Our world seems to be awash in technology. Each day, some new device or app is marketed with so much glitz that Mark Twain might prefer the modesty and constraint of his derided Gilded Age.
When we hear the word “technology,” the associated words are electronics, the future, change, disruption, innovation and invention. However, I believe these are very limiting, constraining views of technology.
The word technology derives from the Greek words "techne" and "logos." Logos means “word,” such as in the famous introduction to the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God, and the Word (logos) was God.”
But logos also means “study, science, discourse." Thus in the many fields of learning, you see such titles like biology (the study of life), theology (the study of God), musicology (the study of music) and anthropology (the study of human beings). And though you won’t see astrology (the study of the stars) taught in most westernized educational systems because it is associated with magic and other discredited forms of knowledge making and sharing, we instead have the term astronomy (the laws of the stars), which is a far more respectable title for describing a serious scientific endeavor. A similarly named field is economics (which in the basic Greek literally means “the laws of the house”).
Techne is an interesting word in Greek. It means something like “art” or “craft.” What is significant about techne is that it goes beyond science (Latin for “knowledge”) to include creative application of science and other acquired knowledge and experience to do something, to create something, to solve something.
I define technology as any tool or process created or used by humans to solve a need.
I believe that this definition of technology is far more expansive, inclusive, useful and appropriate than the common understanding that technology is about electronics or innovation.
I work in higher education. I sometimes hear strong criticisms against technology in the learning environment. Some criticisms are about technologies disrupting class time, such as students texting on phones or web surfing, which truly are disruptions to a traditional learning environment. Or there is worry about technologies displacing teachers. Criticisms about technology in teaching and learning are often grounded in very real concerns about technology interrupting the developing human relations that are core to all learning or displacing teachers who have spent years developing skills and knowledge that matter to the world. If teachers are displaced, how will their skills and knowledge be shared with others in meaningful, relationship-based ways?
I think that these concerns have validity. But I also believe that these criticisms are influenced by a very limited definition of technology. If, instead, technology is defined as any tool or process created or used by humans to solve a need, then the conversation changes. There would be far less resistance to and criticism of technology. Why? Because technology is everywhere.
Clothing is a technology. Language is a technology. Lights are technology. Books are a technology. Even lecturing is a form of a technology, since it is a process created and used by humans to solve a need (knowledge transfer). The question is not, “How do we avoid technology in teaching and learning?” Rather, the real questions we should be asking and answering are, “What technologies will best help learners learn?” And, “If existing technologies (tools and processes) do not help learners learn as well as they could, what new technologies should be developed to meet those needs?”
If technology is any tool or process created or used by humans to solve a need, then the possibilities for understanding, developing and using technologies are magnified.
We should fully embrace technology to solve problems new and old. And as we embrace technology, we should use design-thinking methodologies to ensure that the solutions meet the needs of real people in real circumstances today instead of clinging tightly to the traditions of the past. Sure, we shouldn’t tear down fences if we do not understand their purpose. But we also should not be slaves to the technologies of the past just as we would hope that future generations would not be slaves to the solutions we designed for our present needs.
It is our day to act for ourselves, not simply to be acted upon.
Taylor Halverson, who holds doctorates in biblical studies and instructional technology, is a BYU teaching and learning consultant. His website is taylorhalverson.com. His views are his own.