Social Science Analysis
Educational Technology represents an interesting extension of Education as a social science. Though education is anchored in decades of scientific study and analysis, educational technology is in its infancy as a social science. As Sayer (1992) reminds us, social sciences are difficult to study due to the large number of variables and the difficulties in isolating variables when experimentation is attempted on a social group or in a social setting (p.3).
To this end, one must consider whether educational technology qualifies to be recognized a ‘science' at all. In general terms, ‘science' is defined as ‘the systematic study of the world around us'. The American Physical Society (1999) further delineates science as an entity that “extends and enriches our lives, expands our imagination and liberates us from the bonds of ignorance and superstition” through experimentation/testing of laws and theories. In science, knowledge is gathered, organized, and condensed so that it may be further tested to prove or disprove the work of others. Science involves the adherence to structured principles of study (scientific method), communication between scientists, replication of experiments, and the acceptance of information that disproves earlier accepted theories or conclusions based on new observations or conclusions. Scientists must be willing to openly and honestly provide methods, procedures, and data to keep scientific study ethical, reliable, and credible.
Based upon the definition and principles of science, the field of educational technology meets some but not all criteria of science. While educational research (in general) seeks to quantify the results of new approaches, curriculums, or even existing methods, there is difficulty in replicating research due to the social nature of the learning environment. Often, results vary from classroom to classroom or day to day as can be observed on student assessments. Educational Technology is, therefore, too ‘new' to be evaluated as a science since researchers are still in the ‘information gathering and analysis' stage.
Though the science of learning and the art of teaching have been studied extensively, the problem with educational technology is that it is viewed more as a tool to teach other subjects than as its own separate field of study. For this reason, much of the research conducted has focused on the effectiveness of a delivery medium for learning rather than instructional strategies that use technology in education (Reeves, Herrington, and Oliver, 2005). Clark & Mayer (2007) posit that it is the instructional strategy rather than the delivery medium that determines learning outcomes (p.21). Hence, until educational technology embraces the ‘method' rather than the ‘medium' of technology integration, it will remain on the fringes of science and scientific study.
In order create a deeper acceptance of educational technology among data-driven administrators, educational technology will need to provide a greater sense of reliability through testing that can be replicated in any classroom. It is imperative that educational technology be studied from the teacher's perspective if it is to be effectively relied upon in schools and classrooms. Researching educational technology for its offering of new media, gadgets, and devices is the equivalent of buying a car without test driving it. Some educational technologies may work better than others in certain settings or with certain special conditions but be entirely ineffective if not properly applied or instituted by the instructor. Web 2.0 tools and their social implications in education will not be trusted by educators and administrators until research is able to provide confidence that educational benefits exist through adopting these tools in the instructional process in a systematic manner that will produce an expected outcome as a result of applied instructional strategies and methodologies.
As a researcher, I will seek to fill the void by using the available research and data to produce methodologies for solving problems rather than simply providing more data that is only focused on educational technology tools.
American Physical Society (1992). Ethics & Values / Education: 99.6 "What is science?"Retrieved from http://www.aps.org/policy/statements/99_6.cfm on 12-20-09.
Clark, R. C. and Mayer, R. (2007). E-learning and the science of instruction: proven guidelines for consumers. Malden, MA: John Wiley and Sons.
Reeves, T.C., Herrington, J., and Oliver, R. (2005). Design Research: A Socially Responsible Approach to Instructional Technology Research in Higher Education. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 16(2), 96-115.
Sayer, A. (1992). Method in social science. New York: Routledge.