What Does it Mean to Study Education Technology?
Advancements in technology are changing education at all points on the spectrum, from kindergarten all the way to the doctoral level, and dedicated educational technology jobs are popping up to help institutions make better use of the emerging resources. Educational technology is a fairly new discipline, however, and its methods and goals may take a bit of explaining.
On an annual basis, the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) conducts a technology and e-learning survey designed to gather data on technology use in education and promote the best possible uses of instructional tech. Here are the seven primary goals of education technology, as the survey lists them, along with a brief note about each:
- Help meet the personalized needs of all students. Software-assisted courses can help bridge learning gaps by illustrating concepts in multiple ways, while support tools for teachers can provide robust feedback on how well students' individual learning needs are being met.
- Support accountability and inform instruction. Computer-based testing not only allows teachers and administrators to gain a deeper understanding of student assessments, but adaptive testing systems can shift their focus based on each student and provide a more accurate measure of progress.
- Deepen learning and motivate students. Students spend a fair amount of their free time engaged with technology. Bringing those methods of engagement into an educational setting can ignite interest and encourage students to take ownership of their own learning processes.
- Facilitate communication, connectivity and collaboration. Students communicate fluidly on social media platforms and other digital community spaces, particularly when it comes to sharing opinions, personal information and multimedia objects.
- Manage the education enterprise effectively and economically. The scope and power of contemporary tools for data analysis and management has been put to great use in business enterprises, and has equal potential to optimize learning environments and facilitate administrative efficiency at the district and state levels.
- Enable students to learn from any place at any time. Creating a world of learning opportunities that doesn't end at the classroom door has long been a focus of education, and allowing students at-will access to the materials and perspectives of the classroom can help them take advantage of school resources whenever or wherever they need them.
- Nurture creativity and self-expression. A universally available stage for performance and exhibition is one of the many roles the Internet plays in students' lives. Using educational technology to help them develop their full creative range can enhance their expressive and communicative skills both in and out of the classroom.
What's more, with the increasing number of degrees being offered online, education technology solutions continue to find new avenues through which they can provide benefits to students and educators. The discipline has a broad scope, covering everything from lecture-oriented videoconferencing applications and institution-specific social media platforms to networked learning on mobile devices and purpose-built instructional video games.
Types of Education Technology Degrees
Degrees relevant to the growing career market in educational tech are typically offered at the master's level and above, providing teachers who have already trained in the fundamentals of educational theory and practice the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the field with a graduate degree.
Many edu tech degree programs encourage students to concentrate their study on one or more specific areas within the discipline. Here are a few of the areas of specialization from which students may choose, depending on the institution:
- Distance learning
- Human performance technology
- Instructional design
- Communications processes
- Technology integration and management
- Media design and development
- Learning sciences
Edu tech programs typically culminate in Master of Education (M.Ed.), Master of Science (M.S.) or Master of Arts (M.A.) degrees. Colleges and universities label their degree programs in different ways, so interested students should make contact with a registrar if they don't immediately see a related program on offer at the institution of their choice.
Master of Education (M.Ed.) degrees
Programs that work on an M.Ed. curriculum often require students to complete fairly comprehensive training in instructional theory and design along with their tech-focused coursework. Here are a few of the subjects that M.Ed. students might study en route to an educational tech degree:
- Distance teaching and learning
- Instructional computing
- Blended learning environments
- Integrated media materials design
- Current research in educational technology
- Issues with technology in the classroom
- Educational media practicum
M.Ed. students may also be asked to specialize in a certain range of grade levels -- elementary, secondary, K-12, etc. -- or focus their academic attention on either the classroom side or the boardroom side of the school system. Those who pursue a teaching track may concentrate more intently on curriculum design and multimedia lesson practicum, while those who set their sights on administration work may focus more on data analysis and protocols for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) integration.
Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.) degrees
While M.Ed. degrees are primarily designed for elementary and secondary educators and administrators, M.A. and M.S. degrees can apply to a wide range of other occupations that may serve in other valuable ways to help schools and districts seeking technological integration.
An M.S. or M.A. in educational technology can be a great choice for professionals on the IT side who want to use their expertise to help realize the potential of computer-assisted learning. Students who already have technical skills can potentially turn their study of educational technology into a career designing educational games and software. Those with management training can work toward a tech administration position within a school or district.
Graduate certificate programs
Along with the full-fledged degrees available, many colleges and universities offer non-degree study plans and certification courses. These certificate programs typically demand less time and can come at a lower overall cost than their degree-granting counterparts, and they may even go an extra mile to accommodate busy educators and administrators who want to build educational tech skills, but don't have the time or money to commit to a traditional full-time degree.
