Thursday 17 December 2009

Technologies for teaching and learning

As part of my dissertation research I looked at technologies for teaching and learning with a different perspective – looking through a critical lens, identifying common assumptions and excluding them from the picture hoping what was left got me further towards the truth.

In the hope that chronology might be a good starting point, perhaps the first technology for teaching and learning might be language. However, some may argue that language is not a prerequisite for learning. For example, would it be possible to learn to swim without using language, or to teach music without using words? There is a vast range of data we can gather non-verbally – examples range from that which could observer in the primary school playground, to the body-language of the Mona Lisa who reaches first across time and then, using other technologies, across space to send mixed messages to viewers (is she smiling or not?) without no recourse to language.

I suggest the next milestone in teaching and learning technologies is writing – the recording of words, and therefore stories and histories. The writing of numbers occurred around the same time, driven by economies which had outgrown the recording of business transactions by memory alone (Beddoe 1983). An early critique of a technology purported for education may have been Socrates who is reputed to have been of the opinion that knowledge should be discussed and fluid – noting that no matter how many times you read a book it tells you the same story every time (Phaedrus, Plato).

Moving to the last millennium, we find today’s academics describing attributes of a technology that has and continues to have a major impact on teaching and learning:

  • “Experts coming under pressure from new voices who are early adopters of new technology
  • “New organisations emerging to deal with the social, cultural and political changes
  • “There is a struggle to revise the social and legal norms -- especially in relation to intellectual property
  • “The concepts of identity and community are transformed
  • “New forms of language come into being
  • “Educators are pressured to prepare their students for the newly emerging world”

This is not an academic bemoaning the rise of Wikipedia or demonising web 2.0 technologies. The words are Michael Wesch (2008), who is paraphrasing Raine (2006), who explains:

“ … I’m citing the work of … Elizabeth Eisenstein in her study of the impact of the printing press in 15th and 16th Century Europe.”

Raine (2006)


The technology of “Printing” (the European version) is widely seen as THE key technology of the second millennium (Eisenstein, 1979).

During the first fifty years following the invention and mass adoption of movable type, the majority of the books duplicated were of the genre previously generated by religious scribes (Eisenstein, 1979). It was not until 1440 that the affordances of the printing press designed by Guttenberg were beginning to be more widely realised, moving away from replicating (enabling) traditional books, broadening out into areas like the mass production of novels, “Stories”, which drew the scorn of the intellectual classes (Beddoe, 1983; Eisenstein, 1979). Perhaps this was driven by economics – the printing press having replaced (enabling) and exhausted all the traditional markets. Thus the technology was looking for work (disrupting), a little like the laser of the 1950s (ref). It has been suggested (ref) that at that time society was wrestling literacy from the Church, and that this struggle was fuelling the demand for books.

This “New Media” also posed challenges for the authorities, mainly the Church, as it encourage the adoption of regional languages for written work rather than the pan-European Latin (ref). Some commentators further note that this move to “vernacular” and therefore national languages may have the unintended consequence of encouraging nationalism (Spender 1980). Was the printing press viewed as a mechanism to “Educate” the population? Note that the target of education was exclusively male; designed by men and for men (Spender 1980); education ignored the needs and wishes of women (Kramarae and Spender, 1993).

Film, radio and television

Towards the tail end of the second millennium, the tele-technologies of film, radio, and television were espoused by educationalists as key technologies for teaching and learning, promising paradigm shifts in both teaching (refs) and learning (refs).

“Books will soon be obsolete in schools…our school system will be completely changed in the next 10 years.”

Thomas Edison - 1913

... discussing the benefits of the motion picture. (Wesch, 2008)

"All this will bring about a profound change in education. We will stop training individuals to be "teachers" ... (the problems teachers address) are going out of the historical window, forever, in the next decade.”

R Buckminster Fuller – 1962

… discussing the 2-way TV (Wesch 2008) – perhaps an early internet envisioner?


(sorry – to be completed shortly) …

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