g., radio still exists but the programming and transmission have changed, books are still around but publishing has changed, etc.)

A definition of Instructional Technology must encompass all of these various formats of technology and then provide flexibility to cover all of the various aspects of knowledge growth and acquisition from a k12 environment to higher ed to corporate training to scholarly research.

Isn’t that too much to ask of one definition? Because a definition of this nature can quickly become so expansive that it almost loses its scope, various IT experts and practitioners have attempted to rein it in through very defined parameters and learning theories. Some have defined IT merely in terms of the multimedia component (Dr. Elrich) while others have keyed on the research, strategic planning, evaluation of the development tools through Instructional Models and learning theories (Constructivism, for one).

Constructivism is a very systematic and procedural way of developing an Instructional Design model (e.g., lesson plan, project, workshop, etc.) While it is very systematic and provides many opportunities for careful planning and evaluation, in the real world it might just be a little too much. The goal that all of the Instructional models have in common is creating educational moments and facilitating learning opportunities.

However, if IT professionals struggle to define their field (or have conflicting or differing definitions), how can the general population and the sources of funding (government, corporate entities, etc.) possibly understand how complex it is?
Unfortunately, in the minds of many people Instructional Technology equals computers. Vote/Buy computers for the classroom and there’s the Instructional Technology. Literacy, test scores, and grades will go; students will become brillant; the instructors will have more time for other duties, and everyone will love the people who helped make it happen. Whether or not Instructional Technology will ever involve past the IT equals computers, past the IT equals the latest technological gadget (whatever that may be) remains to be seen.

What I have learned is that Instructional Technology is still in its infancy. Just as most countries advanced through the Industrial Age, we are now in a new age (Information Age?) driven by this new technology. With the Industrial Age came automation, cars, and a new way of living, which impacted how and when we learned. The Information Age (or whatever it ends being called) has greater implications beyond learning and education. Whatever IT is defined as now, it will change as the field grows. The broader the scope and definition, the more likely it is to remain truthful and relevant in the future. Instructional Technology encompasses so much, it is almost hard to define it without writing several pages.

In its current incarnation and in the broadest scope possible, Instructional Technology encompasses all forms of technology (regardless of whether they are electronic or not) and all forms and variations of learning environments (interactive, passive, etc.) as well as all educational opportunities in the broadest sense (research, teaching, instruction, self learning, creative exploration,etc.) Instructional Technology can help shape learning experiences and provide tools which can facilitate learning opportunities. Instructional Technology is not finite; it does not equal one time funding for computers for a classroom but everything that is encompassed and impacted by that technology at the time and in the future.