educational technology

Educational Technology (EdTech): 5 fundamental questions answered by experts

definition, digital, edtech, TPACK

Learn from expert responses to 5 fundamental questions for language teaching and learning with educational technology (EdTech), including essential technology tools and trends for effective education.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Educational Technology as a staple in our classrooms

The term “Educational Technology” (“EdTech” in short) is probably not a foreign concept to many educators, having lived through the pandemic. Language educators like us, for instance, may have transitioned to online platforms or skillfully employed apps to sustain learning during that period. Beyond then, we may already be tapping on the expedited trend of EdTech adoption in schools and among learners, seeing learners interact with virtual, augmented and mixed realities in the metaverse.

With the continued proliferation of generative artificial intelligence (AI), curriculum planners and instructional designers find themselves confronted with the intricacies of scaling EdTech implementation. For parents, maintaining our children’s engagement through multimodal blended learning (e.g. combining physical and online learning in a coherent manner) is of utmost importance to foster a holistic educational experience.

The rapid development and the increasing adoption of educational technology is definitely not stopping. Market analysts have valued the global market of educational technology at USD 106.46 billion in 2021, and the market is still expected to grow at near to 20% till 2030. Industry experts have also illustrated a roadmap full of exciting new affordances for education ahead.

While the horizons for EdTech companies look good, how do we navigate these unfolding trends? Should we just go with the flow and unquestioningly embrace whatever tools that come our way? I believe most of us would disagree in succumbing to the mindless adherence to the EdTech evolution. No doubt, there are loads of opportunities and affordances in education technology, and the way we can educate and learn today is eons beyond the imagination of our predecessors (arguably also ourselves) back a decade or two ago. Yet, where should we set our foot on in this rapidly changing terrain?

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1. What exactly is Education Technology (EdTech)?

what exactly is edtech
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You might be wondering: how is such a fundamental question still relevant for students and teachers today, after all those technological advancements and the developments catalysed by the pandemic? To me, the revisitation is necessary as our definition frame and determine how we use technology for learning, and how we think about EdTech have an impact how we act in response to really help students learn.

Furthermore, the term “educational technology” may evoke stereotypical images of learners using the more modern, if not state-of-the-art, digital devices (e.g. computers, mobile phones) and software (e.g. artificial intelligence or AI, virtual reality or VR, augmented reality or AR) for learning. Is that the correct representation of EdTech?

Let us review how “educational technology” is generally defined by scholars and organisations:

  • “Educational technology could be understood as the use of emerging and existing technologies to improve learning experiences in a variety of instructional settings, such as formal learning, informal learning, non-formal learning, lifelong learning, learning on demand, and just-in-time learning” (Huang, Spector & Yang, 2019)
  • “Educational technology is a combination of the processes and tools involved in addressing educational needs and problems, with an emphasis on applying the most current digital and information tools.” (Roblyer & Doering, 2018)
  • “Educational technology is the study and ethical application of theory, research, and best practices to advance knowledge as well as mediate and improve learning and performance through the strategic design, management and implementation of learning and instructional processes and resources.” (Association for Education Communications and Technology or AECT, 2018)
  • “Educational Technology teaches through technology, instructing students in the use of a relatively small set of tools developed by technology…… to enhance the teaching and learning process.” (International Technology and Engineering Educators Association or ITEEA, 2022)
  • “Educational technology is concerned with technology in education. It is involved in the use of technology as a “tool” to enhance the teaching and learning process across all subject areas. Educational technology is concerned about teaching and learning with technology.” (Dugger & Naik, 2001)

As we go through the definitions, we would notice that keywords like “tools”, “processes” and “enhance/improve” are common across the different definitions. In general, educational technology can be defined as the use of tools guided by processes to enhance the learning experience in various educational contexts. To be specific, EdTech does not necessarily mean digital learning. With that in mind, we can look at educational technology through these 3 lenses, which then give us our subsequent essential questions.

2. What are the types of EdTech tools that we can use to help students and teachers?

edtech tools
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What can be included in our teaching and learning toolbox? When thinking about “technology”, it is good to remember that “technology” can be anything from pen and paper to multimedia materials to the metaverse. This is an important reminder that our minds should not only be fixated on digital technologies when considering the right tools for use. The entire spectrum of tools, ranging from tangible manipulatives to virtual platforms, should work in concert to to enhance learning and craft a more transformative learning experience. 

In language education, various opportunities for purposeful “languaging” are important as they emulate the different communicative contexts in which our learners may engage currently and in future. Language use and communication has transformed to be more multimodal in the last decade, and our learners need to be competent in interpreting and producing conventional and moderns forms of “texts”.

