State of the Field of Educational Technology: Through a Cultural Lens


1.1 Historical Evolution of the Field

Educational technology is a diverse and an evolving field. Cuban (1986) presents evidence on how educators used technology based media such as film, radio, television in the classroom from the turn of the 20th century. During the 1960s educational technology was synonymous with audio visual based media. The first definition on educational technology presented by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) reaffirms this notion. Since then the field evolved rapidly. Today educational technology incorporates many facets that include elements of design, components of learning, technology based resources and management principles highlighting the broad nature of the profession. Januzewski (2001) analyzes definitions presented by AECT providing a backdrop as to how the field evolved over the last several decades. Table one below will list those definitions. The subsequent paragraphs will iterate the evolution of the field as seen by Januzewski.

Table 01: Definitions on educational technology by AECT


The first definition


Struggle for   identity


Systematization of   education technology


The full circle


The most recent

Audiovisual   communications is the branch of educational theory and practice concerned   with the design and use of messages which control the learning process. (Ely,   1963, pp. 18-19). Educational   technology is a field involved in facilitating of human learning through the   systematic identification, development, organization and utilization of full   range of learning resources and through the management of these processes   (Ely, 1972, p.36) Educational   technology is a complex, integrated process, involving people, procedures,   ideas, devices and organization, for analyzing problems and devising,   implementing, evaluating and managing solutions to those problems, involved   in all aspects of human learning (ACET, 1977, p.1) Instructional   technology is the theory and practice of design, development, utilization,   management and evaluation of processes and resources for learning (Seels and   Richey, 1994, p.1) Educational   technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and   improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate   technological processes and resources. (ACET, 2008, p.1)

In 1963 when the term was first defined, educational technology was referred to as audio-visual (AV) communications. The field was presented as a branch of educational theory, a practice that emphasized designing communications for learning, but in reality it related heavily on the hardware and media components on technology. This definition placed the educator in control of the learning process. It included strong nuances of the objectivist’s paradigm that saw learners as receivers of knowledge. By 1972, educational technology was given prominence as a field by itself with a broad range of learning resources, individualized learning including components of the systems approach. The association of people with technology augmented the field beyond its AV roots.  The 1977 definition saw the field being transformed into a profession. By this time it clearly moved away beyond audio visuals. It was associated with learning resources, management functions and ideas related to development. This same definition under scored the differences between resources by utilization and resources by design. This led to a debate and educational technology ended up being viewed as instructional technology. As a consequence, the 1994 definition renamed educational technology as instructional technology. This culminated further divisions and subsequent definitions reverted back to changing the name to educational technology. The 2008 definition, which is the most recent one, emphasize on elements such as ethical practice, process, resources, design, and management in a significant way. The definition includes elements of constructivist and situated learning interpretations. In comparison to the first definition, today scholars see educational technology as a larger field that extends beyond instruction or audio visuals. The field saw several technological interventions and movements that guided and shaped its current state. These will be further presented later in this review.

 1.2 Framework

This essay attempts to present the state of the field of educational technology through a cultural lens. Two common goals that relate to educational outcomes in using technology will be identified. The current state will then be reviewed from two vantage points. The shortcomings and accomplishments will be viewed through a cultural lens from both vantage points, in affirming how the field lends itself to accomplish the identified goals.

a) Cultural Lens

The literature review that paved way for this essay, highlighted the importance of considering cultural variations as students engage in educational endeavours. It presented specific studies (mostly from the essentialist paradigm) that highlighted cultural variations relating to age, gender, ethnicity and national origin of students as they engaged in online asynchronous discussions.  The author asserted the importance of identifying cultural differences that can help explain variations in online interactions patterns. It further allows designing interventions to enable learning to be more productive and efficient. Having presented this case, the author will now assess how the field of education technology at large has responded to cultural differences. In the earlier review, the term “culture” was interpreted through the lens of essentialists and social constructivist. Further, cultural differences of individuals were extended to interactions that take place within and between national boundaries. Those same ideas will be resonated in this essay.

b) Educational Goals

There are many goals that impact educational outcomes as students engage with educational technology. For the purposes of manageability, the author will consider two important goals. The first will be to understand how designers consider cultural differences in developing technology interventions for instructional and teaching purposes. The second goal would be to assess how cultural differences are considered when designing formative assessments. Summative assessment is not considered for reasons of manageability.  The author asserts that these two educational goals are fundamental to the successful diffusion and the eventual adoption of technologies as they cater to culturally diverse groups.

c) Vantage Points

There are many technology interventions that shape the field at large. The discussion will be limited to initiatives such as LOGO, goal based scenarios, learning objects and technology based community knowledge building interventions such as the Eureka project. They represent the field from a more   broader point of view and this will be the first vantage point used in this review. Being in line with the author’s research interest, the second vantage point focuses on online asynchronous computer mediated communications (CMC) that views the field from a narrower lens. Two types of studies are reported here. The essentialist that  depict cultural differences of students as they interact online and social constructivist, profiling online interaction and listening patterns as students negotiate meaning. These vantage points will illustrate a broader range of examples as to how the field comes to contact with cultural facets that would help gauge the success and failures in meeting educational goals. Figure one depicts the interplay between the above three elements.

