A lot of the information available on the Internet is incomplete and even incorrect
What Is the Relevance of Technology?
Technology in the long-run is irrelevant”. That is what a customer of mine told me when I made a presentation to him about a new product. I had been talking about the product’s features and benefits and listed “state-of-the-art technology” or something to that effect, as one of them. That is when he made his statement. I realized later that he was correct, at least within the context of how I used “Technology” in my presentation. But I began thinking about whether he could be right in other contexts as well.
What is Technology?
Merriam-Webster defines it as:
a: the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area: engineering 2
: a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge
: the specialized aspects of a particular field of endeavor
Wikipedia defines it as:
Technology (from Greek τÎχνη, techne, “art, skill, cunning of hand”; and -λογÎ¯α, -logia) is the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, and methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal, handle an applied input/output relation or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, including machinery, modifications, arrangements and procedures. Technologies significantly affect human as well as other animal species’ ability to control and adapt to their natural environments. The term can either be applied generally or to specific areas: examples include construction technology, medical technology, and information technology.
Both definitions revolve around the same thing – application and usage.
Technology is an enabler
Many people mistakenly believe it is technology which drives innovation. Yet from the definitions above, that is clearly not the case. It is opportunity which defines innovation and technology which enables innovation. Think of the classic “Build a better mousetrap” example taught in most business schools. You might have the technology to build a better mousetrap, but if you have no mice or the old mousetrap works well, there is no opportunity and then the technology to build a better one becomes irrelevant. On the other hand, if you are overrun with mice then the opportunity exists to innovate a product using your technology.
Another example, one with which I am intimately familiar, are consumer electronics startup companies. I’ve been associated with both those that succeeded and those that failed. Each possessed unique leading edge technologies. The difference was opportunity. Those that failed could not find the opportunity to develop a meaningful innovation using their technology. In fact to survive, these companies had to morph oftentimes into something totally different and if they were lucky they could take advantage of derivatives of their original technology. More often than not, the original technology wound up in the scrap heap. Technology, thus, is an enabler whose ultimate value proposition is to make improvements to our lives. In order to be relevant, it needs to be used to create innovations that are driven by opportunity.
Technology as a competitive advantage?
Many companies list a technology as one of their competitive advantages. Is this valid? In some cases yes, but In most cases no.
Technology develops along two paths – an evolutionary path and a revolutionary path.
A revolutionary technology is one which enables new industries or enables solutions to problems that were previously not possible. Semiconductor technology is a good example. Not only did it spawn new industries and products, but it spawned other revolutionary technologies – transistor technology, integrated circuit technology, microprocessor technology. All which provide many of the products and services we consume today. But is semiconductor technology a competitive advantage? Looking at the number of semiconductor companies that exist today (with new ones forming every day), I’d say not. How about microprocessor technology? Again, no. Lots of microprocessor companies out there. How about quad core microprocessor technology? Not as many companies, but you have Intel, AMD, ARM, and a host of companies building custom quad core processors (Apple, Samsung, Qualcomm, etc). So again, not much of a competitive advantage. Competition from competing technologies and easy access to IP mitigates the perceived competitive advantage of any particular technology. Android vs iOS is a good example of how this works. Both operating systems are derivatives of UNIX. Apple used their technology to introduce iOS and gained an early market advantage. However, Google, utilizing their variant of Unix (a competing technology), caught up relatively quickly. The reasons for this lie not in the underlying technology, but in how the products made possible by those technologies were brought to market (free vs. walled garden, etc.) and the differences in the strategic visions of each company.
Evolutionary technology is one which incrementally builds upon the base revolutionary technology. But by it’s very nature, the incremental change is easier for a competitor to match or leapfrog. Take for example wireless cellphone technology. Company V introduced 4G products prior to Company A and while it may have had a short term advantage, as soon as Company A introduced their 4G products, the advantage due to technology disappeared. The consumer went back to choosing Company A or Company V based on price, service, coverage, whatever, but not based on technology. Thus technology might have been relevant in the short term, but in the long term, became irrelevant.
In today’s world, technologies tend to quickly become commoditized, and within any particular technology lies the seeds of its own death.
