The Tools’ Paradox and Technology in Higher Education

Posted on November 30, 2015
By Wilson Rojas Bugueno

Technology Integration brings a lot of debate among educators around the country.  Supporters argue that technology increases motivation and engagement, while critics claim technology has no real impact on student success. In this blog post, I will outline my personal perspective on Technology Integration.

The Tools’ Paradox

What comes first: technology or pedagogy? This is the main question administrators, faculty, and instructional designers ask themselves every day. While participating at an EdCamp ( an “unconference“) last year, I had the opportunity to lead a discussion about Technology Integration. During this discussion, a Spanish teacher form a community college brought this up:

“I want my students to learn coding. If they learn that, they will be able to create their own worlds and characters. So, they will practice their Spanish. I want to do this because some of my students are shy. Maybe, I need to create a new environment for them. But, if they create it in the way they want, it will increase their motivation”.

From the story above, we can identify something I call the Tools’ Paradox: because we want to solve a pedagogical challenge with technology, we lose focus on the intended learning outcomes. What is the outcome in our example? Learning a programming language, or using Spanish to communicate with others? From a design perspective, it is not clear. If the students don’t participate in class, we need to ask ourselves what pedagogical strategies, if any, we can use to solve this particular challenge. Technology is a tool that enhances the learning experience, it is not a learning outcome. To put the learning outcomes in the center of the instruction, we need to use an Instructional Design perspective on Technology Integration.

Instructional Design Approach to Technology Integration

All instructional design models (ADDIE, Dick & Carrie, Backwards Design, etc.) share common principles. According to Harris and Hofer (2009), these principles are:

  • Choosing Learning Goals [Outcomes]
  • Selecting formative and summative assessment
  • Making practical decisions about the nature of the learning experience
  • Selecting and sequencing appropriate activity types to create the learning experience
  • Selecting tools and resources that will help students to understand the content

As you can see, tools and resources are considered at the end of the process. The technology integration must be led by learning outcomes, the assessments, and the learning activities students will perform to apply and/or develop skills and knowledge. Tools need to boost collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity.

Technology Integration in Higher Education

What approaches are colleges applying to Technology Integration? I believe we are in a technocentric stage. It seems it sometimes is more important to use it than to integrate it. There is a difference between using technology and integrating technology. In the former, the instructor uses the technology to deliver instruction. Even though it is a valid method, there is no enhancement of the learning experience for the students.  In the latter, students are engaged in activities that promote collaboration, inquiry and critical thinking, and technology is been used as a tool. We need to move from “I want my students to create Prezis” to “I want my students to determine the relationships among concepts.” When this mindset is adopted, the process of integrating technology occurs naturally in a classroom.

What is your perspective on Technology Integration? Do you allow students to use technology in class? Are you in favor of technology at all?

About Wilson Rojas Bugueno

wilson_webWilson Rojas is an Instructional Designer at Kirkwood’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.  He holds a M.A in Curriculum and Instruction from University of Northern Iowa. His areas of interests are Instructional Design, Blended Learning, Competency-Based Education, and Web Design and Development.

One thought on “The Tools’ Paradox and Technology in Higher Education

  1. Thought provoking read here! I agree that there can be a tendency to put the technology ahead of the learning outcomes. Having taught in our MALIE room now for one semester, I can see how I sometimes “forced” the use of iPads when the reality was that the same outcomes could have been met using laptops and the limiting functionality of the iPads actually “got in the way.” Both laptops and iPads are good for facilitation of some creative projects and conducting research. However, because of the way that the charging and storage cart is set up in MALIE, iPads are are terrible if part of your outcomes include curation of information or use of Google Apps (Apple is not Google friendly and the cart wipes user data after each reconection to power source). I would like to see Kirkwood actually go 1:1 as the next step to be able to individualize learning.

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