Denis Hlynka, Ph.D.
Mathematics and Natural Science
What is educational technology to
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
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
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
Where can our readers find out more
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!