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Using technology in education is not a new phenomenon. Though this type of integration may be more prevalent now in the 21st century than what it has been in the past, it has existed in education in some form or another for decades. Media integration, on the other hand, is consistently referred to as a relatively new phenomenon in education. Although complete media integration is not yet commonplace in classrooms throughout the country, media’s use in the classroom, much like that of technology, is seemingly old hat (who didn’t enjoy “movie day” in the classroom?) Although “movie day in the classroom” has shifted from slides and projectors to DVDs and YouTube as a result of rapidly-changing technologies in the 21st century, media use in the classroom remains prevalent nonetheless.

So, what is the difference between media and technology? Is there a difference? If so, how does this difference affect classroom integration, pedagogy and, perhaps more importantly, student development of 21st century skills in the classroom and beyond? Can we teach media without technology, or technology without media and what does this mean for the current, and future, states of education integration and reform in the United States?

What’s in a Definition?

One of the most important reasons to define and clarify the relationship and distinction between media and technology is funding. When seeking funding for the many education initiatives centered around STEM, STEAM, STREAM, technology integration in the classroom and everything else in between, the relationship between media and technology must be clearly distinguished in an effort to expand upon the types of programs that may be available for additional types of funding. There are a lot of funding initiatives that have centered on STEM, and more recently STEAM, and although these terms do not explicitly relate to media integration in the classroom, most if not all are likely to relate to some form of technology integration in the classroom and across disciplines.

Another important basis for defining the differences (and similarities) between technology and media lies in conducting research, which ultimately has effects on funding efforts as well. There are a multitude of great reports that examine teacher use and attitudes towards media and technology, such as the annual Digitally Inclined report and, locally here in Pittsburgh, the Arts Education Collaborative’s biennial arts education Professional Development Report. When we ask teachers to articulate their interest in either media or technology, should we also add a follow up question that asks them to not only clarify their understanding of both terms, but also their use of both media and technology, separately and inter-dependently, in the classroom?

Take for instance the following sample questions: “Do you use YouTube in your classroom?” or “How often do you use documentaries as part of your lesson plans?” Both of the sample questions refer to both media and technology implicitly, but not necessarily explicitly. The different types of responses, when not separated and examined in more depth, can have important implications for teachers.  A high number of responses, for example, indicating that a majority of teachers use YouTube in the classroom could indicate that teachers use, and are familiar with, technology integration concepts in the classroom but not media integration. In essence, these reports may show that teachers are aware of, and frequently use, technology in the classroom and throughout instruction in order to further ideas presented in their lesson plans, but that they may be unfamiliar with how to best integrate media into existing lesson plans and curriculum.

Conversely, these types of responses could also indicate that a high number of teachers use media in the classroom but may not teach media literacy, with varying degrees of separation and similarities in between.

In defining the relationship and distinction between technology and media before or during a survey of educators, we can better understand where these types of double-coding may occur in reporting. In the case of the YouTube example, we will be able to better understand how educators use all communication forms in the classroom, distinguish whether or not each form is taught in conjunction with a literacy (or fluency) component and the context for said use, which better equips us to respond to educator needs and interests.

How Does this Affect Education?

Put simply: in a lot of ways. Aside from the obvious issues inherent in funding and research possibilities as previously discussed, the lack of distinction and understanding between the terms technology and media has very serious implications for teacher professional development and undergraduate training. If the institutions that will offer teacher professional development in either technology OR media integration in the classroom do not clearly define the two terms, as well as their relationship with one another, then an opportunity for complete understanding and acquired knowledge in successful technology and media integration techniques in the classroom is lost. We must understand that technology and media are in fact two horns on the same bull; they are almost definitively dependent upon one another in order to be most effective. If we train teachers solely in technology integration, and ignore the inherent inclusion of, and dependence of, media on technology, we do not fully synthesize a complete understanding of necessary 21st century skills, nor do we open the door for media literacy training. The converse is also true – where we cannot, and should not, teach media integration in the classroom without an ample discussion about the effects of technology on the constructs and messages of the media.

So, What Can Be Done?

First and foremost, we must define both the terms themselves in order to create a common vernacular, and also the relationship between the terms so that we may begin to develop the necessary types of teacher professional development in 21st century skills integration in the classroom; training that will truly prepare teachers to both use and critically examine the technologies and media they use in the classroom on a daily to weekly basis.

