What is educational technology to you?
Educational Technology as a field exists to assist student learning. Educational technology is a grab-bag of methods; it is a set of tools; it is a hope and an ideology; it is a belief that learning can be interesting and motivating, that teaching can be clear and precise, yet challenging and open; it is a cornucopia of classic films, videos, computer programs; it is a way of thinking; it is a teacher reaching out beyond language and fact with the simple use of a visual, a sound clip; or a captivating demonstration; it is the extension of the concept of 'literacy' to include visual, film, and television literacy, as well as computer literacy and digital literacy; it is pressing the products and processes of technology into the service of education. These are the elements of an educational technology to me.
In one of your articles, you write: "Postmodern thinking has entered the mainstream of educational technology theory and practice."; Could you briefly outline for us what postmodernism is?
The term postmodern has been subject to such abuse and misuse and misunderstanding that it is almost counter-productive to use it at all. Yet, the term is still a useful one, and I like it, because if we use it in educational technology, it places us in the milieu of cultural criticism. Criticism in the arts has always been an acceptable endeavor, but criticism in our own field of educational technology is, curiously, suspect. I think that it because we strive so hard to be a science, even if only a 'social' science, and indeed we think of our field as value free, positivist, and content neutral. It is fine to apply criticism to a current movie, or television show, or music concert, but when it comes to our own field, we stop short.
But the question was specifically, What is postmodernism? To me, the concept of the postmodern is simply a way of thinking which recognizes the existence of a relativistic and pluri-cultural society. Some of the quick definitions: 'double coding.' 'incredulity towards metanarratives.' 'Incessant bricolage'.
How has postmodernism been used in educational technology?
Traditionally, educational technology seems to advocate that there is one best way, whether process or product. The best process is supposed to be a systematic approach. The best product or medium is the current one: Today is it the WWW, yesterday it was the computer, last year it was the television. But surely there is no one best way, and there is no one master medium. Our field learned that long ago, for example when we moved to the idea of 'media attributes', or earlier when we accepted the concept of a continuum of media along a 'cone'. The postmodern view is not frightening, is not leading society towards chaos, and is not suggesting that 'every hue of every view' is valid. But what postmodernism does do is to legitimize alternative discourses. It is important , indeed critical, that we explore our field and our potential to the educational enterprise through multiple-vision glasses, not just in one or two ways.
Why am I a postmodernist? Because that is how I grew up. I was 'marginalized' (a very postmodern term) in two ways. First I am a Canadian. But I did my post-graduate work in the USA. I learned a lot of valuable things in the US and am forever grateful for my academic grounding. But have you ever been to a conference, or read a book where the author says that one of the most important reasons for adapting technology in schools is so that America can be a better place? Now, wait a minute, as a Canadian, I know full well that I do not use technology so that America can be better! That is an example of a marginalized postmodernist.
There is a second real way that I am marginalized. My cultural heritage is Ukrainian. Now, don't get me wrong: I am a third generation Canadian born and a Canadian through and through. But still, I grew up learning one set of history 'facts' at school and a different set of history 'facts' at home. (Do you know who won the war of 1812? Canadians think that we won it; the British think that they won it, and you Americans think that you won it!) The literature taught in my school NEVER included the literature of my heritage. The music I learned at school was not the same music I learned within my cultural community. I learned that there was a mainstream culture, and that there was my own culture.
Being of Ukrainian heritage and of Canadian birth and studying in an American milieu was an interesting challenge. I learned that my cultures were probably second rate if only because they were marginalized and ignored. If they don't talk about you, you don't exist..
So, I learned very quickly about cultural imperialism. Sometimes it didn't matter and sometimes it did. But when it came to my professional field of choice, the culture rubbed off. There was an underlying culture of educational technology, too. There was more than one way of looking at what technology could do for a student, or could do to a student.
Today, the battle has not yet been won. Far from it. We are rushing to network all the schools and classrooms. But we really haven't figured out what we are going to do next. And in the meantime we are losing our ties with the past, with our cultures, with history. And we are making the same mistakes all over again.
