Is Educational Technology a Discipline? Let’s talk.

Yesterday this tweet:

Prompted this brief twitter conversation (click on the timestamp to see the conversation):

The title of the article begged the question – does this mean people do not see Educational Technology as a discipline?  I have a PhD with the words “Educational Technology” and for almost 10 years, I served as the co-director of the Master of Arts in Educational Technology program.

If you read the comments in the article (actually one time I will suggest reading comments!) you will see other people pointing this out as well. (Including a clarification from Eddie Maloney on how his opinions were represented and interpreted.) The voices on the panel are certainly not representative of the field – and many come from interdisciplinary or emerging fields.  This conflict/question has been brewing in my mind recently as I have been in conversations with, or have read pieces from, the User Experience (UX), Experience Architecture (XA), Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Instructional Technology, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Digital Humanities (DH) fields.  While the article that prompted this post is one singular article, from a non-scholarly publication, I think this is an area worth exploring/defining/discussing at greater depth.  How are the disciplines I mentioned different? Similar? Where do they intersect? Where should they intersect? Are they co-opting or competing with each other, when they should be collaborating?

So, I want to think out loud with my smart friends (beyond 140 characters) – let’s start in the comments here and see where that takes us!


Update :

Thank you to Inese Berzina-Pitcher for this reference:

Sugimoto, C. R., & Weingart, S. (2015). The kaleidoscope of disciplinarity. Journal of Documentation, 71(4), 775-794. doi:10.1108/JD-06-2014-0082 (link works w/MSU log in)

4 thoughts on “Is Educational Technology a Discipline? Let’s talk.

  1. I love the call out for conversation on this. So, when I read the Campus Technology article, I didn’t get the sense that a new discipline was being proposed at large. I read it as a new discipline forming and taking shape at Georgetown contextually. It seemed like the existing field was described as growing in importance and giving the impetus to the new masters program being developed and vetted. Regardless, I think your question about how these well established and growing fields intersect and inform one another is a great one to mull on. I might even subtly suggest that Information Architecture (IA) would be one worth throwing in that mix even though it has such close ties to UX and XA.

    The article shared on the nature of what we mean by discipline was also an interesting read. Personally, I’m less concerned about what makes a discipline a discipline than I am how disciplines are intertwined and interdependent on each other in symbiotic ways as they continue to develop. Your question makes it sound like this might be the case for you also?

    I do wonder if these fields coalesce in the form larger aggregates like “systems design” or “information science” as they continue to interact and compliment the humanities.

    I believe that just like people, disciplines are always better off when they are around a diverse garden of other disciplines. Similarly, like people, they have the capacity to view things in a zero-sum lens which results in competition, or they can see the competition is important and valuable aspect of their own growth and maturity. Furthermore (and again like people) things get problematic when these disciplines aren’t understood in context. We lose when assumptions lazily try to devise correlations between these fields that actually require greater complexity and nuance.

    It would be great to see more interdisciplinary collaborations taking place around innovation and learning in the form of a Hub or something like that, wouldn’t you say? ;)

  2. I’ll give a brief reply to this, but my experience has led me to answers miles long.

    I see two disciplines that fall under an educational technology umbrella: education technology pedagogy, and education technology practices. One discipline explores the nature of technology and its relevance to education, and the other supports practices and by extension studies practitioners. An edtech specialist in pedagogy might work on more esoteric academic questions regarding the complex relationship of tech with teaching and learning, develop frameworks, and take a forensic approach to the discipline, whereas an edtech specialist in practices might focus on implementation of pedagogy and best practices at the classroom level, with a focus on operationalization.

    In my work, I do quite a bit of both, and as a result, I recognize a tension between the two disciplines: schools want to ask about implementation and best practices, but the frameworks and understanding of best practices comes from a thorough investigation of pedagogy. I think by recognizing two separate disciplines, the tension can be better explored, and more practitioners can benefit. Right now, I see too many practitioners focusing on how to use stuff, but not enough asking WHY they are using it. I think having a discipline solely dedicated to the WHY would mitigate some of the problems with employing new technologies without forethought.

  3. What great questions this conversation is raising (from the article, the Twitter exchange, your post, Dave’s response…) One of the first things that came to mind for me while reading was not only what it means for something to “count” as a discipline, but also something connected with names/labels in general. What is gained when we can clearly identify something as being a discipline? What (if anything) might be lost? Does distinguishing and naming disciplines help or hinder the interactions between the diverse garden of different disciplines Dave mentioned (LOVE that phrase, btw!)? In what ways might those names encourage or inhibit the growth of a discipline?

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