Technology plays an increasingly important role in our everyday lives. Gone are the times when the average person didn’t own a smartphone, didn’t rely on Google Maps, or didn’t feel lost without wifi. Technology—namely the Internet—has integrated itself into numerous aspects of our lives; we use it to communicate, to stay organized, to capture moments, and, rather recently, to teach.
Using technology to teach is a new concept that has recently emerged. With centuries of traditional teaching approaches under our belt, we unsurprisingly have adopted educational technologies at a rate slower than the field has advanced. Even in 2011, a study by Dr. Charles Crook in the Oxford Review of Education revealed that integrating new technology into the UK secondary school system is a difficult task that relies on the cooperation of both educators and students. Moreover, studies such as a 2010 publication by Kent State University that focused on the negative effects of Facebook on academic performance reinforce the belief that technology only distracts students. Fortunately, some institutions across the world have recognized the potential that technology has in reshaping how we approach education. There is a growing field of research regarding the use of technology in education.
In March 2017, Dr. Christine Greenhow and Dr. Emilia Askari at the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education of Michigan State University published a paper entitled, “Learning and teaching with social network sites: A decade of research in K-12 related education.” The publication provided an extensive and cumulative review of twenty four research papers regarding educational social networking sites that were published throughout the world.
Apart from evaluating each study’s approach to analyzing the data (mixed, quantitative, or qualitative), Dr. Greenhow and Dr. Askari also categorized each into one of four types. These four types are distinguished in a 2005 study by Dr. M.D. Roblyer in the Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education Journal. Dr. Roblyer claims that research in the field of educational technology either establish the technology’s effectiveness at improving student learning, investigate implementation strategies, monitor social impact, or report on common uses to shape the direction of the field.
Dr. Greenhow and Dr. Askari conclude that the most prevalent type of study are those that look at the implementation strategies of technology. Furthermore, these implementation strategies usually take place informally outside of school time. The co-authors were not shocked by this conclusion: “it is not surprising that educational researchers have focused their investigations mainly on learning with new media where it most occurs, beyond the school day.” However, while such studies are important, the authors also emphasize that research into the use of technology in formal teaching settings is needed. Applying technology in formal educational settings is an uncharted field; research will likely result in the most insightful findings.
Technology has the potential to introduce new tools, resources, and materials to school cultures. It can alter the way educators present content, and accommodate for different learning styles. Educational technology is a growing field, and it’s important that we not only research it, but also analyze how to research it. Dr. Greenhow and Dr. Askari have unveiled a number of insightful findings regarding how we study the effectiveness of educational social media sites. However, the applications of all varieties of technology, in both informal and formal settings, still demand more research. Undoubtedly, there are numerous technological applications in the educational industry that are waiting to be discovered. Technology is a tool; it’s about time educators start treating it like one.