I’ve struggled for some time with the objectives of technology education in schools. There are a variety of activities lumped under this banner, which do not seem to have a lot in common conceptually. For example, many schools may teach the use of different programs (e.g. presentation, video editing, or animation) under the label of educational technology. Many schools cover aspects of digital technology’s effect on society or digital citizenship. Or how computers and networks work. And most schools now offer at least some amount of programming. These different subjects have little overlap, other than the potential involvement of a computer. This was a strong common theme when computers and expertise were scarce and often concentrated in labs. They seem to have little reason to be treated together as a category now, when computers are ubiquitous and the expertise required is more diverse.
In an attempt to deal with these disparities, I’ve started breaking educational technology into three buckets. This gives me a conceptual framework for dealing with the different areas, though I still don’t find this entirely satisfactory. The categories are computer science, information technology, and digital literacy.
While computer science necessarily includes programming, I prefer to emphasize computational thinking. By this, I mean the process of problem solving, particularly as it applies to the digital environment. Computational thinking includes fundamental concepts such as abstraction and decomposition, iteration and conditionals, and general problem solving techniques. A great advantage in thinking of computational thinking over programming is that it becomes applicable in a number of other subjects as well, lending itself to reinforcement in other areas of the curriculum. Programming becomes a practical application of computational thinking.
Information technology is the category for all of the technical aspects of computing. This includes how computers and networks work (which I feel is generally neglected, considering the extent of their integration in all aspects of contemporary life). This also includes some amount of history of computing, and some concepts such as logic and binary number systems.
This category consists of that information needed to deal with technology on a day-to-day basis. That includes how to use different types of applications, such as word-processing or spreadsheets. Most importantly, it should impart and ability to learn new applications, as any specific applications are likely to be rendered obsolete in short order. This category also includes, perhaps most importantly, how to behave in a digital world. This is where digital citizenship resides, with a particular emphasis on safety.
One advantage I’ve found in breaking up the subjects generally found in “technology” in schools is that it makes it easier for me to also reconsider how they are approached. While all three are necessary at each level of education, they need not all be handled in a technology-focused class. Aspects of digital literacy would make just as much sense in context with classroom behavior discussions. Parts of information technology fit well within math or science units. Spreading these units to other areas of the curriculum helps connect student thinking outside of their traditional realms, and makes more overall time for the traditional technology subjects in the schedule.