Technological Dependence

How technological dependence has become the norm across the education sector

Published: 11 August 2013

The advent of ubiquitous computing means that schools can no longer construct support mechanisms for learners without thinking about the array of networked devices and services that could be used to support them. Their new reality is a web of relations between teachers, students, parents and the technological artefacts that form the basis for new connections and opportunities. A growing number of schools who have embarked on a one-to-one device programme have learnt that their teachers and students are becoming increasingly dependent on their networked devices to support their day to day activities; and they have reached a point where they can no longer afford to have a disconnect between teachers, students and the learning technologies around them for technology is no longer something from which schools can separate themselves from, stand back and then decide what to do with it.

Our new reality is a web of relations between teachers, students, parents and the technological artefacts that surround them

Technological determinism supports a commonly held view that technology has a profound and direct causal effect on human behaviour and it ultimately shapes how individuals learn and acquire knowledge. [1] This causality between technology and humanity dates back to a time when technology was simply seen as a set of tools or objects that could be put to specific uses. Whilst this statement holds true for many of the technologies that are still in use across the education sector such as desktop PCs, laptops, tablets, printers, interactive whiteboards, ebooks, productivity software or classroom visualisers; it does not hold true for a minority of 'social' technologies that are currently being used within the educational setting; such as learning management systems and social media platforms. These services have disappeared into the background or into the periphery and they enable teachers and students the freedom to engage more readily with one another to support teaching and learning.

Mona Lisa

During last year's family vacation in Paris I captured images of an excited Mona Lisa audience at the Louvre. The majority of the audience is either holding a camera, a smartphone or a camcorder. A number of visitors are also listening to commentary as they tour the gallery. The image on the far left shows children gazing at the Mona Lisa as it made a presence at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C in 1963. The scene is noticeably absent of any cameras. Can you imagine a group of visiting school children viewing the Mona Lisa today? The scene will be filled with excited children capturing photos and movies on their smartphones and sharing these with their latest Tweets, Vines, Facebook and YouTube postings or Instagrams. This scene has been repeated countless times across many settings. For example, the horse drawn carriage and the modern automobile; the office typewriter and the desktop PC; the horse drawn plough and the modern tractor; and the telegram and the smartphone. These technological developments will continue at a pace and in time the images at the Louvre will be surpassed by a new audience which will be recording images and video of their visit with wearable technologies such as Google Glass. The types of networked devices and services used within the education sector will also evolve. We have already seen countless schools adopting tablet devices such as the iPad, Surface RT, Surface Pro, Chromebooks and LearnPad; collaboration tools such as Skype classrooms and Google Hangouts; and many web based services such as Office 365, Google Apps, iCloud and Edmodo. The accelerating pace of technological change means that the latest classroom devices and services that we all aspire to use will be soon surpassed by new form factors and services; and many of these will be increasingly intertwined with the Internet and the World Wide Web.

Technology is slowly revealing the essence of what it means to be a teacher and a student at the dawn of the 21st century

These changes, however, only describe the surface of what is happening. They do not describe changes in human behaviour, they do not define the changing relationship between technology and ourselves and they do not define the essence of these changes as they impact on our schools, colleges and universities.

Technology is slowly revealing the essence of what it means to be a teacher and a student at the dawn of the 21st century. Technology is also shedding light on the prevailing cultures, norms and practices within our educational institutions and all too often it has exposed how institutionally and structurally ill prepared they are in meeting the complex needs and demands of the communities that they serve. [2] For instance, many schools do not have an adequate income or an investment strategy to extend the use of technologies and networked services on their campuses; and more noticeably, many schools who have recently invested in one to one device programmes will struggle to sustain their investment beyond the first refresh cycle for these devices. Fortunately, these obstacles are not unsurmountable. Schools have many costs associated with a legacy internet environment such as printing, school server rooms, ICT suites and the staffing costs associated with the management, support and maintenance of these networks. Let us examine how schools could reduce the overheads associated with these services.

Firstly, printing costs can easily be reduced if teachers and administrative staff distributed documents over their learning management systems. Annual savings on printing alone could pay for the annual management overhead for a one to one device program. Secondly, school server rooms have traditionally hosted an array of services such as data storage, email, learning platforms and the distribution of desktop applications; but cloud computing is set to change the traditional model for funding, managing and accessing networked services in schools. Companies offering cloud based services to the education sector such as Microsoft (Office 365), Apple (iCloud), Google (Google Apps) and Amazon (Amazon Web Services) are striving to make cloud based services more affordable and attractive to schools, colleges and universities. Thirdly, the number of traditional ICT suites will continue to fall; as schools take advantage of more affordable and productive mobile devices in their classrooms. Historically, the ICT suite came about because educational establishments could not afford to have these expensive desktop PCs distributed around their campuses, so these devices were concentrated into one or two rooms that could accommodate a class of students. As the cost of devices fell, they became more distributed around an educational campus. At the same time, the falling cost and the increasing computing power of mobile devices such as laptops, notebooks and tablets became very attractive to schools. We have now reached a point were many schools will reduce the number of ICT suites in favour of a one to one mobile device strategy. Fourthly, schools (typically the Supernodes) are beginning to establish shared networks with other schools. The digitally advantaged schools will leverage their networked services to enable other schools to benefit from improved connectivity, to have access to technologies and services that would previously have been beyond their reach, improved IT support and the financial benefits of belonging to a larger network of schools. And fifthly, schools could attract additional students and funding if they utilised their ICT assets to offer attractive courses to their local communities in the fields of App Development, Games Design, Games Development, Games Art and Animation, Computer Programming, Computer Networking, Animation, Film, Interactive Media, Publishing, Film and Radio. These examples demonstrate that all schools can access technologies and services that have the potential to transform how they deliver education services to the communities that they serve.

