OU blog

Personal Blogs

Picture of Anna Greathead

Technology doesn't educate people, people educate people

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Anna Greathead, Monday, 4 Jun 2018, 23:14

I began yesterday by describing technology as 'neutral'. A comment suggested that this did not make technology inert and I have since been formulating a response. 

The gun control debate within the USA (and between the USA and the rest of the world) is frustrating and circular. One regularly cited soundbite is

Guns don't kill people, people kill people

You can't argue with it when taken as a standalone sentence and I suppose my argument that 'technology is neutral' is in a similar vein. However - it is not the 'slam dunk, check mate' soundbite many who cite it consider it to be!

A gun cannot shoot itself, it has no agency. However - it absolutely amplifies the agency of the person holding the gun. An angry person and an angry person with a gun have entirely different levels of power and incomparable potential to cause harm. A depressed person with a gun is more likely to end up successfully killing themselves than a depressed person with a bottle of pills. A police force with guns are more likely to make snap judgements which turn out to be fatal and unjust than a police force armed with pepper spray and truncheons. Additionally - society at large changes due to the 'neutral technology' that is the gun. A perception - real or exaggerated - of likely harm creates an atmosphere in which people who may not want to own a gun feel they have to 'just in case'. In short - the neutral technology distorts situations so much that not only is the impact of behavior changed, but the behavior changes as well. 

So does technology cause or encourage change? I would have to concede that yes - it does both. I can see that technology distorts the status quo ante significantly enough that the outcome of people's behavior and actions are different and that the mere existence of technology creates an atmosphere in which people makes different decisions. 

Learning Technology seemingly offers so much in terms of pedagogy, reach, impact and engagement that educators may begin to make the technology central in their learning design and the technology could massively amplify the impact of their teaching. Then the perception that 'everyone else is doing it' can create an atmosphere where using the available technology becomes imperative for fear of falling from relevance. Of course - our studies thus far have shown that the 'enhancement' offered to 'learning' by 'technology' is far more complex than some of the hype would have you believe - but it is the perception which changes behavior far before the statistics and facts do. 

Permalink
Share post
Picture of Anna Greathead

Chickens or eggs?

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Anna Greathead, Sunday, 3 Jun 2018, 22:14

Is technology itself a cause of reform or an instrument used to encourage reform?

One argument I have repeatedly made within H800 is that technology is neutral. It can be used for good or for ill, it can enhance or detract, it is neither good or bad - it simply is. Whilst this is not a fully formed position I tend to think that it's a good place to begin from. 

However - this question doesn't really ask if technology is good or bad. It assumes a correlation between technology and reform and asks us to assess a causal link.

The personification of 'technology' is the first problematic idea we face. Technology is not independent - it is all created by, and for, people. It can not cause or encourage anything. The people behind it may do so. Do these people develop technology with a view to reform? I suppose some may but I would be surprised if that was the majority position. Technology, ironically, seems to evolve in an almost biological way with unexpected successes, inexplicable failures and a messy march in the general direction of forwards - but with many tangents and offshoots. 

The company I work for could not exist without the internet. All of our services and products are bought online, a great many of them are delivered online. Was this was Tim Berners-Lee had in mind? Or Bill Gates? No - absolutely not. The long term impact of their inventions was not so much unintended and unexpected as beyond our wildest dreams. 

So many aspects of everyday life (in the developed world, and increasingly everywhere) are now technology dependent. Banking, shopping, travel, communications - all heavily reliant on the internet. Did the development of the internet cause this reform or was it a tool used to encourage reform? Did we, 20 years ago, even perceive that reform was necessary or possible? 

Given that we are specifically looking at 'learning' in H800 I suppose the question must be applied to the classroom, lecture theatre, study hall and library. What is technology doing there? I think I can safely assume that the experience of a student - at any level - right now is unrecognizably different to the experience I had at university in 1996; the main difference being the birth and growth of the internet in the interim. But did the internet cause the change or merely encourage it? I'd argue neither. The internet grew and the people used it. As more people used it, the internet grew more. The internet became more useful to more people as more and more people were able to manipulate it. So more and more people used the internet. It has been an organic process despite it being an entirely inorganic invention. 

Future reform may well be just as the internet was 20 years ago. Limited only by our imaginations. 


Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Anna Greathead, Monday, 4 Jun 2018, 22:59)
Share post

This blog might contain posts that are only visible to logged-in users, or where only logged-in users can comment. If you have an account on the system, please log in for full access.

Total visits to this blog: 61319