Isn't that a common result of technology in any field? Don't we HAVE to pay that price (losing touch with history) for 'technological advancement'?
Not at all. Being a professional implies not just having enough technical know-how to get the job done. It implies being a part of your field. We must know its history, its varied philosophies, and its ways of thinking. It is our duty to know our field and to represent it holistically to our varied audiences. We cannot lose touch with what has been done before, because, then, as has been said many times before, we are condemned to make the same mistakes all over. We must learn from our past, and build on it.
Who are a few of the most important people related to your work?
Let me talk about people. I must first pay homage to Neville Pearson, of the University of Minnesota. He was my mentor as I moved towards my Master's degree. Neville was the consummate audiovisualist and showman. He was an artist at the front of the classroom. But he died neglected and unrecognized by our field. A few of our leaders still remember him, but his way was not the way of the world. Anything I do well in the classroom today comes from Neville Pearson.
As to my contemporary colleagues, how can I even begin? To name a few would be to omit others. But I guess it is safe to name my co-author John Belland, who has absolutely brilliant ideas which fly in the face of the usual. John is another kind of artist. He sees the artistry in what we do. And he misses it when it is not there. And Andrew Yeaman and I have only co-authored one short ERIC abstract, but I have learned from his outrageous and way-out experimentation and questioning. And finally Larry Lipsitz of Educational Technology publications published my book 'Paradigms Regained', recognizing from the beginning that he would be lucky to break even on it, but considering it important enough that it be published. Larry is more than just a publisher; he is the conscience of our field.
Finally, my parents were a major influence, and always there for me, and constantly challenging me. My father earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry back in 1939 from California Institute of Technology, and was an noted scholar and researcher in the field of wheat chemistry. His knowledge, his style and his achievements have always been an inspiration to me.
Much of our thinking related to educational technology has developed out of a strongly positivist, scientific perspective. There has been a great deal of debate about this lately -- some people argue positivist research in educational technology is worthless and should be discontinued while others argue that all research should be founded in a strictly scientific paradigm. How do you feel on the subject?
Well, positivist research is certainly not worthless, nor is any mode of scholarly inquiry. If we close the doors on any particular methodology, we might as well just give up and go home. Who can say what new permutation of contemporary and past methodology will yield new insight on what we do or say.
In your opinion, what are the major differences between a very good research article and a very mediocre one?
Two comments here: First, I do not like the word 'research'. I prefer 'scholarship'. Scholarship is the broader term which reflects inquiry into one's field. Research is probably a narrower kind of inquiry. For example, a piece of music composition is acceptable as a 'thesis' in a music faculty. A work of fiction represents another dimension. We need to foster critical scholarship in our field and create a dialogue, even a multilogue of contemporary thought.
Second, a good scholarly paper will be written so that it can be read at any level, yet is careful and thoughtful and distinguished. Postmodernists are particular villains in this regard, but anyone who writes in a private jargonistic tone intended only for the 'best and the brightest' will have minimal impact. It is not easy to write at such a thoughtful level and in such a style, but we need more of it. Some of you will remember the writing of James Finn. He exemplified distinguished writing, and critical scholarship.
Why is Finn such a good example?
His writings present an example of critical scholarship, of critical thinking. He not only applies technology, he thinks about its implications.
Where can our readers find out more about Finn?
His writings are most accessible in the very early issues of AV Communications Review (Precursor to ETR&D)
What are your professional plans for the next couple of years?
To write. I want to explore the alternative metaphors of educational technology. In particular, I feel that the tool metaphor is particularly problematic. You know...all those people who stand up and say 'Technology is only a tool. We are in control. It is up to us to use it wisely...' Unfortunately, this is a narrow and limiting view, and ultimately unacceptable. The 'tools metaphor' is only one of several, and one problem with metaphors is that they tend to focus our thinking into one mode of exploration only.
Likewise, I haven't explored critically the role of the Internet. In addition, I would love to examine how fiction portrays information technologies and particularly educational technologies. Fiction is an important mode of scholarship which we have ignored and which needs to be re-examined.
In other words, there is much yet to be done. I haven't run out of ideas yet!