I: Digital learning and new technologies in the internationalisation of higher education

New technological capabilities and the societal, ethical, and legal tensions they create in today’s digital learning setting

Ray J. Amirault

Today’s 21st century educational professionals find themselves in a technologically challenging setting neither of their own making nor amenable to simple solutions. This is particularly true for those educators making use of advanced computer-based technology, a segment of educators that continues to encompass an ever-greater percentage of all educational modalities, and will, over time, make up the whole of the educational world. This text is designed to assist educational professionals in orienting their thinking to the many and varied issues at play in today’s educational setting introduced by advanced technologies, and to assist in equipping these professionals with the ability' to intelligently examine such issues from an informed perspective. Such skills will permit educators to be aware of the educational benefits of various technologies while simultaneously minimizing the dangers the technologies may' surreptitiously' bring with them. As educators, the time has long passed when we can be simply' content with the functionality of the educational tools we select for use: we must be cognizant of the full range of impacts these technologies are now introducing, particularly' when these extend beyond the educational setting.

This task is not a trivial one. The topic is not strictly delimited by' “digital literacy,” nor is it confined to a knowledge of specific technical or scientific principles. Rather, it is the combination of these elements, and more, that has resulted in today’s amalgam of growing societal, ethical, and legal issues connected to the use of advanced technology in the international educational setting, whether it be in a traditional classroom or at a distance through e-learning.

“Educational technology”—the most definition-resistant term in education today

Keeping track of the technologies that have been used in education from the dawn of history' results in a rich and variegated output. Plutarch (AD 46-120) stated that Demosthenes (BC 384-322) placed beach pebbles in his mouth to improve his diction (Murphy, 2019). This, we can suppose, makes the pebble a contender for one of the earliest educational technologies. It can just as easily' be argued that when someone used a stick or branch to make marks on the ground to communicate ideas, the stick/branch was serving as an educational technology. But even extending our view much further back in time, even ancient primitive tools could possibly be considered as educational technologies, depending on their use. Archaeologists in southern France uncovered tools that have been argon dated to 1.57 million years, giving some hint at how far back educational technology' may reach (Jones, 2009), at least in a nominal sense.

In today’s setting, technological innovation and development have reached such a pace that the topic has now become resilient to codification. Forbes (Marr, 2018) listed their “Top 10 Breakthrough Technologies for 2018” and while it cannot be said that this list contains only instructional technologies, it does, however, provide a small sense of what is occurring in today’s computationally complex innovation learning setting. A listing by the “ame Group” (The ame Group, 2019) constructed a list to include only educationally oriented disruptive innovations (and only in the case when these are applied within the educational setting) and proposed the following as current top technology innovations:

  • 1 Virtual Reality
  • 2 Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
  • 3 Cloud Computing
  • 4 Social Media
  • 5 Biometrics

Today’s reality is filled with the most exotic, complex, and powerful tools ever experienced within history'. These listings are primarily based on a view of educational technology’ that focuses on devices used to facilitate educational outcomes. We briefly look at a more expansive view of educational technology' later in this chapter.

What position do educational technologies assume within the technology innovation chain?

One can successfully posit that, throughout history', education has implemented, rather than invented, technology. Leaving aside the seeming Escher-like arguments that can be raised in response to this statement (e.g., “technologies could not have been invented unless someone had first been educated, which provided them the ability' to create such inventions: this means that education is the true source of invention ..., etc.”), we choose instead to speak of practical cases that are conducive to clear examination. Papyrus was invented to hold information; its use as an instructional tool came later. The same can be said of paper. Electricity was, of course, not invented, but discovered, as a harnessed source of energy long before any' thought of its capability' in powering the seemingly endless number of electronic devices in today’s educational environment could even have been remotely imagined. The radio was invented for the transmission of sound: its function for transmitting information, and therefore, knowledge, was later identified as fruitful for instruction. The “Magic Lantern,” once devised, was subsequently adopted for instructional use (cf. Kessler and Lenk, 2018) in locations such as the Chicago School System in the 19th century. We might make note that the Magic Lantern is an “outlier” in that it was an invention made specifically for education. The pencil and the ballpoint pen, both of which, we easily forget, were inventions. Most educators still have recourse to use ballpoint pens in the service of education. Few, however, could elucidate the scientific principles behind the ballpoint pen’s function. This is not surprising, given both education’s age as a subject and its goals as a field (e.g., the goal of the overarching field of education is not to develop experts in fluid mechanics).

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