Educational   Goals




Vantage   Points



Goal   Based Scenarios Learning   Objects

Eureka   Intervention


CMC based Asynchronous Online   Discussions

Profiling   Interaction Styles

Profiling   Listening Behaviour

                  Cultural Lens

Figure 01: Framework to review the state of the field of educational technology.  


 2.1 Broader Field of Educational Technology

The following paragraphs will situate the identified educational goals with selected technological interventions that represent the broader field of educational technology.

 a) LOGO

Papert (1980, 1987) and his team introduced LOGO as a movement hoping to revolutionize the field of education at large.  LOGO was designed as a technology based learning intervention that would help students improve problem solving skills through a series of programming. It started as a language manipulation program but soon spread as a tool that solved mathematical problems, applications on science, creations related to music and visual arts. LOGO allowed students to take charge of problem solving. Through a series of commands, it allowed to manipulate the turtle which eventually led to solve math based problems, create a piece of art or a music interlude. It embraced constructivist’s principles as it designed interventions for instruction. Instructors provided challenging problems to students. Students learned various skills as they solved these problems through the intervention. Although there was a correct syntax to be followed for programming, there was no one solution as to how the problem could be solved. It was not designed as a formative assessment tool but instructors could easily use LOGO to assess student problem solving skills by assigning tasks. As an intervention, LOGO did include features that would support design instruction and formative evaluation schemes. It had the potential to fulfill the educational goals set in this review.

b) Goal Based Scenarios (GBS)

Leaning on constructivist principles, GBS was championed by Schank (1994) as a technology intervention that allowed students to develop skills in problem solving in authentic contexts. GBS was an instructional design intervention that resonated with the cognitive apprenticeship model. It allowed students to set goals, build practical skills by achieving those goals in a context that was closer to reality. GBS was not designed as an assessment tool. However, it allowed an instructor to evaluate how students establish attainable goals, their problem solving skills progressively. It gave opportunities to assess student performance in a formative manner. Alternatively by assigning tasks to be completed in a new context, the instructor could assess how students could transfer knowledge from previous situations. It had the potential to be used as an instructional as well as an assessment intervention.

c) Learning Objects (LO)

It was an instructional design intervention that allowed instructors to assimilate learning objects from different repositories creating customized options for instructional purposes. It allowed the instructors to reuse material, update them over a period of time. Its primary design was not for assessment purposes. However, the author asserts that it has features of a formative assessment tool. Students could be asked to draw material from different learning repositories in completing an assigned task. In the Knowledge Forum, the author cited an example how students in a business course were asked to cover a contemporary topic in marketing using LO. Students drew on a wide array of resources from the public domain and the assigned repositories completing the assigned assessment effectively. LO has features that allow instructional and assessment principles to be incorporated in designing interventions.

d) Eureka Project

This project sets an example of collaborating knowledge among a community of uses using a technology intervention. The composite knowledge created was used by community members for problem solving purposes.  This concept provides a good example how community based knowledge collaboration can be used to design instruction and assessment. Online Wiki based platforms provides opportunities for students to collaboratively assimilate knowledge on a given topic. For example, students in an introductory marketing course were assigned to catalogue key terms learnt throughout the course as groups. They were allowed to use this collaborative knowledge to write quizzes and midterm exams. Further, they were expected to hand this as a portfolio in parts throughout the semester for which they were graded. Peer evaluation did motivate members to contribute towards the project equitability otherwise risk losing marks. The instructor was able to monitor how students comprehend sections, eventually spending more instructional effort on areas that required attention.  This is an example of how collaborative knowledge building could be used for instructional as well as assessment purposes.

It is evident that the above initiatives could be used to achieve design goals that relate to instruction and assessments. Later sections will review their success rate in accommodating cultural variations.

2.2 Narrower Field of Educational Technology (CMC)

In narrowing the field of educational technology, studies that profile online interaction and listening behavioural styles provide valuable input for educationalist to design online asynchronous interventions to support instruction and assessments in many ways. Table two below provides a cross-section of profiles (interaction and listening) as reported in some studies.

Table 02: Cross section of online interaction and listening behaviour patterns as reported.

Online Interaction Patterns

Online Listening Behaviors

Lawless  & Kulikowich   (1996)

Barb   et al (1999)

del   Valle,.& Duffy (2007)

Knowlton,   D.S. (2005).