This article was written from the prospective of an end customer. From a developer/designer standpoint things get murkier. The further one is removed from the technology, the less relevant it becomes. To a developer, the technology can look like a product. An enabling product, but a product nonetheless, and thus it is highly relevant. Bose uses a proprietary signal processing technology to enable products that meet a set of market requirements and thus the technology and what it enables is relevant to them. Their customers are more concerned with how it sounds, what’s the price, what’s the quality, etc., and not so much with how it is achieved, thus the technology used is much less relevant to them.
Recently, I was involved in a discussion on Google+ about the new Motorola X phone. A lot of the people on those posts slammed the phone for various reasons – price, locked boot loader, etc. There were also plenty of knocks on the fact that it didn’t have a quad-core processor like the S4 or HTC One which were priced similarly. What they failed to grasp is that whether the manufacturer used 1, 2, 4, or 8 cores in the end makes no difference as long as the phone can deliver a competitive (or even best of class) feature set, functionality, price, and user experience. The iPhone is one of the most successful phones ever produced, and yet it runs on a dual-core processor. It still delivers one of the best user experiences on the market. The features that are enabled by the technology are what are relevant to the consumer, not the technology itself.
The relevance of technology therefore, is as an enabler, not as a product feature or a competitive advantage, or any myriad of other things – an enabler. Looking at the Android operating system, it is an impressive piece of software technology, and yet Google gives it away. Why? Because standalone, it does nothing for Google. Giving it away allows other companies to use their expertise to build products and services which then act as enablers for Google’s products and services. To Google, that’s where the real value is.
The possession of or access to a technology is only important for what it enables you to do – create innovations which solve problems. That is the real relevance of technology.
How Can Instructional Technology Make Teaching and Learning More Effective in the Schools?
In the past few years of research on instructional technology has resulted in a clearer vision of how technology can affect teaching and learning. Today, almost every school in the United States of America uses technology as a part of teaching and learning and with each state having its own customized technology program. In most of those schools, teachers use the technology through integrated activities that are a part of their daily school curriculum. For instance, instructional technology creates an active environment in which students not only inquire, but also define problems of interest to them. Such an activity would integrate the subjects of technology, social studies, math, science, and language arts with the opportunity to create student-centered activity. Most educational technology experts agree, however, that technology should be integrated, not as a separate subject or as a once-in-a-while project, but as a tool to promote and extend student learning on a daily basis.
Today, classroom teachers may lack personal experience with technology and present an additional challenge. In order to incorporate technology-based activities and projects into their curriculum, those teachers first must find the time to learn to use the tools and understand the terminology necessary for participation in projects or activities. They must have the ability to employ technology to improve student learning as well as to further personal professional development.
Instructional technology empowers students by improving skills and concepts through multiple representations and enhanced visualization. Its benefits include increased accuracy and speed in data collection and graphing, real-time visualization, the ability to collect and analyze large volumes of data and collaboration of data collection and interpretation, and more varied presentation of results. Technology also engages students in higher-order thinking, builds strong problem-solving skills, and develops deep understanding of concepts and procedures when used appropriately.
Technology should play a critical role in academic content standards and their successful implementation. Expectations reflecting the appropriate use of technology should be woven into the standards, benchmarks and grade-level indicators. For example, the standards should include expectations for students to compute fluently using paper and pencil, technology-supported and mental methods and to use graphing calculators or computers to graph and analyze mathematical relationships. These expectations should be intended to support a curriculum rich in the use of technology rather than limit the use of technology to specific skills or grade levels. Technology makes subjects accessible to all students, including those with special needs. Options for assisting students to maximize their strengths and progress in a standards-based curriculum are expanded through the use of technology-based support and interventions. For example, specialized technologies enhance opportunities for students with physical challenges to develop and demonstrate mathematics concepts and skills. Technology influences how we work, how we play and how we live our lives. The influence technology in the classroom should have on math and science teachers’ efforts to provide every student with “the opportunity and resources to develop the language skills they need to pursue life’s goals and to participate fully as informed, productive members of society,” cannot be overestimated.
Technology provides teachers with the instructional technology tools they need to operate more efficiently and to be more responsive to the individual needs of their students. Selecting appropriate technology tools give teachers an opportunity to build students’ conceptual knowledge and connect their learning to problem found in the world. The technology tools such as Inspiration® technology, Starry Night, A WebQuest and Portaportal allow students to employ a variety of strategies such as inquiry, problem-solving, creative thinking, visual imagery, critical thinking, and hands-on activity.