What Can You Do With an Education Technology Degree?
The skills taught in an educational tech program can apply to many different aspects of the scholastic system. Here are a few of the edu tech jobs that may be available, depending on a student's at the elementary, secondary, postsecondary and professional levels, a student's focus of study, previous work experience and regional workforce demands:
Education Technology Specialist
Professionals who are well-versed in education tech can provide important perspective to educators, administrators and policymakers. Graduates with these skills can help schools and teachers synthesize multimedia content with Web platforms, design online curricula, support individual device users and ensure other officials at an institution or organization stay up-to-date on emerging tools and methods.
Some positions may be available to graduates with a bachelor's degree in a relevant technical field, while others may require a master's degree or specialized training in education. Positions that deal with broadly applicable educational policy, such as those in district administration or local government, are more likely to require extensive experience or advanced degrees.
Edu tech graduates with creative bent and a strong background in both pedagogical theory and high-tech learning solutions can find a great home for their skills in the field of instructional design, which typically consists of the development and production of course materials for traditional as well as online classroom settings.
Most instructional design positions, particularly ones in higher education, typically call for at least a master's degree and typically require previous work experience with instructional technologies, faculty development or classroom teaching. Corporate training programs make extensive use of instructional design concepts, also, so grads without much classroom experience might find a better fit for their skills in the private sector.
Elementary or Secondary School Teacher
According to a survey done by EmergingEdTech in 2011, educators and administrators believe that dedicated educational tech training for teachers has considerable likelihood to improve student learning outcomes. Teachers who take the initiative to learn about the nuts and bolts of edu tech can bring a valuable set of skills to any well-equipped school system.
Candidates for most teaching positions at the elementary and secondary level need a bachelor's degree and teaching certification, but they're typically not required to hold a master's degree. A graduate certificate or other non-degree training program is a popular choice for students who plan to use their tech skills in the classroom.
Knowledge of educational tech concepts and specific desirable learning outcomes can mean the difference between a great piece of classroom software and one that's just decent. Startups are fairly common in today's education market, and developers with formal training can be very valuable to up-and-coming companies.
Positions in software development tend to require a bachelor's or master's degree in a discipline related to computer science or engineering, so graduate certificates in educational technology are popular in this field as well. Candidates who combine a bachelor's in computer science with an M.A. or M.S. in education technology may be particularly well suited to educational software development.
Academic Technology Consultant
Expertise in edu tech can benefit a wide range of organizations, but not everyone can afford to keep a full-time tech professional on staff at all times. Consultants can specialize -- offering their skills primarily to higher education institutions, for example -- or they can cast a wide net and offer basic services to a variety of organizations.
Consultants may be self-employed and therefore require no specific combination of academic and professional experience, but an M.A. in educational technology or similarly advanced degree in the field may be on a potential client's list of necessary qualifications. Consulting firms also tend to prefer job candidates who have a master's or doctoral degree in a discipline relevant to the type of consultancy they practice.
Education Technology Certification, Licensure and Associations
It's not usually necessary to earn a license before seeking work in the educational tech field, but individual employers are free to set their own education and experience criteria for individual positions. In many cases, a professional background in an instructional setting takes precedence over the acquisition of specific knowledge areas.
Public school teachers at the elementary and secondary levels, however, must be licensed or certified in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Education technology professionals who wish to make classroom teaching a part of their repertoire will have to take all necessary certification courses and pass all associated Praxis and content knowledge exams before seeking employment.
Professional Associations in Education Technology
Membership in professional organizations can provide access to career education materials, networking opportunities and proprietary publications that keep members on the leading edge of their occupation. Innovation in the tools and methods of edu tech has been widespread over the last several years, so staying plugged in to a network of other people passionate about their work is a way to ensure you and your organization aren't left behind.
Here's a short list of some national and international organizations and associations that serve the education tech community:
- International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)
- Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE)
- The eLearning Guild
- Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT)
Regional associations can also be found, particularly at the state level. Here are just a few of the statewide associations in the field:
- Nebraska Educational Technology Association (NETA)
- California Educational Technology Professionals Association (CETPA)
- Tennessee Educational Technology Association (TETA)
- New York State Educational Media/Technology Association (EMTA)
There are also numerous conferences that take place around the country each year, often sponsored by one or more professional associations, where people from a variety of disciplines within the educational tech field gather to share ideas and learn individually from each other's collected experience.
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