Wise,   Perera, Hsiao, Speer,  &   Marbouti,  (in review)

Wise,   Speer,  Marbouti & Hsiao, (in   review).

Knowledge Seekers

Cyber Cartographers

Mastery Approach

Meta Cognitive Participation

Thorough Student

Broad Listeners, Reflective Talkers

Feature Explorers

Model Users

Task Focused Approach

Dialogical Participation

Self-Monitoring Student

Concentrated Listeners Focused Talkers

Task Focused Approach

Generative Participation

Apathetic Hypertext Users


Developmental  Participation

Independent Student

Superficial Listeners, Intermittent   Talkers

Feature Explorers

Passive Participation

The study carried out by del Valle & Duffy (2007) differentiate mastery oriented patterns with minimalist. These profiles were based on a number of quantitative (time they logged in, the number of posts they read, the amount of time they spent reading, the number of posts they created) and qualitative (the extent to which they fulfilled the assigned task) criteria. In a similar way, these studies help set guidelines when designing interventions that elicit more productive online discussions. Further, these characterizations allow the development of rubrics to assess student performance. They support the design of instruction and assessment goals as identified in this review.


The following will highlight major shortcomings and achievements in the field. They are framed as successes or failures purely based on how they achieve the set educational goals through a cultural lens. They are reported from both vantage points of the field.

3.1 Shortcomings in the Field

 # Less than 5% of articles published in four major educational technology journals within the last three years represented studies on cultural influences on educational technology.

As the reader may note in table three, out of 386 articles published in four main educational technology journals within the last three years, only 17 (less than 5%) addressed any form of cultural issues that related to technology.

Table 03: Number of cultural based studies published on educational technology

Name   of the Educational Technology Journal

%   of studies published that reflected any cultural issue in educational technology





Educational   Technology Research & Development


(2 out of 47)


(2 out of 43)


(3 out of 49)


(7 out of 139)

The   Journal of Educational Computing Research


(1 out of 48)


(1 out of 36)


(2 out of 32)


(4 out of 116)

The   Journal of Research on Technology in Education


(1 out of 17)


(1 out of 20)


(0 out of 12)


(2 out of 49)

Learning,   Media & Technology


(1 out of 27)


(2 out of 32)


(1 out of 23)


(4 out of 82)


5 out of 139

6 out of 131

6 out of 116

17 out of 386

Note: Cultural differences include age, gender, ethnicity and national origin based differences

Given the cultural diversity (age, gender, and ethnicity and national origin) experienced in our classrooms, online spaces, and the impact that these differences have on students, it is quite surprising to note the marginal attention this subject has received among educational technology scholars.  It is evident that the field at large does not give prominence to cultural differences as they engage with scholarship and research on technology interventions.

# Interventions such as LOGO, GBS, LO & Eureka that shaped the broader field of education technology address cultural differences marginally in achieving the set educational goals.

Interventions such as LOGO, GBS essentially embraced constructivist principles in its design process allowing students to play a large part in the problem solving process. This design for instruction (facilitation as referred in constructivist realms) did not meet instructional expectations of the objectivists who supported a more acquisition based model. Although many do not identify epistemological differences with cultural differences, one could still argue this to be the case since they depict differences in values, attitudes and beliefs that drive behaviour. But on a larger note, Papert, Schank did not consider cultural differences when designing LOGO and GBS interventions. If we draw on the cultural differences between Western versus Asian cultures, studies (Bing & Ping, 2007; Wang, 2004) point out Asian students tend to rely more on teachers when they learn. Students in the western world are taught to explore ideas and the onus of learning is mainly on the student. Similarly, students in Asian countries are taught to differentiate between a right and a wrong answer even in more subjective disciplines. Having taught in Asian countries, the author would assert that interventions such as LOGO, GBS would hardly be adopted given the differences. On a local level, these differences could be translated between ethnic groups that operate within a country. The emphasis of the educational technologist should therefore be to design an intervention that meets different aspirations, learning methods adopted by different cultural groups that would eventually resonate with different instructional and assessment practices. LOGO did have the potential to be used across cultural groups but the designers did not emphasize it. Instructors could assign tasks on LOGO that allows students to explore ideas while others could use it as an instructional tool solving problems guided by an instructor. As a formative assessment tool, LOGO did have the potential to test the extent to which students grasp concepts or the depth of their knowledge creation across different epistemological and cultural landscapes. The same explanations could be rendered towards GBS and LO. GBS was designed to instil problem solving skills situated within a context. It had tremendous potential for students to discover cultural variations that apply to different contexts leading to different decision outputs. The author has firsthand experience as to how cultural differences between European, Asia-Pacific and Australasian markets led to the use of very different strategies in selling industrial rubber matting that had rather universal applications. Learning Objects did also have the potential in designing instructional material drawing from different cultural contexts. For example, the author was teaching a section that highlighted the importance of cultural differences associated with colour in an international advertising context and students who represented different cultural groups were asked to show case what different colours meant with culturally relevant materials. Numerous materials drawn from different cultural contexts illuminated the rich nuances of colour differences and valuable insights were drawn how they affect cross cultural advertising practices.  A similar experience was shared by another colleague who used material to draw upon how culturally diverse groups pronounced words differently to emphasize cross cultural communication differences. Educationist could use these principles to design instruction and formative assessments using Learning Objects that represent cultural differences. However, the proponents of these interventions did not emphasize their potential as they introduced them to the world. The example set in the Eureka story paints a different picture from the rest. In using the technology to capture community knowledge, designers from different regions at Xerox were sensitive to cultural differences. The French and the Canadian examples on the ideas behind the use of incentives was an example how cultural differences influenced the design process.