A hybrid use of different tools in both physical and digital environments can then provide the “languaging” experiences our learners will authentically engage in. In other words, learners need to acquire new literacies (e.g. digital literacies) as well as core language competences (e.g. reading road signs on the streets, speaking and interacting to make transactions in shops).

With these in mind, what then are the types of technologies that we may use? Keeping these types in mind gives us a taxonomy we can leverage and evaluate the systemic adoption of educational technology in our context. Here are the major types that have been consolidated by different scholars (note that types may overlap in actual sense):

Types and Examples of Educational Technology for language learning

Description: Physical or digital tools that facilitate learning through hearing and seeing concrete objects, where such objects can represent abstract concepts or act as stimuli to understanding those concepts. 

Examples: Equipment such as projectors, televisions, monitor screens, screencast devices, radios, webcams, video-players, microphones, whiteboards (traditional or interactive); and instructional materials such as both the physical and digital versions of books, images, videos, slides, charts, posters, flash cards, maps, models.

Description: Physical tools that facilitate learning through multiple means of engagement, representation, action and expression. 

Examples: Educational/learning toys, building blocks (e.g. DUPLO, Lego), stickers, cards, mouldable toys (e.g. Silly Putty, Plasticine, Playdoh), action dice, moveable letters/radicals (e.g. magnetic letters), bean bags, photos, coloured objects.

Description: Digital tools that can increase productivity and communicative affordances in education due to their data processing power, information storage potential, digital presentation of audio-visual information, networking and communication potential, and integrated systems which can transcend time and space.

Examples: Hardware such as desktops, laptops, tablets, mobile phones; Software such as mobile apps, desktop/laptop programs, integrated online platforms.

Description: Physical and digital tools that facilitate the storage and transfer of information

Examples: Books, publications, file folders, posters, thumbdrives, portable hard disks, servers, cloud storage (e.g. Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox).

Description: Digital tools that are designed to be worn by the users when used, facilitating the process of data collection, analysis and presentation

Examples: VR headsets, neuro-headsets (e.g. Emotiv), fitness trackers, wearable recorders (GoPros), smart watches, wireless earpieces with enhanced capabilities (e.g. Waverly Labs Real-Time Translator), digital contact lenses, smart helmets

Description: Digital tools that facilitates communication and collaboration across time and space

Examples: Social media platforms, blogs, forums, video-conferencing applications

Description: Digital tools that combine a whole range of functionalities (including other types mentioned) to formulate an ecosystem of educational or learning experience

Examples: Virtual learning environments, learning management systems, content management systems

Description: Physical or digital tools that support or enhance our use of the other types of tools mentioned earlier

Examples: Keyboards, clickers, mobile carts, headphones and earpieces, physical storage solutions (e.g. cabinets)

Some of the types of tools listed (e.g. peripherals) may sound insignificant in our considerations in adopting educational technology, and perhaps even foreign (e.g. DVDs) in this year and age. Notwithstanding that, this taxonomy gives us a comprehensive scan of the possibilities of elements for integrating technology in our design of learning experiences for different “languaging” contexts.

There are other taxonomies that are commonly used to classify EdTech tools, where the degree of usefulness depends on your contexts of use. Below are two more types for reference:

User-centred Taxonomy

  • Administration: tools that help administrators complete administrative tasks such as attendance-taking and results analysis
  • Instruction: tools that aid the instructional process, and are usually teacher-centred
  • Learning: tools that target self-directed learning, thus usually used directly by learners

Process-related Taxonomy

  • Content Delivery: tools that help educators deliver content, usually in a presentational mode
  • Communication and Collaboration: tools that facilitate the communication between the educator and the learners, or between the learners
  • Assessment: tools that support or enhance the assessment process of the lessons

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3. Are newer “Educational Technology” tools better?

VR, newer better
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So, is it always a rush for the newest emerging technologies? AI and Machine Learning? Generative AI technologies? Robotic Process Automation? VR/AR Metaverse? Blockchain technologies? Technologies usually change faster than educators can keep up.

We know that we hardly rest on our laurels – same teaching processes, same instructional materials, same homework. Gone are the days when we could get by with mere tweaks to our educational resources in every teaching cycle. If such times ever existed, they are now consigned to history.  

We must acknowledge the emergence of new possibilities in teaching and learning that accompany advancements in technology. By maintaining an open mind and willingly experimenting with innovative tools, coupled with a commitment to invest in acquiring new skills, we have the potential to propel our learners to success in quantum leaps. 

