Computers in Education: What for?
The assumption that increased use of computing technologies is beneficial per se has been questioned in research on workplace computing since the early 1970ies. It is interesting, then, to note how easily such assumptions have become part of the landscape within Education research. The intention of this paper is to encourage stopping and pausing to consider what is happening (an empirical question), and whether what is seen is desirable (a normative question). The paper calls for more debate (among researchers, teachers, parents, school leaders, governmental bodies, and other interested parties) as to what we would want computers for and how to get there. Points of view would differ; possibly never fully settling on agreement. This would constitute an ideal and a practice of attempting to bring Bildung and democracy to computing use in education, and would be a worthwhile lead to equip the young for participation in a technology-intensive society. The issue should be addressed, however, taking into account critiques of normative approaches. In particular, incorporating insight from research which critically examines ways in which scientific truths and their technical counterparts become established, would aid an understanding of why and how obstacles exist. Such a broad exploration would imply further questions about how the maintenance of boundaries between scientific approaches affects applied questions such as the one posed in the title. This paper, then, carries a two-level argument.
Keywords: Bildung, dannelse, formation, democracy, ICTs in education, computers, social responsibility, participation, critical approaches, power, methodology, combining approaches, debate
Keywords: Bildung, dannelse, formation, democracy, ICTs in education, computers, social responsibility, participation, critical approaches, power, methodology, combining approaches, debate
Asking ‘What for?’Much effort is going into computer usage for educational purposes. Rarely do we stop to ask ‘What for?’ When I ask this question, I am often treated as if I do not understand that computers are important in society. I used to then haul out my computing pedigree1
BSc(Hons) in Computation and D.Phil. in Cognitive and Computing Sciences.so my question would no longer be as easily dismissed, yet found this produced mostly silence.
Yet the question is a burning one: Throughout the world2
This may by now be one of the (few) developments that actually does take place in every country, though highly different in terms of level of education, private/vs. public provision, whether or not teachers are receiving adequate training, causing greater or smaller Digital Divides, etc. Thus, my claim is far from saying that all kids attending school get to see, let alone use, a computer., educational institutions are spending substantial portions of their budgets on computing equipment for administrative and/or teaching purposes. Even more importantly, masses of young and less young students are facing issues relating to teaching and learning with computers. While in my experience,3
On the ‘polemic’ and personal style of this paper: A reviewer found this troublesome. It is meant to be. In this paper I refuse to take what Donna Haraway refers to as the panoptic God’s-eye view (Haraway 1997) commonly expected in academic writing, preferring instead to contribute to expanding the genre by making visible some of the experiences which have contributed to my questioning the body of research to which I am expected to contribute. This is not to say that my present effort is particularly well carried out, but I will defend its direction. In this I am leaning on long-standing critique of common conceptualisations of science as a provider of truth, contributors to which include ‘post-modern’ approaches (questioning the production of truths); importantly, feminist critiques of the omnipotent perspective of ‘modern’ as well as some writers otherwise thought of as ‘post-modern,’ as well as a diverse body of research on how technologies and scientific truths come to be. For me, chief influences have been the late Leigh Star (e.g. Star 1991, Bowker and Star 1999, Star and Bowker 2007) and Donna Haraway (1991, 1997). (Haraway (1991) is a response to Sandra Harding’s earlier work on alternative objectivisms in science; traces of a decades-long debate which I recommend to interested readers.)the answer to ‘for what?’ is by many people treated as too self-evident to speak of, the range of reasons I have encountered in the research literature and from the mouths of thinking people (teachers, parents, researchers, etc.) is rather limited.
In Computer Science, a joke goes “This design provides a great solution, we just have to find the problem for which it’s an answer.” Probably inspired by Douglas Adams’ fictional The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the quip was much loved as it seemed to characterise much systems development effort. This paper explores some of the areas of unasked questions in the efforts of increasing the use of computers/ICTs in education. While it does so primarily by synthesising some related, previous work by colleagues and myself, my wish is for these to serve as exemplars which may inspire critique and further work by others. In this sense, the aim of this paper is to provide more questions than answers.
Many key issues which remain under-explored can be informed by debates in other areas of social science. As the purpose of this paper is to open or strengthen a new field of research, it provides examples of areas from which insight could be drawn. Choosing a specific theory highlights distinct aspects and will focus attention on specific kinds of practical approaches. Hence, while a specific suite of studies might beneficially focus on one research approach, overall it would be of benefit to the field if insights from several approaches nourish it.
