Monday, January 10, 2011

Should I buy books about technology in education? Answer: NO!

This post is not intended to offend Barnes & Noble or any other book seller. I received a great question over the weekend asking if I could “help finding a good book about technology in post secondary education” and I had to take a couple of days to think about it. I have some fantastic books on the shelf about Instructional Design but I have very few about Educational Technology. Why? Well, I think it is difficult to find a one-stop resource book that describes the best practices in using technology in post-secondary education. There are a few factors that come into play that make this challenging:

  • Technology is an enabler, not a driver when it comes to sound instructional design and course delivery. So the front end design analysis must be done to identify the objectives that you want to accomplish in your course. Once the objectives are clearly articulated then the best pedagogical tool and strategies can be selected to meet the specific objective. So you see the selection of pedagogical tools/strategies (including technological tools) comes second – not first. So it’s challenging to write a book with a chapter called ‘Virtual Worlds’ because in my view that’s putting technological tools first!

  • Pedagogical/technological tools and strategies can be used in the classroom and out of the classroom, and the same tool and strategy may not produce the same results under those two different conditions. Approaches need to be customized according to the setting and also according to the types of students involved.

  • Technological tools and strategies change faster than print. So the large majority of information and knowledge about this topic is not found in books – it’s found on the Internet in Personal Learning Networks (PLNs).

So the permutations provided by combining the three points above together contribute to why a good comprehensive book on the subject is difficult to find. If you are a teacher, where does that leave you? How are you supposed to learn about how to select pedagogical tools to meet the needs of you course and your students? Do you just give up?

No you don’t give up silly. You work smarter and you make a commitment to go and learn about what’s out there, and more importantly, you find out how it's being used effectively and in what contexts. Here are some strategies that you can personally adopt:
  1. Examine your PLN and make sure it is working well for you. The goal of the PLN is to provide you with a support system of like-minded people asking like-minded questions and together you can act as a large professional development resource for each other. Invest time to perfect your PLN - the return on the investment will be measurable. If you need more info about PLNs, I’ve written about them before.

  2. There’s an implication in point 1 above: that you do not have to re-invent the wheel. Just use someone else’s wheel IF it meets the needs of the course and the needs of the students. So the challenge is in sharing ideas with your PLN. There are some very effective ‘tricks’ for sharring ideas on the Internet. For example, Twitter has this thing called hashtags which allow users to tag their postings using keywords. For example, the hashtag “#edtech” is a key word that you can imagine might be useful to follow to learn about the topic of educational technology. Well, you can follow it directly using your favourite twitter client (like Tweetdeck for example), or you can follow it indirectly by using a hashtag aggregating service like This service can display a selection of Twitter postings from the last 24 hours having any specific hashtag and as a bonus the postings are presented in a nice tabloid newspaper style. Check out the newspaper for the hashtag #edtech. This link refreshes with all new content filtered off the Twitter stream every 24 hours. Other hashtags like #elearning, #education, #teaching may also be interesting to look at regularly.

  3. Points 1 and 2 above are great but there is a critical piece missing: you need to give back. Start telling the world (i.e. your PLN) about your successes and your failures in your teaching. By taking the time to articulate your experiences you will be amazed at what benefits can come to you directly. In my view, being reflective of your practice as a teacher is a requirements for growth in your proficiency. So write a blog, contribute to a wiki, post to twitter or update your status on Facebook. It doesn’t matter how you do it – it just matters that you DO it.

If you have any other strategies for learning about best practices in educational technology, feel free to share them by clicking the comment link below.


Derek Bruff said...

Since I've written a book about technology in education, I'm totally biased here, but I thought I would weigh in anyway!

I agree with all three of your points (that tech should follow design, that context matters tremendously, and that tech changes rapidly). When I wrote my book on teaching with clickers, I had those points in mind. That's why I focused on exploring lots of different ways to use clickers (so that readers could see uses that made sense given their own course designs) in lots of different classroom settings (so that readers might find at least a few examples that lined up well with their own teaching contexts).

I also avoided mentioning any particular brand of technology, instead focusing on the pedagogical applications of a set of tech tools with similar basic features. That way, I hoped my book would be relevant at least a few years down the road, even if the tech changed.

I think I responded to your three points in useful ways in my book. However, I was writing about a single type of educational technology. I wasn't trying to put together a comprehensive look at edtech in higher ed. My drilldown / lots of examples approach wouldn't work for a comprehensive book. You may have a point that a truly comprehensive book isn't quite possible.

Lindsey said...

Hey Eric. Great post. I agree 100%, so much that I responded with my own post - check it out

Thanks for writing it, I wonder what Frank thinks?

Traduceri said...

I found your blog only a couple of months back and love it so much, I've been stopping by as often as I can to enjoy your posts. I hope you will post more often. Have a fantastic 2011!

Car Tweeters said...

I am so thankful to read this such a great post. Thank you for discussing this enormous subject. I truly respect the author for giving their time for this inspiring piece. Thank you.

Shana Ray said...


Similar to books about social media or technology in general, the only times I tend to purchase/read them is when the author is doing a signing (and tweetup) close by. Of course, everyone learns differently so while I am not a fan, I simply want to encourage everyone to learn more about educational technology!

Though, from personal experience... I have learned much more from collaborating with my community of Twitter friends and Edtech Bloggers than I have from a book...