Yet, it is practically impossible to always stay abreast of the new changes and reinvent our educational approaches in short cycles. Educational Technology is especially susceptible to the “glitz factor”. New trends, new crazes, new buzzwords come and go; it is quite a challenge to grasp what truly proves effective. Such a psyche usually launches us into a frenzy mode of seeking novelty and distract us from finding legitimate solutions that last.

“With so little emphasis on finding out what actually works, anyone can propose dramatic improvements. When they fail to appear, educators move on to the next fad.”

Roblyer & Doering, 2018

A structured approach guided by sound principles has to be in place in the evaluation of new technologies. One possible approach is to use the approach proposed by Scott Thornbury (link). In any case, but the key message is newer EdTech tools are not always better.

“Technically possible” does not equal “desirable, feasible, or inevitable.”

Roblyer & Doering, 2018

4. Are more “Educational Technology” tools better?

more better
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It can be tempting to maximise technology use in our classrooms. Every tool out there sounds so exciting, and why should we deprive our learners the opportunity of any novel learning experience?

I remembered vividly of a lesson observation I did as a curriculum leader. The enthusiastic teacher who was observed wanted very much to design a variety of learning experiences in a single lesson of 50 mins, enabled by technology. She took her class through 4 platforms, engaging in a suite of quizzes and discussions. The lesson was very lively and the students appeared very busy. Yet, neither the teacher nor the learners were sure that the learning outcomes were achieved. It was an overdose of instructional technologies. 

The tension between variety and choice in EdTech can be real for some of us. Yet, just as we strive to keep pace with the latest tools in the industry, it’s crucial not to inundate our classrooms with an excess of tools that can overwhelm both us and our learners cognitively. 

Our focus should be on the thoughtful use of tools, ensuring they enhance our teaching and learning experiences rather than diverting attention to technicalities of using the tools. Therefore, a prudent approach involves adopting a comfortable set of tools, carefully chosen for their suitability and age-appropriate or level-appropriate features.

Furthermore, there are many tools that are competing in the market that fulfil the same functions. If we are doing a quiz using Kahoot, we might not want to implement another quiz using Quizlet, Mentimeter or Quizizz; if our learners are used to video-conferencing using Zoom, keeping Skype, Teams and Google Meet on our plate is not that necessary.

While there are always some slight differences between one tool and another even for the same function, we might want to consider holistically across all the functions in which we are interested, and zoom in to a couple of integrated platforms and some specialised applications.

Some of us may not have the luxury (or anxiety) of choices. Our school or organisation could have subscribed to a learning platform or an integrated learning management system (LMS) where all staff and students are mandated to use. As much as possible, we should try to maximise the use of the LMS to fulfil the necessary functions that we assess to be fit for purpose in our classroom. This keeps data centralised in an integrated system and makes it more convenient to tap on holistic learning analytics (which hopefully the LMS provides). If there are gaps found in the affordances, we can then negotiate the use of other tools on functions that the LMS may not be able to perform.

5. How do I decide which specific “Educational Technology” tools to use?

decision making
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Given all the considerations thrown at us with the previous questions, what we need is a decision-making framework to help us pin down the exact tools. Let me take this opportunity to introduce the TPACK framework (Mishra and Koehler, 2006).

TPACK is an acronym for “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge”. As illustrated on its official website, it “attempts to identify the nature of knowledge required by teachers for technology integration in their teaching, while addressing the complex, multifaceted and situated nature of teacher knowledge”.

The key philosophy behind the TPACK framework is that “effective technology integration for pedagogy around specific subject matter requires developing sensitivity to the dynamic, transactional relationship between these components of knowledge situated in unique contexts”. In other words, the success of an approach leveraging educational technology is dependent on the educators’ knowledge of the subject-specific content, pedagogy and the technology involved.

TPACK-new
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by tpack.org

The unpacking of TPACK is worth a complete article on its own. The key message that I want to send using the TPACK framework though, is that our adoption of technological tools as language educators should be driven primarily by the knowledge, skills and dispositions of the target language that our learners are learning (content) and our design of the processes in facilitating the learning based on sound principles (pedagogy).  While the exact tools adopted are subject to our technological knowledge, but any decision to choose one over other alternatives has to be primarily guided by content and pedagogy.