As one example of the urgent need for researchers engaged in computer usage in education to stop and question the directions in which the taken for granted is developing, consider a recent conference call:
During early 2011, the Oxford Brookes University had an invite on their website for their annual symposium “Improving Student Learning symposium: Using Learning Technology - 10 years on.”4
The annual symposium was that year eventually cancelled, due to “the difficult economic times and the increasing pressure for university staff to gain funding for visiting such events.” (http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/ocsld/isl/isl2011/index.html accessed 21st June 2011).A term reiterated in the call was learning technologies (termed LTs). One of the themes under which papers were invited was “How can we successfully innovate/disseminate the use of LTs?”
This not uncommon phrasing of calls for researchers to analyse what is happening with the use of technology for intended learning, itself begs analysis. First, there are questions to be asked of the terms employed. What is innovation and dissemination? What is success - how would we recognise successful dissemination if we saw it? (And who are ‘we’?) Second, there are underlying questions of meaning which need to be addressed if researchers are to understand the complexities of the use of technology for intended learning. For what purposes would we want to see more use of ‘learning technologies’? If for increased student learning, how do we reconcile the complexities of how to assess learning in the first place with the challenge of isolating any specific factor in the learning environment as causing or facilitating it?
This paper poses as problematic such simplified assumptions about the purposes for which one might wish to use ‘learning technologies,’ seeing conceptualisations of them less from the point of view of an implicit agreement on what ‘we’ might understand by the term, than as a central topic to be examined. Several approaches could be used in that endeavour. Of particular theoretical relevance, reflecting back on how scientific inquiry within Education is conceptualised in the first place, is the position of experience. With respect to the multiple views and experiences of teachers who teach with learning technologies, clearly, teachers’ skilled judgement of which learning technology might be appropriate to a specific teaching situation and how to position it for educational use, remains the central hub of the use of learning technologies. Indeed, there appears to be a literature on teacher experiences with technologies, at least stories extolling the virtues of technology use,5
Interestingly, stories exploring challenges that did not find solutions, or the difficult trade-offs heard anecdotally among teachers, seem much harder to come by.residing at the ‘fringes’ of scientific research (published within non-refereed fora, professional journals, etc). While this may be seen as a healthy state of affairs – helpful for the teaching profession and methodologically/theoretically sound for researchers – the relationship of the body of teachers’ experiences to research seems to me more troublesome than such a ‘truce’ might indicate. For educational technologists in particular, we could do well, I contend, to look upon this with some unease as to implications for theory. This paper wants to contribute to keeping debates open also researchers’ conceptualisations of the boundaries of research so discussion may continue also on ways in which different approaches could fit together.
The assumption that increased use of computing technologies is beneficial per se has been questioned in research on workplace computing since the early 1970ies. It is interesting, then, to note how easily such assumptions become part of the landscape within education.
In Computer Science, a response – inspired in part by educationalists such as Paulo Freire6
E.g. Freire (1996 )– has been to develop ways of including future users in the design of technologies (Participatory Design). Early research is beginning to apply such ideas back into education, developing responses conceptually and through practical approaches (Beck, Øgrim and Sandvik 2005, Beck and Øgrim 2009). Issues to be developed include that while methods for developing learning technologies have focused on design, the specific constellation within education for the young has not been addressed. Here, the direct participation of the intended users (young students) may not always be appropriate, and both contents and development approaches must be mediated through the skilled judgement of responsible grown-ups (teachers) (Beck, Øgrim and Sandvik 2005). We have further proposed that the ability of the young to question what technology is for needs to be part of the curriculum for digital literacy (Beck and Øgrim 2009), and that one way of starting teaching towards this is through experiences of computer systems being products of human intent and design, not givens (Beck 2006). This work has parallels to work by Østerud (e.g. 2009) in seeing technology and democratic participation in society as related, but differs in our positioning of the question of control over the technology as central.
Contributing to ‘critical’ digital literaciesSustained efforts to get teachers to increase their use of computers in schools raise a host of questions, not least relating to subtler and less subtle workings of power. Yet, the specific contribution of this paper is the possibility of interventions in the situation – a normative aim. Previous research has called for the teaching of ICTs in schools to include both an awareness of societal implications of technology usage, and the experience that technology is subject to control by people (Beck 2006, Beck and Øgrim 2009). While many aspects thus are in need of exploration, there is a widespread lack of attention to the roles of teachers as those who are expected to carry out the teaching (Beck and Jamissen 2011). In Norway, teachers have been struggling with layers of expectations surrounding ICTs in schools and scant support (Øgrim and Beck 2004). In national plans the importance of ICT is emphasised at all levels of education, and governmental agencies have focused on skills training for teachers. In Beck and Jamissen 2011, however, we argue that the perceived shortfall of teachers’ skills in teaching with and of ICTs has a number of dimensions that are rarely addressed. For example, evaluation of the LærerIKT initiative to help teachers master ICTs showed little in the way of reflection among teachers, even among those who otherwise appeared to have participated successfully (Alfredsen and Jamissen 2003).
Beck and Jamissen (2011) present a school development project with ICTs built on the conclusions of Alfredsen and Jamissen (2003). The design sought to stimulate teacher reflection on their experiences of teaching with ICTs, on the assumption that this might stimulate their capability of developing responses they considered appropriate. Teachers working on ICT development projects were given ‘reflection scaffolding’, the core of which was iteratively returning to collective discussions of a set of simple questions about the teachers’ evolving experiences. Support for the process was provided through the repeated visits of an external mentor, themselves an interested peer and experienced teacher (Beck and Jamissen 2011). Thus, the project provides one example of the workings of one step in the efforts to increase ICT use in Norwegian schools. It also displayed the dual roles of the authors in simultaneously participating in this and introducing practices which could potentially challenge it.
The possibility of discussion and reflection for critical digital literacies – among teachers and studentsThe necessity of in some sense being active in relation to one’s experiences as part of developing appropriate responses has been one of the topics for feminist and other liberatory approaches, as well as thought on democratic participation in school (Østerud, as cited above). Beck and Jamissen 2011 draws on one specific aspect: The role of reflection in supporting change.
Critical approaches have continued to inspire authors in a number of directions. The term has taken on different meanings for various people in different contexts (Carr and Kemmis 2005). Kemmis (1985:144-5) builds on Aristotle and Habermas in making a distinction between three parallel forms of interests: problem-solving, practical deliberation and emancipatory interests. Different types of knowledge are thought to be associated with these: instrumental (causal explanation), practical (understanding), and critical, respectively. Kemmis insists that in each of these cases, reflection is political; “it actively reproduces or transforms the ideological practices which are the basis of the social order” (1985:149).
The key assumption underlying the work presented here is that ICT construction and usage is not value-neutral in education any more than elsewhere. In Norwegian education, this is vivid e.g. in the expectations expressed by a host of interested parties as to what the teaching of and with ICTs might achieve. Yet, in debates about the appropriateness of using information and communication technologies (ICTs) in schools and the appropriateness of various approaches to doing so effectively, the key question is often overlooked of how the various meanings given to ICT usage affect views on what rightfully should be done. For example, Bjarnø, Øgrim, Giæver and Johannesen (2009) argue that when the operative terms in the current National Curriculum in Norway (LK06) are “skills in using digital tools”, the societal aspects have been lost. In providing an alternative definition of one of the central terms in contemporary debates in Norway, digital kompetanse, they contribute to reconnecting societal perspectives with ICT use: “the ability to use digital tools and have a sufficient understanding of the technology to function in and make a change to society” (p.18, my translation).
In Beck and Jamissen (2011), we discuss the relationship between action and reflection, seeing them (following Freire) as intertwined. In these terms, current conceptions of literacy (e.g. as surveyed by Buckingham 2006) focus on action. A critical literacy would balance this by reflection, especially on the conditions for the present state of affairs.
A normative approach: Dannelse/Bildung/Formation – and democracyAn underlying assumption behind approaches such as those discussed above, is that development is possible and should be undertaken for the “betterment” of society.7
Some critique of this position is summarised later in the paper.Such aims, such ideas of “improvement” and ideals for what might constitute a “good” society (or “good teaching with ICTs”) are normative aims. In education research generally, discussing normative aims does not itself seem to be controversial the way it often is, in my experience, in Computer Science. Educational technology is interesting in this respect for its potential for the two research cultures to meet. Yet, educationalists interested in what is “good”, “beautiful”, etc. – in other words, what the higher aims of education might be – have rarely addressed the position of technology in this.8
Exceptions include Hans Skjervheim  1996 and Lars Løvlie 2003, the latter building on Haraway’s work.
