Technology – Where is the “-logy”? A call to research.

As a science teacher by default we are prone to breaking down and combining words in order to understand them.  Biology for instance is the study of life and living systems.  Psychology is the study of thoughts and thought processes. Etymology is the study of word origins.

-logy comes from the greek logia and means “study of”

So, enter technology.

Technology is the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, machinery, modifications, arrangements and procedures

via Technology – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Wait did I miss something? technoLOGY  shouldn’t the words “study of” be somewhere in that definition?

I find it worth nothing that even etymologists struggle with this one

1610s, “discourse or treatise on an art or the arts,” from Gk. tekhnologia “systematic treatment of an art, craft, or technique,” originally referring to grammar, from tekhno- (see techno-) + -logy. The meaning “science of the mechanical and industrial arts” is first recorded 1859. High technology attested from 1964; short form high-tech is from 1972.

via Online Etymology Dictionary.

So here we have the tech-but who is studying it?

This past week I attended a webinar hosted by Education week presented by Michael Horn of the Innosight Institute.  It was very well done and presented a lot of models of various disruptive styles of blended and online learning.  I really enjoyed it.  However when asked about whether the models were working, the moderator, Cheryl Vedoe, CEO of Apex Learning gave a response about graduation rates increasing.  This to me begs the question, when we say “does it work” what do we mean?

To me, as an educator, my focus is student competency and lasting learning.  I believe in the values of pre and post testing.  Did the student learn, or did they complete? These are different measures completely.  So when a question about efficacy is answered by graduation rates, I feel that my goals and their goals in the research are at odds.  If all I want is improved graduation rates I can accomplish that by lowering standards.

To be fair I don’t think that Ms. Vedoe meant that, but my concern is that to many people, online and blended learning appears to be a way to move kids through by volume and completion rather than by learning and achievement.  It’s almost a work around for the schools and systems who are trying to figure out how to get around the graduation requirements they themselves have set.  I don’t understand, if you say a child needs four years of English and competency at the common core standards, why would you choose to then allow some students to meet a less rigorous standard to improve your graduation rate?  It feels hypocritical.

I believe that Apex Learning is not about that lower standard, and does really good work.  So I would challenge them to do the studies and research so that they can talk about what their students can accomplish via a more valid measure than improved graduation rates.

I tweeted Michael Horn about the research question, and he made a valid point. “Reality is that models aren’t cause of success or failure. Execution within is.”  I agree wholeheartedly.  However, the scientist in me demands what my former mentor on the Mars Exploration Rover program, Steve Squyres, referred to as “Squiggles to go with our giggles.”  In other words it isn’t enough to know it in our hearts, if we cannot back it up with evidence in the form of data.

What effects does it have on us?

This brings me back to Study 2 published by Common Sense Media (see the post Echos of you’ll rot your brain).I am deeply concerned by studies of opinion.  They are good for telling us about acceptance rates, and possibly whether the digital learning innovations are becoming disruptive and mainstream.  However, I have seen numerous studies about the differences between what people think is true and what is true.  For example, student teachers in biology often think that DNA replication occurs in the prophase during the cell division, interphase is the resting phase of mitosis, the chromosome number is doubled in prophase of mitosis and halved in anaphase of mitosis, the chromosome number remains the same during meiosis-I and it is halved during meiosis-II, and a chromosome has always two chromatids during cell division.  All of these are misconceptions, and these guys are straight out of school where they studied these ideas. (See the biology student teacher study)  Or how about the studies which tell us people think more people smoke marijuana than actually do smoke marijuana because of the increased perception of marijuana smoking (one such example).

So anyway, the aforementioned “Study 2” is just such a study of opinion.  Its about what teachers think is going on, rather than a study of what is going on.  Correlate data between hours of media exposure and certain achievement types, PLEASE?  Somebody?

Correlate the data between teacher exposure to varied media types and training and student achievement, anyone?

My point

My point is — it’s time to use evidence rather than hype as we develop on this frontier.  I support and believe in the innovations of online/blended/digital learning as another tool in the tool chest of education.  But everyone working in education knows that we are being held more and more accountable for what we do.  And that means that all the gut feelings in the world don’t amount to anything.  We need the “-logy”  and we need it soon.


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