Returning to the larger question of choices, one possible decision-making flow I suggest would as follows:

  1. What do I want my learners to learn specifically? Language-specific cultural content? Writing skills? Interactive communication?
  2. What are my processes in enabling the learners to acquire the knowledge, skills or dispositions? Is it a lecture? Are there guided practices? Am I incorporating peer collaboration? Am I enacting some form of authentic learning? Do I need to offer differentiated instruction?
  3. What are the technological tools that are fit for my purposes? Which tools offer affordances that enhance my approach to become more efficient? Which tools are more accessible to me and my learners (e.g. easy to learn or already known, able to get hold of the tool, age- and level- appropriate)?

For 3, we have shared in this article on different taxonomies we can review our available tools, as well as our calibration of using newer vs older technologies, and a comfortable number of tools.

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Conclusion: updating our repertoire of tools that support language learning grounded on sound principles

Educational technology is here to stay, and its role will continue evolving alongside the technological developments that are rapidly happening around the world. As the development of AI becomes more rapid, more opportunities for inclusive, assisted and automated language learning is made possible. Language educators may find more tools that can effectively become our “teaching assistants”. As we navigate that world, let us continue to revisit the 5 fundamental questions raised in this article to evaluate and stand firm on our approach with confidence.

Thank you for reading! If you like what you are reading, do subscribe to our mailing list to receive updated resources and tips for language educators. Please also feel free to provide us any feedback or suggestions on content that you would like covered.

“With so little emphasis on finding out what actually works, anyone can propose dramatic improvements. When they fail to appear, educators move on to the next fad.”

Roblyer & Doering, 2018

“Technically possible” does not equal “desirable, feasible, or inevitable.”

Roblyer & Doering, 2018

TPACK is an acronym for “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge”. As illustrated on its official website, it “attempts to identify the nature of knowledge required by teachers for technology integration in their teaching, while addressing the complex, multifaceted and situated nature of teacher knowledge”.

The key philosophy behind the TPACK framework is that “effective technology integration for pedagogy around specific subject matter requires developing sensitivity to the dynamic, transactional relationship between these components of knowledge situated in unique contexts”. In other words, the success of an approach leveraging educational technology is dependent on the educators’ knowledge of the subject-specific content, pedagogy and the technology involved.

TPACK-new
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by tpack.org

References

Association for Education Communications and Technology (AECT). (2022). The Definition and Terminology Committee.

Bui, S. (2020). Top Educational Technology Trends In 2020-2021. eLearning industry.

Dugger, W., & Naik, N. (2001). Clarifying misconceptions between technology education and educational technology. The Technology Teacher, 61(1), 31-35.

Erben, T., Ben, R., & Castañeda, M. (2009). Teaching English Language Learners through Technology. New York USA: Routledge.

Gosper, M., & Ifenthaler, D. (2014). Preface. In Gosper, M., & Ifenthaler, D. (Eds), Curriculum Models for the 21st Century: Using Learning Technologies in Higher Education (pp. v-vii). New York USA: Springer Science+Business Media New York.

Hartley, R., Kinshuk, Koper, R., Okamoto, T., & Spector, J. M. (2010). The Education and Training of Learning Technologists: A Competences Approach. Educational Technology & Society, 13(2), 206–216.

Herold, B. (2016). Technology in Education: An Overview. Education Week.

Hu, C. (2017). Students, computers and learning: Where is the connection?. Education and Information Technologies, 22, 2665-2670.

Huang, R., Spector, J. M., & Yang, J. (2019). Educational Technology: A Primer for the 21st Century. Singapore: Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.

International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA). (2022). Technological Literacy Standards.

Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge?. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.

Leppänen, S., Kytölä, S., & Westinen, E. (2017). Multilingualism and Multimodality in Language Use and Literacies in Digital Environments. In Thorne, S.L., & May, S. (Eds), Language, Education and Technology (Third Edition) (pp. 119-130). Cham Switzerland: Springer International Publishing AG.

Loyola University Maryland. (2022). What is Educational Technology and Why is it Important?.

Lucky, R.W. (1996). The glitz factor [Reflections]. IEEE Spectrum, 33(9), 22-24.

Mikropoulos, T.A. (2018). Introduction. In Mikropoulos, T.A. (Ed), Research on e-Learning and ICT in Education: Technological, Pedagogical and Instructional Perspectives (pp. v-x). Cham Switzerland: Springer International Publishing AG.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017–1054.

Polly, D., Byker, E.J. & Colonnese, M.W. (2021). Future Directions for K-12 Technology-Enhanced Learning Environments. TechTrends, 65, 240–242.

Roblyer, M.D., & Doering, A.H. (2018). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching: Transforming Learning Across Disciplines. Harlow UK: Pearson Education Limited.

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