How important is technology in the educational setting?

I was recently asked that question. I stumbled. I know I should be able to answer it; no, I know the answer. But I just could’t seem to filter and organize the billions of synapses that were firing to form a concise response. I mumbled something about the ubiquitousness of technology and the skills and knowledge needed to perform successfully in higher education endeavors and the after-education environment. In retrospect a better response would have been to narrow the question to something like, “How important is technology in facilitating the learning process?”

I categorize educational technology into five general processes, mostly for my own use in setting priorities for providing service and support (numbering not necessarily indicative of priority):
(1) interactive education process (core subjects teaching-learning primarily within the classroom);
(2) unilateral learning process (students using technology not under the direct supervision of a teacher);
(3) technology as a separate subject area (e.g. computer courses);
(4) school administration and management (school information/management systems, course/learning management systems, routine administrative and management functions; and
(5) faculty/staff technology professional development.
To refine the question a little further, we’ll remove numbers 3 through 5 from consideration. Now the answer leaps to mind–it’s that tried and true buzzword, “engage”. Whether or not you agree with Mark Prensky’s digital native-digital immigrant concept, we can all agree that K-16 students have access to and have used a hell of a lot of digital interactive stuff. They are comfortable in that world and they bring that world to school with them, whether we allow them to do so or not. At least outside of school they operate in that world. If you are a proponent of the constructivist or constructionist pedagogy and agree that engaged students learn faster and deeper, you will allow, even encourage, them to bring their digital world into the learning process and you will use those tools to guide them.

The answer then should have been, “Kids are immersed in technology and technology is indisputably in their futures. It follows, then, that if we intend to engage them fully in the learning process, technology most be a major ingredient in the educational environment.”