Benefits of the use of these technology tools include increased accuracy and speed in data collection and graphing, real-time visualization, interactive modeling of invisible science processes and structures, the ability to collect and analyze large volumes of data, collaboration for data collection and interpretation, and more varied presentations of results.
Technology integration strategies for content instructions. Beginning in kindergarten and extending through grade 12, various technologies can be made a part of everyday teaching and learning, where, for example, the use of meter sticks, hand lenses, temperature probes and computers becomes a seamless part of what teachers and students are learning and doing. Contents teachers should use technology in ways that enable students to conduct inquiries and engage in collaborative activities. In traditional or teacher-centered approaches, computer technology is used more for drill, practice and mastery of basic skills.
The instructional strategies employed in such classrooms are teacher centered because of the way they supplement teacher-controlled activities and because the software used to provide the drill and practice is teacher selected and teacher assigned. The relevancy of technology in the lives of young learners and the capacity of technology to enhance teachers’ efficiency are helping to raise students’ achievement in new and exciting ways.
As students move through grade levels, they can engage in increasingly sophisticated hands-on, inquiry-based, personally relevant activities where they investigate, research, measure, compile and analyze information to reach conclusions, solve problems, make predictions and/or seek alternatives. They can explain how science often advances with the introduction of new technologies and how solving technological problems often results in new scientific knowledge. They should describe how new technologies often extend the current levels of scientific understanding and introduce new areas of research. They should explain why basic concepts and principles of science and technology should be a part of active debate about the economics, policies, politics and ethics of various science-related and technology-related challenges.
Students need grade-level appropriate classroom experiences, enabling them to learn and to be able to do science in an active, inquiry-based fashion where technological tools, resources, methods and processes are readily available and extensively used. As students integrate technology into learning about and doing science, emphasis should be placed on how to think through problems and projects, not just what to think.
Technological tools and resources may range from hand lenses and pendulums, to electronic balances and up-to-date online computers (with software), to methods and processes for planning and doing a project. Students can learn by observing, designing, communicating, calculating, researching, building, testing, assessing risks and benefits, and modifying structures, devices and processes – while applying their developing knowledge of science and technology.
Most students in the schools, at all age levels, might have some expertise in the use of technology, however K-12 they should recognize that science and technology are interconnected and that using technology involves assessment of the benefits, risks and costs. Students should build scientific and technological knowledge, as well as the skill required to design and construct devices. In addition, they should develop the processes to solve problems and understand that problems may be solved in several ways.
Rapid developments in the design and uses of technology, particularly in electronic tools, will change how students learn. For example, graphing calculators and computer-based tools provide powerful mechanisms for communicating, applying, and learning mathematics in the workplace, in everyday tasks, and in school mathematics. Technology, such as calculators and computers, help students learn mathematics and support effective mathematics teaching. Rather than replacing the learning of basic concepts and skills, technology can connect skills and procedures to deeper mathematical understanding. For example, geometry software allows experimentation with families of geometric objects, and graphing utilities facilitate learning about the characteristics of classes of functions.
Learning and applying mathematics requires students to become adept in using a variety of techniques and tools for computing, measuring, analyzing data and solving problems. Computers, calculators, physical models, and measuring devices are examples of the wide variety of technologies, or tools, used to teach, learn, and do mathematics. These tools complement, rather than replace, more traditional ways of doing mathematics, such as using symbols and hand-drawn diagrams.
Technology, used appropriately, helps students learn mathematics. Electronic tools, such as spreadsheets and dynamic geometry software, extend the range of problems and develop understanding of key mathematical relationships. A strong foundation in number and operation concepts and skills is required to use calculators effectively as a tool for solving problems involving computations. Appropriate uses of those and other technologies in the mathematics classroom enhance learning, support effective instruction, and impact the levels of emphasis and ways certain mathematics concepts and skills are learned. For instance, graphing calculators allow students to quickly and easily produce multiple graphs for a set of data, determine appropriate ways to display and interpret the data, and test conjectures about the impact of changes in the data.