Activity 11.1 – Technological Determinism

Reflecting on the Readings
As I read through the back and forth “discussion” between Adams and Valance & Towndrow my first thought was that the ICT world educators live in today is very different then the one they were living in in 2006/2007.  I remember when PowerPoint was the “it” ICT tool for techy teachers and how it reinvented how lessons were delivered and shared with students.  Sure, I can see Adams (2006) point that “an unassisted novice, a new teacher, or a busy lecturer may be more inclined to accept as given the PowerPoint defaults in forming their presentations, and subsequently the ideas about how they will present their material”(p. 393). That being said, I would argue that the early users of PowerPoint in the elementary/secondary environment were often fairly tech savvy and apt to go beyond the given templates/layouts in PowerPoint quite quickly after their introduction to the tool.  That’s where Valance & Towndrow’s argument about the informed use of PowerPoint comes into play.  Just like with any other tool or strategy being deployed into an educational environment, ICT tools such as PowerPoint require a fair amount of training and guidance in order for them to be used in a manner that adds value to instruction and learning.  It is often those original “tech savvy” teachers who take what they have learned outside of the traditional template or layout of a tool such as PowerPoint and facilitate opportunities for their more technologically novice colleagues to experience the tool in a pedagogically sound manner.

In today’s day and age, with the wide variety of ICT tools available to educators and students, technological determinism has an even larger impact on the classroom.  In many ways, we are actually at a point where technology is driving pedagogy.  This leads back to the importance of informed use.  Educators need to be trained not only on how to use tech tools in their classroom but also on how to evaluate whether these tools are adding to or limiting their instructional practice.  This takes time, however, as new technologies arise, technological leaders or champions also arise.  These individuals can then work with tech novices to ensure best practice.

Examples of Technological Determinism vs Informed Use
Projectors and interactive whiteboards are an excellent example of how teachers can get bogged down by their perceived limitations of an ICT tool.  When computer projectors first made their way into classrooms, really all they were were a glorified overhead/film projectors.  However, as teachers became more familiar with them a variety of “teacher hacks” began to appear.  For example, projecting onto the whiteboard so you could use your whiteboard marker to annotate over the projection, or hooking up a tablet using an HDMI or VGA cable so that the whole class could benefit from apps not available on the computer.  Then a couple of years later interactive whiteboards started making an appearance in classrooms.  For a while, they were pretty much giant mousepads that allowed teachers to control their computer from the front of the class.  But innovators stepped up and you began seeing teachers not only controlling their computer from afar or annotating over their lessons, but they were also creating opportunities for students to become instructional leaders through the creation of interactive lessons that students could not only be engaged in but even lead.

It is also important in today’s technological age that we’re not just using tech tools for the sake of using them and that we don’t always need to replace existing effective and engaging tools with the new shinier version.  For example, Google Classroom versus a website.  Does one replace the other, or do they both have a place in today’s classroom?  I would argue that Google Classroom is a delivery platform.  It’s where new instruction and assessment can be shared with students and a collaborative environment can be created.  A website, on the other hand, can be used as a reference platform.  Students can review or find extra practice in regards to previous instruction, access reference materials, and have access to classroom resources.  The key is to ensure that as educators we do not have a one tool fits all mentality.  It is necessary to use a variety of tools to meet the overall needs of our students and our instructional practice.

In the ever-changing world of technology, we are no longer quite as limited by templates/layouts found in early ICT tools such as PowerPoint.  Instead, we live in an age where developers are constantly creating add-ons and extensions that allow existing tools to evolve so that we are not constrained by original programming.  As educators, it is imperative that we continue to expand our knowledge of what is possible and how it will impact our students and share it with our colleagues.  It is also imperative that we ensure that technology does not determine how we teach but instead acts as a tool we use to ensure best practice in regards to delivery, collaboration, engagement, and assessment.

Adams, C. (2006). PowerPoint, habits of mind, and classroom culture. Journal of Curriculum Studies38(4), 389–411.

Vallance, M., & Towndrow, P. A. (2007). Towards the ‘informed use’ of information and communication technology in education: a response to Adams’ ‘PowerPoint, habits of mind, and classroom culture.’ Journal of Curriculum Studies39(2), 219–227.

Adams, C. (2007). On the ‘informed use’ of PowerPoint: rejoining Vallance and Towndrow. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 39(2), 229–233.

1 thought on “Activity 11.1 – Technological Determinism

  1. Hi Abbi,

    I like your examples around digital projectors and smartboards. When I was teaching in the CF we used some ‘early’ digital projectors in the 1990s. We had Harvard Graphics and later Asymetrix Compel for presentation software. In the late 1990s the CF signed a 15 year contract with Microsoft and we all got PowerPoint. It lacked features found on the previous platform.

    I think in every type and generation of tool there is a tension between the designed purpose and the ability of users to ‘bend’ it to their needs. The learning management system has been a place where this tension has played out, but still most online teachers start with what is easier, which is what the designers thought most teachers would want.

    Today I wonder about the closed nature of some online tools that might used by educators, like Facebook, and the largely ‘open’ nature of others like Twitter. This isn’t to say that there is a big difference in corporate outlook between the two, it’s that the platform of Twitter allowed easy integration with other tools and opportunities for imaginative use by the end user.

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