At the same time I've been participating in the Learning Analytics email group, where people are discussing various forms of data collection and analysis for education. Earlier this month however, Brent Simpson quoted Illich, introducing very much an ethical consideration around technology. Brent's thread didn't get very far, with very few responses, and perhaps even a fairly serious misunderstanding that drew the potential of the discussion to a close.
For back up and for blog content, here's my recent post to Brent's thread in the Learning Analytics email forum:
Still thinking about the ethical dimension that Brent tried to introduce via a quote from Illich's Tools for Conviviality.
In short, Illich called for more thoughtfulness on the selection and use of tools.. tools in the broadest sense of the word, including institutions. He wanted us to select and use tools that had in built affordance for maintaining people's self determination, rather than leading us into a dependency with many forms of loss. The quote Brent used, at first seemed to confuse that argument with an interpretation by both myself and George that Illich didn't properly distinguish the difference between information and knowledge, but we were wrong.
That quote again:
"The world does not contain any information. It is as it is. Information about it is created in the organism through its interaction with the world. To speak about storage of information outside the human body is to fall into a semantic trap. Books or computers are part of the world. They can yield information when they are looked upon. We move the problem of learning and of cognition nicely into the blind spot of our intellectual vision if we confuse vehicles for potential information with information itself. We do the same when we confuse data for potential decision with decision itself." Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality Part 4 Recovery: The Demythologization of Science (1974)Certain tools extract certain types of information, leading us to certain types of limited knowledge. This is a common critique of the scientific method of research.. something like, two scientists in a dark room with an elephant. One has hold of the tail, the other has hold of the trunk. They both agree they are holding a snake. (Does anyone have the source for that analogy?)
I misunderstood the Illich quote, and thought Marshall MacLuhan's famous text, The Medium is the Message was a strong contradiction to what Illich appeared to be saying. But another famous MacLuhan quote reaffirms Illich's true meaning,
"We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us" Understanding Media (1964)
Some people in the Learning Analytics email group have asked questions of an ethical dimension, such as Who are analytics for? Who controls them? Who switches them on/off? Aside from Brent's attempt to bring some body to those faint concerns, we really haven't gone far with it. This is a common problem in the educational technology network, and has been for quite some time. The impracticality of media ethics.
Recently, Richard Hall in the UK has been blogging a deeper ethical reflection on technology in education, hitting my radar when he posted Open Education: The Need for a Critique. Some of his work, combined with the historical theorists he refers to, and the few others in the present educational technology network who are asking some challenging and perhaps unanswerable questions, is what I hope might be included in the Learning Analytics forum or conference at some stage.