What are the differences between technology education, educational technology, and ICTs for education – and which am I supposed to teach?

I teach a third year course with a 6 week component focusing on the Technology curriculum. Almost every student begins the course with inaccurate assumptions about what it is they’re going to learn and why. Last semester one student with a degree in ICT almost failed when they didn’t turn up to class because they assumed the class was “about making PowerPoints.”

Technology is the newest key learning area (KLA) in Australia, having been around for about 20 years. As with all KLAs, the syllabus has changed several times over the past 20 years, but unlike other KLAs, our understanding of the nature of the topic is continuously evolving.

Let’s start with a definition of ‘technology’. We’ll use the one I develop each year with my students.

Technology is any material, system or information that has been developed or manipulated by humans to meet a need or serve a purpose.

Examination of this definition allows us to see that musical instruments, chemical glassware, websites, electronics equipment, and even domesticated dogs are technologies, while the moon, tropical cyclones*, and coal are not. Apps, quilts, weighing scales and the laws of Australia are technologies, too.

Textbooks, unit & lesson plans, curricula, interactive whiteboards and the resources teachers create for their students all fit the definition of technology. These technologies serve the purpose of education and thus are education technologies.

Interactive whiteboards, social media platforms, the Internet, software for word processing or number crunching and computers themselves are all technologies for the communication of information. These are information communication technologies (ICTs).

It is important that all students learn to understand and develop skills for using education technologies and ICTs. There are sections in the Australian Curriculum that emphasise this, and the use of these across all KLAs.

It is equally as important that students learn to design and create original technologies: that they become innovators. This is where the Technology curriculum steps in.

From a strong Technology curriculum, students learn the technology process for researching, ideating, designing, creating and evaluating new technologies. They identify how technologies impact on society, culture, science and art, and how society, culture, science and art contribute to the development of new technologies. They find the consequences of technologies, such as the Internet (largely good, what about the widening gap between those with access and those without) and the atom bomb (Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Japanese people still feel the effects today). Students analyse the purpose, context and specifications of technologies, discuss the constraints of technologies and consider the criteria for evaluating technologies. They learn skills for managing projects, for problem-solving, and they learn the values of perseverance and failure. Students also plan for a brighter future, for solving the real-life problems of our planet, and imagine the world as it could be.

Restlessness lies between knowing the world as it could be, and accepting the world as it is.

It does not matter if students are developing new toys, useful tools, decorative embellishments (most crafts are technologies), rules for the classroom, new software, a restaurant, a new dress, a system for ordering their tuckshop, or a simple birthday card for their mother, students are experiencing the thrilling and valuable act of innovation.

Sadly, in my experience in primary schools, Technology (in those states and territories where it is a mandated part of the curriculum) is often considered the 8th most important KLA (of 8) and not thought of until report card time rolls around and the teacher realises nothing has been done. Students are then required to create (yet another) PowerPoint/brochure/webpage of their learning for the term. That’s technology, right? (Yes, but not a project of deep and lasting value to students.)

In secondary schools, the Technology curriculum is enacted as Manual Arts, Design, Drafting, Business Studies and Home Economics (to name a few). I wonder how many teachers of these subjects realise the greater value of their lessons?

Meet the Robinsons
Meet the Robinsons (Disney, 2007) stars young orphan Lewis as an inventor whose inventions continue to scare off potential parents.

The Australian Curriculum recently released the Draft Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Technologies paper. It recognises the importance of Technology education and I hope that Australian teachers value Technology education as much as any of the other KLAs.

Primary teachers: if you’re looking for a fun way to discuss technology with students, you can do worse than watching the Disney film Meet the Robinsons, and discussing the impacts and consequences of Lewis’ technologies in the present and the future.