Week 11: Technological Determinism

Technology finds its way to school classrooms consciously or subconsciously. Some teachers are making conscious decisions to use technology in classroom to make their teaching more affective by applying different kinds of learning theories. Moreover, education administrators are also pushing for more technology in classroom. So sometime teachers may not be fully aware of potential of technology in classroom but they use it because it is expected of them. So increasingly more teachers are using technology because “ease of use’ equates with high invitational appeal” (Adam)

Proper use of technology can greatly enhance learning experience of students. For instance, sometime it is not possible to conduct experiments in lab due to unavailability of chemicals then simulation with guided exploration sheets can emulate the lab experience. Moreover, sometime students are expected to visualize tiny particles but it is impossible to visualize them due to their size then simulations and animations can fill in that gap of hand on experience. “Our tools or techne extend our reach, abilities, sensory perception, locomotion, and understanding”. (Adam). Moreover, all objects invite us to extend or change our relationship to our world. These enhancements or transformations can be minor to profound (Adam). So students find it very easy to understand contents with the help of simulations. Similarly, online editable mind maps can be used right from the start of a new course and students can continuously build, fine-tune and add new nodes to them as they learn more things.

Moreover, technology acts as a tool for constructivist and connectivist theory of learning because it links to information network, which is not limited to one library only. Anytime students open internet browser, then source of information is unlimited for them. Students can collect information from variety of resources and analyze, verify with their previous knowledge and reasoning, and reconstruct their thoughts. All this leads to exponential growth of knowledge. Moreover, it develops international mindedness because students get information from difference sources and thus they get to appreciate entity that generated that knowledge. However, a teacher should always use technology consciously and should not fall into trap of technology unknowingly. “An unassisted novice, a new teacher, or a busy lecturer may be more inclined to accept as given the PowerPoint defaults in forming their presentations, and subsequently the ideas about how they will present their material.” (Adam)

When I was reading Adam’s article on technology determinism, I was thinking about how often I have been conscious about use of technology and how often I have checked it against pedagogical theory. Unfortunately, there were not many instances. Most of time, technology provided its defaults and I used it according to provided format. So it is the software developer who controls pedagogical theory, whenever a piece of technology is being used in class. A teacher’s choice is mostly limited to technology tool but once a teacher decides to use a tool then mostly it is developer of the software who controls pedagogical theory. Moreover technology influences “him or her to organize and present knowledge in a certain way.”(Adam) “This particular way is evoked primarily through ease of access to default patterns or templates.” (Adam) For example, a teacher may decide to use online assessment system for efficient marking. Once he had made his choice then options are limited by the assessment system. If the assessment system does not allow graphics, or system lacks math formula builder or limits choice or limits device, or limits types of questions, then teacher has to live with the restrictions. We know that higher order thinking cannot be accessed with simple MCQ type of questions. Thus teacher has been “constrained by particular design decisions embedded in this software (Adam)

Adam raised another important point that teachers slip “into the easiest, most accessible, efficient path and seldom thinking to diverge from it.” (Adam) Although Adam wrote mainly about PowerPoint, his points are valid with other forms of technology as well. He believes that technology “exerts a kind of soft determinism upon a sleepy teacher-user, by turns inviting him or her to try certain ways of preparing a lesson or lecture. (Adam) He does provide a solution to this by saying that “The inevitable tendency of any given technology to enact its ‘vortex of side-effects’ is counterbalanced by each user’s willing-ness to pay attention, to remain focused on the purposeful task at hand—in this case, teaching.” (Adam) If a teacher consciously decide technological tool according to pedagogical theories of learning then technology will not determine his teaching style. Adam also raised question about habits of mind and styles of teaching and forms of thinking that technology determines. Teachers have lot of workload so they easily fall victim of unconscious use of technology. Van Manen (1997: 21) proves by saying that “cool water invites us to drink, the sandy beach invites the child to play, an easy chair invites our tired body to sink in it.” Teacher need time to find workaround to do away with software templates and to make sure that they use software according to pedagogical theory. Technology solutions ‘elevates format over content’ (Tufte 2003a), which puts pedagogical theory behind. Another important thing is limitations of online assessment system in terms of providing formative feedback. These systems can mechanically check if inputted answer is correct or not but they fail to provide feedback that leads to improvement. So they hamper dialogue between students and teachers.
It is very important that teachers are well trained about technology in education so they make conscious decisions to use right form of technology for different tasks in class because “good ICT could worsen teaching when it is placed in the hands of the untrained” (Young 2004). Teachers are going to use technology in classroom anyway. If they are not well trained then it is going to “negatively affect [their] habits of mind” (Turkle 2004)

Adams, C. (2006) PowerPoint, habits of mind, and classroom culture. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 38(4), 389–411.

Tufte, E. R. (2003a) PowerPoint is evil: power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely, 11(09), September. Available online at: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/ppt2.html, accessed 1 December 2016.

Turkle, S. (2004) The fellowship of the microchip: global technologies as evocative objects. In M. M. Suárez-Orozco and D. B. Qin-Hilliard (eds),Globalization: Culture and Education in the New Millennium (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press), 97–113.

Van Manen, M. (1997) Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive
Pedagogy, nd edn (London, ON: Althouse Press).

Young, J. R. (2004) When good technology means bad teaching. Chronicle of Higher Education,
51(12), A31. Available online at: http://chronicle.com/free/v51/i12/12a03101.htm, accessed 1 December 2016

2 thoughts on “Week 11: Technological Determinism

  1. Hi Usman,

    I think that a certain part of the need to use technology to engage in the connectivist approach to learning is important because we are in the midst of a shift in how our lives are lived and many of our jobs are done. I think this change is much bigger than the shift from mass-literacy to broadcast communication beginning a hundred years ago.

    “So it is the software developer who controls pedagogical theory” – this is what Goguen was getting at in _Against technological determinism_. He refuted the common understanding of technological determinism because each technology is designed by humans, with their assumptions and biases built in. The first wide-spread multi-funciton LMS (WebCT) was developed by one professor at the University of British Columbia. His beliefs about how learning should work have been transmitted via software to generations of new instructors.


    • Thanks Keith,

      You are right about WebCT, which was developed by professor at the University of British Columbia. But stock solutions, like Powerpoint, are not purposefully designed for Education, so teachers need to find workaround to customize them for education. I myself also wrote few web applications for education with assumption that other teachers should like it as those web applications automate many tasks but I could not convince many teachers to use them. Part of the reason was that different teachers have different teaching style so it is hard for a stock solution to adjust to diversity of thoughts of users. Ideally, if a software is designed under guidelines of educationists, then it will serve larger education community.

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