chapter  2
20 Pages

Making Sense of Education and Technology – Theoretical Approaches

The uneven growth of educational technology over the past thirty years is part of what Held and McGrew term the underlying ‘puzzle’ of globalisation – i.e. the “disjuncture between the widespread discourse of globalisation and the realities of a world in which, for the most part, the routines of everyday life are dominated by national and local circumstances” (Held and McGrew 2000, p.5). As was suggested in Chapter 1, while some aspects of education provision around the world may now appear to be more homogenised than before, the extent to which digital technologies have actually led to uniform fundamental changes in education is much less clear. In fact, nearly forty years on from the ‘computer revolution’ and nearly twenty years on from the subsequent ‘internet revolution’, it could be argued that education in most – if not all – societies remains as divided, unjust, unfair and unequal as ever. Even where educational changes have taken place, it is difficult to gauge any association with digital technology per se. Thus despite the globalist explanations that prevail, it would be fair to conclude that educational technology is certainly not a straightforward force for equal change around the world. Against this background, there is a need for a book such as this to move quickly away from overly general presumed ‘effects’ of globalisation, education and technology, and instead turn its attention towards the nuances and differences that characterise the actual (as opposed to the imagined) state of educational technology in our supposedly digital world. One of the first steps in developing this more realistic account is to recognise the

full range of involved interests in educational technology. As Chapter 1 has already suggested, there is a large number of different ‘stakeholders’ and interests at play here. These, of course, include all the familiar components of the ‘education community’ – schools, universities, teachers, students, academic researchers and so on.

Similarly, national governments, state organisations and other aspects of the ‘policy community’ also play important roles. Perhaps less obviously, educational technology is an arena where the actions of these local and national interests are entwined with the interests of ‘supranational’ and ‘intergovernmental’ organisations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and so on. Aside from these august institutions, education technology is also obviously dependent upon the actions of industry and commerce – not least the large number of multinational corporations and local companies involved in the development, manufacturing and marketing of IT products and services. These industrial and commercial actors are complemented by other private sector interests such as banks and financers, employers, philanthropic foundations and other commercial interests seeking to influence education for a variety of purposes. In terms of educational technology use in poorer nations and regions, it is also necessary to consider the interests of various non-governmental organisations, charities, donor agencies and other non-profit organisations. Clearly, then, any ‘global’ analysis of educational technology will encompass a large number of involved parties. In order to construct a detailed account of educational technology along these

expanded lines, we need to move beyond the established concerns and preoccupations of most other writers and researchers working in this field. This means doing more than simply asking abstract questions of how digital technologies could or should be used in educational settings, or speculating on the potential of technology to change learning. Instead, this means taking a deliberately critical approach that approaches the topic of education and technology in relational terms. As Michael Apple (2010) reminds us, the relational approach involves producing accounts that situate educational technology within the unequal relations of power elsewhere in society, within the realities of dominance and subordination, and within the conflicts that are generated by these relations. This is clearly a difficult step for many technology commentators to take. Yet instead of being distracted by our own (often privileged) personal experiences of digital technology we need to work instead towards understanding and acting on educational technology in terms of its complicated and often unjust connections to the larger society. In short, as Robins and Webster (2002, p.6) argue, we need to develop “a more sociologically grounded narrative of change”. This, then, will be the approach that shall be pursued throughout the remainder of this book.