06 December 2010

Towards the critical study of educational technology

Joss Winn recently posted rich notes on his interest in a critical study of educational technology. One of the readings he recommended to this effect was N. Selwyn. Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Special Issue: ‘CAL’– Past, Present and Beyond, Volume 26, Issue 1, pages 65–73, February 2010.

My quoted summary of that paper is as follows:
"The paper therefore concludes by proposing a broadening of the academic ‘technological imagination’ to include issues of democracy, social justice and empowerment."
"These ambitions are perhaps best summarized by Amin and Thrift's (2005, p. 221) four-point agenda for critical scholarship, i.e.:
First, a powerful sense of engagement with politics and the political. Second, and following on, a consistent belief that there must be better ways of doing things than are currently found in the world. Third, a necessary orientation to a critique of power and exploitation that both blight people's current lives and stop better ways of doing things from coming into existence. Fourth, a constant and unremitting critical reflexivity towards our own practices: no one is allowed to claim that they have the one and only answer or the one and only privileged vantage point. Indeed, to make such a claim is to become a part of the problem."
"What is the use of technology in educational settings actually like? Why is technology use in educational settings the way it is? What are the consequences of what happens with technologies in educational settings?"
"the critical approach attempts to examine the use of technology in educational settings from the perspectives of all of the various contexts that shape and define educational technology – from the concerns of government and industry, to the concerns of the classroom and the home."
"The critical take on educational technology is therefore often driven by a desire to redress the imbalances of power that reside within most educational uses of technology. In this sense, the act of critical research and writing strives for what Ernest House describes as ‘deliberative democratic’ outcomes, where academics ‘use procedures that incorporate the views of insiders and outsiders, give voice to the marginal and excluded, employ reasoned criteria in extended deliberation, and engage in dialogical interactions with significant audiences and stakeholders in the evaluation’ (House 1999, p. xix)."
"In this spirit, the academic study of educational technology can be used to identify spaces where opportunities exist to resist, disrupt and alter the technology-based reproduction of the ‘power differential that runs through capitalist society’ (Kirkpatrick 2004, p. 10)."

I found this paper challenging, inspiring and troubling. Challenging in that I more often than not side with the technology determinists, finding it hard to understand the arguments against such logic. Inspiring in that it introduces a conceptual framework and academic background to the sort of critiques I have attempted here over the years, helping me to perhaps go deeper with it. Troubling in that it finishes with a notion of fairness and social justice limited to a space it calls educational technology, or technology within educational settings. I'm troubled by this not only because I'm not sure what Selwyn thinks is fair or just in these settings, and I'm not even sure if such settings are fair or just at all! That all said, I'm inspired enough to go further, and have included this reference and these notes to my research wiki.

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