These foundation stones need to be laid before schools can leverage their ICT resources to develop, broaden and extend the range of education services that they can offer to their local communities. As I write this, the majority of schools are laying these foundation stones. As always, it comes down to the imagination, aspirations and dreams of teachers, pupils and the wider school community to bring about remarkable changes to their schools.

Technological dependence has become the norm
across the education sector

Since schools, colleges and universities are intrinsically linked to their respective local, regional and national communities and since the individuals, families and businesses that make up these communities are increasingly dependent on the use of technology to support their social and economic activities; educational institutions have had no choice but to utilise technology to extend and broaden their services to these communities; especially if they offer attractive courses like the ones listed earlier. The education sector's technological dependence will mean that teachers, students and schools will find it increasingly difficult to separate themselves from the networked devices and services that they have so readily adopted over the last two decades.

In an article entitled Mind The Gap I highlighted a scenario concerning 'two educational establishments who have similar student numbers and annual budgets, were one has exemplary ICT resources and demonstrates best practice whilst its counterpart struggles to provide adequate and up-to-date ICT resources and were ICT is not embedded into the day-to-day life of the establishment'. [3] A similar comparison can be made between two schools who have both introduced a one-to-one device programme; were one school has succeeded in empowering its teachers and students, introduced a radically different curriculum and delivery model and where attainment levels have risen; whilst the other school has continued to deliver the same curriculum, with the same delivery model and were attainment levels are on par with previous years. It demonstrates how we are ultimately responsible for determining how technology will be put to use in our schools; and how we will come to determine the relationship between pedagogy, the educational aspirations of schools and the technology that surrounds us. If we see technology as a human activity, and since human activity varies tremendously between teachers and students, between individual schools and between school districts there will inevitably be differences in how technology is capitalised by schools.

If technology is a human activity, the manner of teaching and learning will invariably be influenced by it

The use of the computing device within the education sector is very much in its infancy. After all, schools, colleges and universities only began to leverage the use of mainframe computers and desktop PCs in the 1970s and 1990s respectively; and the lifespan of post PC devices and the searchable, social and semantic web can be counted on our hands. Nevertheless, in such a short period of time the impact of networked devices and services within the education sector has been profound. But has our love for technology begun to undervalue traditional teaching practices and pedagogy? Is technological design now controlling how we teach and learn? And how are schools managing the incessant momentum of technological change on their campuses? If we view technology as a human activity, the manner of teaching and learning will invariably be influenced by it. For instance, the teacher's mobile device is altering how he or she interfaces or presents information to his or her classroom; it is altering the interaction between teacher and student; the tablet device is influencing the design of teaching spaces in schools; and web based services are altering how information and learning resources are created, distributed and consumed.

There is also growing concern regarding the potential negative impact that technology is having or will have on learning. For instance, the lessening of deep learning in the classroom, the distracting nature of technology, the shortening of attention spans in the classroom and the undermining role of the teacher. We should not be surprised by these concerns regarding the use of networked devices and services within an education setting. Technology within the education sector is still in its infancy and like many youngsters it has a tendency to be brash, bold, overly confident and occasionally wrong; and to many it has started to intrude on the prevailing beliefs and practices within the education sector; and it is beginning to shape and mold the thoughts, actions and activities of teachers and students who come into contact with it. For the first time within the education sector we are seeing a momentum for change that is not being driven by social, moral, ethical or political factors. And like all change, progress will not always be smooth, educational benefits will not always be realised; and occasionally, the assumptions that we make about technology will not always be accurate; hence the list of concerns regarding the use of technology in our schools.

Technology is still in its infancy and like many youngsters it has a tendency to be brash, bold, overly confident and occasionally wrong

We also need to be aware that the course that technology is taking within the education sector appears to have very little restriction or supervision imposed on it. This is partly due because many schools have not had the opportunity to establish formal governance arrangements for the selection and use of networked devices and services in their campuses. As governance arrangements become more firmly established in schools we will gradually see an increasing number of school leaders, teachers, parents, students and their communities begin to critically examine the use and impact of technology on all aspects of school life; which will include its use to support school administration, teaching and learning. Education leaders will also need to aware that a small number of global technology giants such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft will continue to have a growing influence on the education landscape; particularly concerning the creation, storage, distribution and consumption of education content and on the choice of networked devices and services that schools will select to use on their campuses. It remains to be seen if changes within the education sector will be primarily determined by educational institutions or by the minority of companies that control these new technologies. If we have grown to be utterly dependent on networked devices and services we have also given the consent for these companies to have a greater say in determining the educational lives of billions across the globe. I for one welcome their presence and it would be wise to promote greater dialogue and debate with our new technology partners at a regional and national level. This debate is surprisingly absent in our schools and the education sector as a whole would benefit if it opened a debate about the future use of technology in the educational institutions that we all value and cherish.




  1. Technology and Educational Change:
  2. The Question Concerning Technology by Martin Heidegger. The text relating to enframing is of particular interest.
  3. Mind The Gap:
  4. Far left Mona Lisa image: