I’ve been fortunate to walk alongside Derek Rhodenizer since the start his latest Sunday night program on voicEd Radio. A Word in Progress seeks to dig deeper into some of the words that have become part of our discourse as educators. They are all very familiar. They roll off our tongues with ease. In many ways, they have become the tools of the trade and the foundations of our practice.

So Derek is looking to challenge our level of comfort with these words in an effort to define, refine and, in some cases, confine their use so that they actually have some actual meaning for us. It’s a lofty goal. Maybe that’s why I look forward to Sunday evenings so much.

This past Sunday, Derek invited Andrew Campbell onto the show to unpack the word technology. 

“Wait,” I hear you say. Technology? Isn’t that one word on which we can all agree. Surely the only act of unpacking that needs to be done is the one that involves anxiously tearing at cardboard boxes and bubble wrap? You would think!

In fact, when Derek announced the word of the week, I assumed that we would get the definition out of the way quickly and get into a conversation about how best to use technology in our varied contexts. As it turned out, I could hear more than one penny drop in my own tiny brain.

It probably wouldn’t surprise many if I suggested that technology has had a relatively short history in the our lexicon of edu-talk. The Google Ngram below would seem to indicate that, in fact, the use of the word on a more general level began to come into its own about 50 years ago.

But that didn’t stop the etymologist in me from digging a little deeper, only to discover that there the word technologia was used in the world of the ancient Greeks to describe a systematic treatment of an art, craft, or technique.

I carried that little nugget into Sunday’s broadcast with me, thinking that I was going to rock the conversation with an insight. Instead of having a systematic knowledge of the tools that we think of when we refer to technology—instead of being true techno-logistsI suggested that many of us (myself included) had become techno-philes: lovers of technology. Well, as you’ll hear, that argument didn’t go over too well.

And for good reason.

As the conversation continued, Derek and Andrew helped me understand that the art, craft or technique to which the ancient use of the word might refer had little to do with the tools that have become so closely associated with our conversations about technology. Instead, the art, craft or technique to which our attention should really be directed (and frequently redirected) is that incredibly beautifully complex practice of teaching. This is where we need the systematic treatment. This is where we need to continue to dig deep, both as a profession and, as professionals. Now, it would be very difficult to remove all of the technology from our lives as educators—to really clear the decks. But, I think that we can play with the idea conceptually, asking questions about the what, the how and, most important, the why of our technology use.

As a point of reflection, we could sit down individually, in small groups and in larger gatherings and think about the five principles that we have found to lead to effective teaching for us. When have we been at our best as educators? When have we seen the best results from our students? When has the teaching/learning dynamic been at its peak? When have we felt the greatest sense of efficacy? Once you have listed the five principles that, you believe, have contributed to your effectiveness and the effectiveness of your students, look around and ask the tough questions about what tools you need to make those moments happen more often.

Many of us could find multiple ways to use practically any technology that is put in front of us. Sometimes we can even become overwhelmed by the sense of possibility that seems to be presented to us. But what would happen if we reclaimed that ancient meaning of the word technology and spent some time focusing on the core principles that enliven our work as educators? What technology (in the modern sense of the word) would we need to make our classrooms tick?

So, if you missed it, here’s Sunday’s episode of A Word in Progress. Enjoy!

You can catch the show live on voicEd Radio every Sunday evening at 9 PM EDT and in the ON DEMAND section of our website a few hours later.