Defining Technology and Media: An Important Step for Teaching Necessary 21st Century Skills

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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?