Towards the critical study of educational technology

It therefore seems sensible to contend that academic researchers and writers should give greater acknowledgement to the influences on educational technology above and beyond the context of the individual learner and their immediate learning environment. Put bluntly, as technology-based education and ‘e-learning’ continue to grow in societal significance, then it follows that the use of technology in education needs to be understood in societal terms. For instance, this includes acknowledging the clear linkages between educational technology use and ‘macro’elements of the social structure of society such as global economics, labour markets, and political and cultural institutions. Similarly, at the ‘micro’ level of the individual, the act of technology-based learning also needs to be understood as being entwined with many other dimensions of social life. The study of educational technology should therefore be seen in profoundly social scientific terms – moving beyond making sense of the ‘science’ of learning, and pursuing what can be termed the critical study of technology-based social action and social life within the social world of education.

Selwyn (2010): Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology

I like this paper a lot. I think anyone involved in the study and/or advocacy of technology for education should read it. These days, my own research interests and developing approach sit quite well within the critical approach Selwyn is arguing for.

I’m mainly interested in how research, teaching and learning can be understood as forms of capitalist work and the role of technology in ‘enhancing’ and replacing academic work, or possibly liberating academics and students from the capitalist labour process. Methodologically, I have found Postone’s reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory to be extremely rewarding. If you’re interested, read how he understands Marx’s critical theory in this paper and how he applies his understanding to a critique of Anti Semitism and National Socialism. As a reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory of capitalism, it should be possible to use and further Postone’s approach in any sphere of capitalist life, including the various dynamics of technology and education.

If you find these as stimulating and inspiring as I do, you might like to read this recent interview with him where he discusses his study of and approach to critical theory. It’s a nice compliment to the ‘rethinking’ paper above. His major work is Time, Labour and Social Domination.

2 Replies to “Towards the critical study of educational technology”

  1. Thanks for bringing this to my attention Joss. It is an interesting paper, and I think S/he is undoubtedly right to highlight the uncritical nature of a lot of educational technology research. That said there is actually quite a lot of critical work out there – there’s the neo-luddite work of David Noble and Theodore Roszak for example critiquing the baleful influence that capital has had on e-learning, and consequently on the university and I’ve just read a paper by Masterman & Vogel that demonstrated among other things, how influential the academic department is in academics’ choice of whether or (more usually) not to adopt technology. (A book chapter, so not on line, I’m afraid) And the paper Esther and I wrote (but haven’t found a publisher for yet,) suggests that if you let academics adopt technology in their own way, they do adapt it to their purposes, rather than as Cornford and Pollock suggested in “Putting the University Online” (2003) allowing it to alter their practices. In fact I think technology has tended to change people’s working practices, but it has done so because the form in which it is imposed on workers usually reflects the interests of capital rather than the workers themselves.

Comments are closed.