Thursday, October 10, 2013

Is History Repeating?

This week I'm exploring the big picture history of Instructional Technology. Two themes emerged as I read through the material. First, new technologies are slow to find their ways into the hearts and classrooms of everyday teachers, particularly in the K-12 environment. Second, Europe has consistently been ahead of the United States with regard to adopting new technologies into the educational systems.

Michael Molenda (2008) takes his readers through the history beginning with the Sophists, including Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. They were some of the first to emphasize the importance of cognition and critical thinking. Later, Comenius introduced us to classroom management and the importance of play as a tool for learning. Then, came the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, opening us up to new worlds of educational media.

New forms of media mark the milestones of IT history from that point forward. Molenda (2008) starts with slide projectors using handpainted slides and oil lamps until the oil lamps were replaced by incandescent bulbs. He says, "Silent films began to be used in schools as early as 1910' (p. 6). This led to catalogs of available films and educational museums. Eventually, folks figured out that the media was not as important as how the media was used, this was the same conclusion people came to with regard to the teaching machines of Behaviorism. Yet, Reiser (2007) reminds us that not everyone thought that way. He states that some people felt teachers were just another tool, not the primary mover in the instructional transaction.

In 1910 the phonograph brought sound into availability to add to the visual elements. Unfortunately, the educational system preferred the visuals without sound so that teachers could modify them for individual purposes. All this new media and the discussion about how to best use it led to the development of organizations devoted to audiovisuals in the 1920s. Then came educational radio. This one was a hit. Yet, it still wasn't really incorporated into lesson plans, again because teachers didn't find it flexible enough. All of these forms of media were quite popular in Europe, particularly Britain and France. The big names with regard to educational radio were the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), NHK in Japan, and CBC in Canada. In the U.S., Reiser (2007) states that "while the field continued to grow, the educational community at large was not greatly affected by that growth" (p. 19).

World War II created a successful platform for the use of films for educational and propaganda purposes for all parties involved. The military uses of media had a tremendous impact on instructional technology, as this was the context where best practices for instruction were tested and studied. That said, Molenda (2008) states, "Most of the basic research on visual and auditory perception has been done outside the field of educational technology" (p. 9). Despite its use in adult settings, K-12 teachers were not jumping on the bandwagon. They claimed a lack of convenient accessibility to the materials as a barrier.

The BBC found itself, once again, in the forefront with educational television as early as the 1930s. The war had a large influence on this medium, as well. By the 1950s educational television was being broadcast directly in schools in Britain, Canada, and the U.S. Cognitivism changed the way TV was being used in the classrooms. Rather than just replacing lecture, it was suggested that TV become more participative. As television became a common item, it's value as a tool in developing countries became apparent. At the same time, television for instruction in the U. S. was waning due to cost and resistance by teachers. Then, came the 80's and the advent of widespread computer use. At the same time models for instructional technology were becoming more widespread. The creation of new audio-visuals and other products became a separate area of specialization.

Molenda (2008) focuses on the various paradigm shifts throughout the history from behaviorism to cognitivism to constructivism, to a blending of the the three. The latter had much to do with computers in education. Once again, we see the pattern of teachers not really using them in day-to-day instruction. Reiser (2007) states that they had little influence as late as the mid 90s. What struck me as I was reading this was that computers actually came to my school system before educational television, and I was in relatively small schools. My graduating class was only 210 people. I took my first computer class in 1988. It was at least three years later before they installed televisions in our homerooms to broadcast a student news program. They were short-lived.

Then came the Internet. Once again, Britain jumped on this new technology and its value for education with its Open University. Now, distance education is everywhere, but many traditional universities are slow to offer entire degree programs via distance learning. However, they have been quick to incorporate these technologies in their face-to-face programs. Is history repeating itself? It does not appear so. What makes this medium different? Why did the other types of media have such a hard time breaking into mainstream education, while Internet-based technologies have been embraced? Reiser (2007) has a few theories. He believes their versatility and interactivity play a role. What do you think?

Molenda, M. (2008). Historical foundations. In J. M. Spector, M. D. Merrill, J. V. Merriƫnboer, & M. P. Dirscoll (Eds.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (3rd ed.) (pp. 3-20). New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

Reiser, R. A. (2007). A history of instructional design and technology. In R. A. Reiser, & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (pp. 17-34). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.


  1. Scarlett,

    The fact that new technologies (both hard and soft) have been slow to find their way into the K-12 classrooms was the main point that stood out to me throughout the readings this week too. I also noticed that the military and industry were quick to jump on many new technologies. I'm interested in your theory as to why the teachers have not readily embraced the changes?

  2. Good question. I think some of the readings I'm doing this week are providing insights into that, as well. First, I think teachers are very practical. I think many of them have an "If it's not broken, don't fix it" kind of attitude. They also value their roles in the lives of their students. If I were a teacher, I would be offended if someone suggested educational television was going to be an adequate replacement for me. They know that education takes flexibility and human interaction. It's also important to keep in mind that curricula and lesson plans are made well in advance. In the world of standardized education, teachers may not have a lot of control over what tools they have to use in a given year, especially if lesson planning was done and approved before the new technologies became widespread.