Some of the mentioned interventions above did have tremendous potential to accommodate cultural differences as they design instructional and formative assessments. These marginal attempts to highlight cultural differences are yet another case to illustrate the rather lackluster attitude shown by scholars in this field towards cultural differences.

# Studies that profile online interaction and listening behavioural patterns do not take into consideration cultural variations of the students. 

Table four below highlights a cross-section of studies that report online interaction and listening behaviour patterns.

Table 04: Cross section of studies on online interaction and listing that considers cultural facets

Cross Section of Studies

%   on cultural variations
Studies   that report online interaction patterns as students engage online Bluic   (2010), deValle (2007), Hewitt (2003/2005), Knowlton (2005), Barb (1999),   Thomas (2002), Lo & Shu (2005), Beuchot & Bullen (2005), Nagel,   Blignaut, & Cronje (2009), Davies, & Graff (2005), Jaffee (1997), Nonnecke   (1999), Palmer(2007), Schellens (2006), Webb(2004), Wever (2006), Yun(2011)


Studies   that report online listening patterns. Wise   (2008), Wise, Speer, Hsiao, & Marbouti,(2011), Wise, Marbouti,  Speer, & Hsiao (2011), Wise, Speer,   Marbouti, & Hsiao (in review), Wise, Perera, Hsiao, Speer, &   Marbouti, (in review)


Source: E-Listening Research Group, Simon Fraser University

These studies represent social constructivist’s views of how students from different backgrounds negotiate meaning as they engage online. They do not explain cultural differences in accounting for online interaction and listening behavioural pattern variations. These patterns are important for educationist in making decisions that would help design instructional and assessment interventions. Leaving out cultural differences is yet another manifestation of the insensitivity shown towards this subject in the narrower field of educational technology.

3.2 Achievements in the Field

 # Large cross-section of studies that takes an essentialist view towards culture reports cultural variations between different student groups as they engage in an online CMC environment.

The literature review submitted earlier presented a wide range of studies that highlighted age, gender, ethnicity and national origin based cultural differences. See table five below.

 Table 05: Cross section of studies that report cultural variations when students engage online

Cultural   facet

A partial list of studies

Age Stapleton   (2007), Chyung (2007), Ho (2010), Guo (2008), Lim(2001), Prensky (2001),   Diase (2010)
Gender Rovi   & Baker (2005), Blum (1999), Liu & Huang (2007), Kramarae (2003), Anderson   (2005)
Ethnicity Ramiez   &Williams (1974), Owen & Waxman (1998), Muilenburg & Berge   (2005), Chase et al., (2002)
National   Origin Hofstede   (1991), Trandis (1995), Hall (1998), Gunawardena (2003), Kim (2002), Goodfellow   (1998)

Although they did not explain how these cultural differences are attributed to learning differences or how students negotiate and make meaning as seen in some of the social constructivist studies, the main purpose behind these essentialist studies were to highlight cultural differences of students. Purely from a cultural lens, these studies provide valuable inputs in designing instruction and assessments of online discussions. This is cited as an achievement in the field.

3.3 Overall

Looking back on how the field of educational technology from a broader perspective has considered cultural variations in designing instructional and formative assessments, it is rather obvious that scholars do not pay enough or closer attention to this fact. The number studies published on cultural issues related to technology in four major educational technology journals provides supportive evidence to this. The rather marginal emphasis given by proponents of LOGO, GBS and LO on cultural variations further affirms this notion. Viewing the field from a narrower vantage point, the total disregard of cultural differences by studies that profile online interactions and listening behaviours is clear evidence to the fact that scholars may not understand the importance of this subject.  Considering all these, it is reasonable to assert that the field has neglected to consider cultural variations when designing technology interventions for instruction or formative assessments. Perhaps the field can take a lead from CMC based studies that report significant cultural variations of students as they engage in an online context. These findings could explain differences in online interaction and listening behaviours more clearly. Also the larger field of educational technology could also learn how cultural variations would affect its outcomes as the field continues to evolve further with different technological platforms.


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