Once a set of common definitions has been created around both technology and media, teacher professional development trainings can be developed around both terms, which may be separate in terms of programmatic area but that will unequivocally contain integrated technology and media concepts. As we re-imagine our Education Department around the idea of public media as educational media here at WQED Pittsburgh and begin offering teacher professional development opportunities centered on these concepts, these ideas will manifest in the following ways:

 1) We will begin offering professional development workshops based on a specific program, topic area or educator interest, either online and/or through in-person outreach and seminars. During the course of the workshop, we will make it a point to discuss the actual media and messages, as well as how it is affected by the technology form it uses to communicate.

 2) We will begin offering professional development workshops based on a specific technology or tool, similar to the PBS TeacherLine model. During the course of the workshop, we will make it a point to discuss how the technology used can affect and shape the different media messages that funnel through the technology.

In both cases, the goal is the same: we teach about the relationship between technology and media by placing both in the context of education and their role in communication. Using this framework, we are better able to discuss how both forms affect communication messages and structure(s), which are critical 21st century skills.

How do we Define?

There are multiple ways that technology and media can be defined and/or distinguished:

1)    Using a simple dictionary definition. According to Merriam-Webster’s, this means that “technology” would be defined as:
1 a : the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area : ENGINEERING 2 <medical technology> b : a capability given by the practical application of knowledge <a car’s fuel-saving technology>

2 : a manner of accomplishing a task especially using TECHNICAL processes, methods, or knowledge <new technologies for information storage>

3 : the specialized aspects of a particular field of endeavor <educational technology>
— tech·nol·o·gist-jist noun

And “media” would be defined as:

: a means of effecting or conveying something: as a (1) : a substance regarded as the means of transmission of a force or effect (2) : a surrounding or enveloping substance (3) : the tenuous material (as gas and dust) in space that exists outside large agglomerations of matter (as stars) <interstellar medium> b plural usually media (1) : a channel or system of communication, information, or entertainment — compare MASS MEDIUM (2) : a publication or broadcast that carries advertising (3) : a mode of artistic expression or communication (4) : something (as a magnetic disk) on which information may be stored

2)    Define each term based on its practical application and intended purpose.

Using this method I would say that, for our purposes, technology may be defined as the physical tools, elements and methods used to complete a specialized task.
Although the definition of media would be similar to that of technology, I may differentiate the two by saying that media is a physical manifestation, form or instrument used to convey thoughts, emotions and/or expressions.

Both media and technology are used as tools for communication, however, the difference between the two lies in the intent of the user as well as the creator/inventor. This subtle difference has two important nuances:

Whereas the creation or invention of a new technology may not always seek to accomplish the goal of communication, the use or creation of media, or mediums, is always to communicate. The second important nuance between the definitions of technology and media lies in determining the responsible party for creation or invention. Increasingly, this line is being blurred with user-created content and technologies, which includes both media and mass media forms such as YouTube, CurrentTV, etc. as well as iPhone application technologies, open-source software and the like, which can be defined as user-created technologies.

Why defining and differentiating terms REALLY matters

It is commonplace in many state and national academic standards in technology that media also be included as a core competency. In most cases, knowledge and understanding of media is included under Information or Communication Systems in state and/or national technology standards, and is also often integrated in other content areas as well at the state level, the most common being English and Literary Arts. What should be noted is the very frequent use of technology in academic standards, both at the state and national levels. For every instance in which technology is taught or used in the classroom, as it is deemed a necessary proficiency for all students, without also including a discussion, however brief, of the important relationship between technology and media, we lose an opportunity to also begin a discussion of media literacy.

When media and technology remain separate in public and educational discourse, we discount the many important ways that one tool or form’s meaning is altered with the inclusion, or lack thereof, of the other tool or form. In short, if we ignore teaching about the relationship between media and technology, then we ignore ALL of the skills necessary to become an actively engaged citizen in 21st century discourse.

Amy Puffenberger is the Manager of Outreach for WQED Pittsburgh, working in The WQED Education Department. She received her Master’s degree in Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon University and her Bachelor’s degree in Film and Video Production from Grand Valley State University. She welcomes your feedback at