Is technology good for education?

Chapter 1: Digital technology and educational change

This is the latest book of Neil Selwyn. Illuminating and incredibly helpful for my research. The advice to NOT be an evangelist of digital technology is so useful for me. I have been observing this attitude very hidden but present in my thinking. When discussing my research project with my supervisors, I find myself, advocating for technology interventions. Even worse, I find myself, promoting the idea of the PLE. Reflecting on this, I have realised that it has nothing to do with being the PLE approach a good or a bad thing per se, but what is relevant is to let the research tell the story of what is best for the kind of students I am working with.

The book is relevant in that it brings to the fore the importance of the social reality in which education is embedded, a complex situation for which there is not a simple solution.

The overarching theme of the book is the need to be extremely careful with evangelistic discourses, phrases like “A digital fix for a broken system” is one of those. Selwyn acknowledges the potency of the space of digital education for voicing fears and visions about what will education look like in the near future. Therefore, he suggests, we need to treat any overly confident assertion of digital change in a circumspect and sceptical manner. I truly believe in the power of digital technologies for education, but I agree, any possible solution that is thought needs to be envisioned and treated with scepticism and moreover with a critical view were nothing is like magic and without any consequence. Where there are gains there are also losses; thinking about the balance of them, considering what is what we are losing when embracing a particular technological solution.

I like the phrase on page 19:

the essence of education has remained the same: punctuated by an entrenched grammar of doing things that reinforces the notion of the expert teacher and the regulation of time, space and place, alongside the routines of curriculum and pedagogy, and rituals of assessment and credentializing

What I like about it is the notion of regulating time, space and place alongside the basic rituals of education, namely curriculum and traditional assessment. Indeed time, space and place are the key elements for any educational experience to happen, but in my view digital tools and in general the Internet have changed the perception or notion of space, place and somehow, time. Although time as such never changes, not within planet earth, the managing of the time where people study is different. So students can view a lecture, a video or any other interactive element in the time that is right for them, which makes it less fixed to a particular time. The notion of place as gained a new dimension, space is no longer only the physical spaces we inhabit but also the virtual spaces that digital technologies have enabled to exist. These spaces then will hopefully become places where different experiences are mediated by digital tools and that are complementing all of the other experiences happening in the face to face experience.

In any case, the format of the teaching and learning experience within most universities is still fixed to the lecture format thus to the notion of traditional space -the lecture hall- and time -from 4 to 5-  and being the lecure the main event of the learning episode, taking that information as initial input to then try to give meaning to that knowledge through the activities designed for that. But this is the same as thousand years ago. What is that what can be changed through the new possibilities, affordances that degital technologies offer?

Genuine disruption involves re-thinking the very nature of education: its activities and relationships, as well as its core purposes and values. Genuine disruption is not about using technology to do the same differently, but using technology to do different things (p.20)

This is so true. It is about rethinking the possibilities available to learn any knowledge we want to teach. It is re-thinking how could we harness collaborative learning when we are showing, for example, the messy nature of social research. How can this topic be taught making use of digital tools? What activity would be best if we want our students to start to learn how knowledge can be co-constructed. Can we think of creating for each topic a wiki-page? But first, they would need to search what is already available on the web about the topic. If there are 3 wiki resources, is that the activity that would be relevant to do? Or could we negotiate with students which are the tools they would like to explore and this can be a way to explore that particular tool?

If we are willing to take part of the change that is happening in education we need to remain as dispassionate and circumspect as possible and ask suitable critical questions. Selwyn suggests that the idea of digital improvement/transformation/disruption of education require problematizing, namely, not taking them at face value. Questions like how are digital technologies actually finding a place in education settings and educational context, that is, finding out the state of the actual instead of the state of the art.

Sonia Livingstone suggests that problematising the place of technology in education involves 3 areas:

  1. What is really going on?
  2. How can this be explained?
  3. How could things be otherwise?

Selwyn proposes a set fo simple but complex and hard questions to move forward the critical agenda of educational technology with more chance to impact and change current deficits or improvable practices:

  1. What is actually new here?
  2. What are the unintended consequences of the use of ed tech?
  3. What are the potential gains and losses?
  4. What underlying values and agendas are implicit?
  5. In whose interests does this work? Who benefits in what ways?
  6. What are the social problems that dig tech is being presented as a solution to? 
  7. How responsive to a ‘digital fix’ are there problems likely to be?

Question 1, 5 and 6 I think, will become my underlying guiding questions along my research. There are not far away from my currently research questions, but I think I need to take a more dispassionate stance towards technology.

What drives my thinking is the need that I see to learn these different literacies that are related with being able to use digital technology at its full potential. I see it as the same situation that happened in the 18th century when the need to teach (in a more broader fashion) how to read and write started. I don’t think that the idea of digital literacies as need is bad per se, what I do see is that a simplistic or evangelistic view on it is the wrong way to go.

Chapter 2 comes next: Making education more democratic?

 

 

 

 

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