Svein Østerud contributed in 2004 by posing the question of democracy in the context of digital media use in schools. In reference to technology optimism in school reforms, he wrote that “educational reforms should rather be based on the visions we have for our future society” (p.75, my translation). Further, on the ‘democracy dimension’ of his analysis of schools: “the responsibility of schools to contribute to continuing a democratic and well-functioning society” (p.266). This seems a key issue to highlight, not least in the context of his focus on the visions expressed in the curricula. The question that looms large is how, and in particular: What are the specific contributions of ICT use in school to furthering or hampering this ideal? In 2004, Østerud’s discussion centred on developing the young students’ ability to participate in reasoned public discussion, highlighting how new media forms had made the public sphere substantially more complex.
The argument is developed further, for example, in Østerud’s 2009 chapter En didaktikk for demokratisk dannelse [Pedagogy for Democratic Formation]. Here, issues are raised about how to include student competences in school, and the acknowledgement of computer usage skills as one avenue. (It also points to the problem of disaffected students.) In proposing a pedagogy for democratic formation, the chapter discusses identity, self-regulated learning and problem solving ability. A key contribution of this work is, for me, that it firmly places the question of dannelse – formation, Bildung, or the aims of education – as being relevant to technology use. In particular, Wolfgang Klafki’s historical examination of notions of Bildung and his sketch for a different way, termed Categorial Bildung, is here applied to technology use in schools.
Klafki’s BildungIn educational philosophy, discussions of the aims of education have been conducted, in Europe, in terms of Bildung.9
Bildung corresponds roughly to dannelse in Norwegian. E.g. Løvlie, cited above, discusses technology in relation to dannelse.The normative issues of what education is/should be for, and/or what characteristics an educated person should display, or knowledges or attitudes they should embody, have been subject to debate for centuries. Klafki explains, in a comment from 1979, the German equivalent of formation, Bildung, thus: “Since the 19th century, the term Bildung has been extensively used in German educational thinking as a central term for the aim of upbringing/education.” (1996 [1959/1979], p. 168). He continues by explaining the need for an update, saying that while authors during the past 10-15 years have seen it as an ‘ideological’ term with elitist, undemocratic implications, such critique is only true of a certain phase, or aspect, of the use of the term. He refers to the meaning of the term in the German ‘classic’ period, inspiring as he claims it did socialist as well as the metaphysical (”åndsvitenskapelige”) thinking on education, as being “through and through critical, even critical of society”. Klafki surveys both material and formative forms of Bildung, i.e. those focused on the possession of a body of knowledge (such as a canonical set of literature which ‘must’ be mastered), or on the process (such as critical thinking as such). Klafki dismisses both as elitist notions taking an encrippled form compared to the older, ‘classic’ notions. His proposal for a new Bildung combines what he sees as the older virtues with the needs of contemporary social life, and summarises the key points from his historical examination thus:
What has been achieved in terms of progress in reducing societal inequality since the end of the 19th century and in particular during our century – including within schooling – , must undoubtedly primarily be credited to the political pressure for, and the social struggles fought by, the labour movement in all its strands and in its coalitions with old and new groups within a bourgeois citizenry [borgerskap] open for progress. [H]owever, the task is far from complete and (...) it never could be solved once and for all, because societal processes never, even in the most optimum democratic systems can be shaped to exclude the possibility of new inequalities being created (...).
(Klafki 2011 , p.56; emphases in the Danish Edition; my translation from Danish)
(Klafki 2011 , p.56; emphases in the Danish Edition; my translation from Danish)
Klafki goes on to express his unequivocal commitment to education towards a specific vision of society, one in which a person is developing their autonomy (self-determination), their capacity of acting as part of a responsible collective (co-determination), their capacity of empathy with those who do not have access to the former two and action to redress the imbalance (solidarity). Further, the vision is of a society in which continuous reflection on how the society is functioning for such goals is undertaken; and in which all humans are included (solidarity) and also all capabilities that humans have. Education must also be conceived of as political education, leading towards participation in the shaping of evolving democratisation processes (p. 56). He thus sets up a goal, a vision, for how society should ideally function, and asks of education that its efforts should be directed at establishing this. Importantly, the unattainability of these goals does not preclude working towards them.
