This is not the history of the phrase "education technology." But someone should write that...

Ed-tech. Is it short for “education technology” or “educational technology”? And really, what’s the difference?

Does “ed-tech” mean “instructional technology,” or does it refer to “learning technologies”? (Look at that previous sentence. One phrase is singular; one is plural. Hmm.) Could you just as easily – a nod to another decade – call it “programmed instruction” instead? Or has all that been rebranded now to “personalized learning”? If you push for “personalized learning,” do you advocate for CAI or CMI (or neither)? If you don't know what those acronyms mean, what then?

CAI or ICT? Or something else?

And how is that different from e-learning? Distance learning? Online learning? Mobile learning? Blended learning? Virtual learning? Or hey, run through all those terms again but substitute “teaching” for “learning” – teaching machines or learning machines or hell, whatever, as long as the machines are schooling us. Right?

Do you hyphenate “ed-tech”? Or have you decided that the hyphen is no longer necessary: it’s “edtech” now, Edsurge insists in an article modestly titled “Edsurge: the New Lexicon of Edtech.” Or is it “EdTech”? Capital E, capital T because this is So Important.

What counts as “ed-tech”? Is it the technology used in a formal educational setting? If it’s used in an informal setting, when does it become more than “consumer tech”? How has "the consumer" shaped what "the learner" now expects from "ed-tech," even in school?

Is "ed-tech" the technology used in the central office? Or is it the technology used in the classroom? Ed-tech as teaching machine, ed-tech as testing machine, ed-tech as tutoring machine – wait, why machines?

Which machines? Which technologies? The textbook? Then mechanical pencil? The radio? The TV? The PA system? The blackboard? The whiteboard? The computer? The app? The very most latest technological "innovation"?

Or are you one of those folks who insists that it is not about the technology – despite that word “technology” being right there in “ed-tech”? If so, what makes the tech so darn fabulously transformatively educational - to the point you'd argue the tech should be invisible?

Like everything in ed-tech, these concerns are not new. I stumbled across an essay from 1973 tonight about what to call this "ed-tech" "thing" by Charles W. Slack: “How to Name Our Baby”. (Slack is interesting for so many other reasons too.) He argues that,

Educational movements of the last decade have been hampered by absolutely awful vocabularies: “teaching machines,” “intrinsic programming, ”programmed instruction,“ ”operant conditioning,“ ”behavioral objectives,“ ”contingency management,“ ”systems approach,“ ”linear programming,“ ”rul-eg,“ ”pro-mod,“ ”frame-up,“ ”schedules of reinforcement,“ ”mathetics,“ ”chaining,“ ”discrimination," and on and on.

I’m pretty sure the vocabulary is not the problem that "hampers" us, truth be told, although I do think that the incoherence tells us something – something that shouldn’t be erased or paved over with some enforced, "shared" terminology. That is: those of us who work in and around and near ed-tech do not agree at all about politics, purpose, function, future, funding, labor, learning. Different words and phrasing are okay, instructive even.

I’m keeping the hyphen in ed-tech, by the way. I like that little dash that separates education from technology. Because I don’t think we need to give ourselves over to a future of mechanized education, of teaching or learning machines (let alone one of uncritical and purposefully branded neologisms)...

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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