Week 11: Technological Determinism

This is a light week while you continue with your final project. The main topic included here is technological determinism. This is the idea that the technologies we use impact the ways we behave and think. In the realm of education this has been argued to mean that adopting some technologies, like a Learning Management System, impact our pedagogical choices.

This isn’t necessarily an argument for nefarious purpose, these tools are built with the goal of improving education but some argue that the choices they present, particularly what they make easy (and by elimination the other things they make difficult) create a ‘path of least resistance’ that many educators will follow. Others argue that once a technology is normalized many educators will not see the alternatives that may have existed before. Take the modern classroom as a technology, little changed in basic structure since the 19th century (I’m talking about rooms with fixed or heavy desks and defined ‘front’). What types of instruction does it make easy? What does it make difficult?

Objectors to the impact of educational technology insist that teachers must be given some credit for recognising the shortcomings of some tools, and making choices to overcome them. Many scholars outside of education argue that technological determinism falsely attributes agency to machines. All technologies are designed, and limitations placed on educators by technologies are the result of societies and institutional structures that desire, obtain and enforce the use of these technologies.

This is not just a 21st century controversy, concerns about emerging technologies in education were expressed by Socrates over writing and 19th century teachers over the blackboard. Regardless, this topic is an important supplement in your decision making around the adoption and use of technology in your classroom. Thinking about the possible impact your choices will make, I would argue, is the first step to avoiding any possible impacts.