Rather than seeing participation as an aim of democracy, Klafki’s proposal for a new notion of purpose for education, then, uses participation as one of several conditions. It is an ingredient leading towards greater aims such as (socio-economic) equality; development of the self, of ability to participate with others, and of solidarity with those who have less opportunities; as well as requiring what to me seems to be conditions capable of facilitating resistance against unwanted developments: critique of the ways in which public life functions in contemporary (German/European) society. Other passages in Klafki (2011 ) substantially elaborate this theory-cum-proposal for action10
Including the need for selecting some generic issues for our times (currently, e.g. educating for taking responsibility for the natural environment) and a proposal for how to conduct such selections, and subsequent re-selections, through a panel of people.. From his extensive discussion, of particular poignancy for this paper is the Eighth of his Baseline Propositions, The Place of ‘Instrumental’ knowledges, abilities, and skills:
Meaningful and beneficial teaching and learning (...) always includes a substantial amount of simple, almost hands-on knowledges, abilities and skills – reading and writing, speaking to the point and in communicatively clear ways, basic arithmetic, precision in observation, craft-technical abilities, information techniques, etc; also virtues such as self-discipline, concentration, willingness to contribute, taking others into account, etc. (...) These are instrumental knowledges, abilities and skills, and subordinate virtues. They do not indicate how they are to be used in reasoned and responsible manners. They can be put to humane, democratic, peaceful and compassionate aims, just as they can be put to power struggles, to exploit and tyrannise others, to further conflicts, to hinder enlightenment, co-determination, equal opportunities, etc. Making these subordinate virtues into conditions for more demanding aims and processes of Bildung and giving them priority in terms of subjects and time is therefore wrong and can have dire consequences.
(Klafki (2011 ), p.96; emphases in the Danish Edition; my translation from Danish)
(Klafki (2011 ), p.96; emphases in the Danish Edition; my translation from Danish)
Klafki, a former teacher, thus both includes and unequivocally subordinates to higher aims the nitty-gritty details of “how to” – including, it seems safe to assume, much contemporary discussion on computer usage in schools. His work thus demonstrates the possibility of encompassing more than one dimension – e.g. details and aims – in the discussions, while keeping the focus steadily on aims.
A descriptive/deep understanding approach: PowerMuch discussion is needed in this area, and Østerud’s explorations can be extended and supplemented. One potential avenue might involve examining critically a discourse on computers in schools in which computing technology is taken for granted (i.e. reified, known as “Black-Boxing” in Social Studies of Science), for example, through being described as a ‘natural’ part of schools (Beck 2006). When the technology has stopped being troublesome and is hardly ever questioned, we are giving away the opportunity to learn about, challenge and change the technology. This ought to be of concern to a discourse on what computers in education are for (Beck and Øgrim 2009), in particular its role as part of democratic citizenship (Østerud 2004, 2009).
A substantial challenge to researchers and teachers alike from a ‘critical’ or discussive approach is how to reach through to each other and exchange perspectives, learn from each other. Research on the workings of power (e.g. Foucault 1990 , or the Actor-Network Theory approach to the social study of science and technology (e.g. Jan Nespor 1994)), highlights more and less subtle workings of power within institutions, among colleagues, etc. Especially at times of apparent peaceful compliance (in Actor-Network terms considered a temporarily stabilised network), forms of analysis such as these come to their fore.11
Such ‘micro-power’ – a term often associated with Foucault – could in this analysis range from tacit acceptance of own subordination (e.g. as highlighted by Freire 1996 ), via internalised compliance with subtle oppression-subordination structures whether or not one stands to gain from them (e.g. via ‘governmentality’ and ‘normalisation’ as analysed by Foucault), to the potentially constructive, society-changing uses of ‘governmentality’ (as highlighted in aspects of Foucault’s writing, e.g. as analysed by Lois McNay (McNay and Foucault 1994)).They provide severe and well-argued critique of, for example, approaches (such as quoted above) which rely on some arguably ‘romantic’ notion of ‘emancipation;’ both what it is (a stable state? How would we recognise it if we saw one?) and how to get there (no conflicts among the dominated; no point where positions are compromised for some other aim?). Some would critique the above enlisting of ‘critical,’ ‘emancipatory,’ and Bildung approaches as being relatively empty, as they ignore issues of micro-power, i.e. the interests of the various implicated parties and how these are brought to bear on the outcome of attempts at changing or maintaining a situation. Thus those approaches can be viewed as displaying a naïve trust in humans’ ability to change the structures which produce us and upon which we depend (e.g. for our identity). An example of work liable to such an accusation of naivety is our own project reported above (Beck and Jamissen 2011). Key conditions such as project proposals and overall cost of participation were overtly overruled by the main funder,12
After the schools had submitted their proposals, the municipal administration decided that all projects had to use a specific Learning Management System, whether or not this made sense to the individual project envisaged.and also the more open reflection approach which we considered key, and which received positive evaluation, was in subsequent years allowed to quietly ‘run into the sands’ in favour of provision only of courses for teachers.13
Beck, E.E. "Steps toward Massively Distributed Participation: Teachers’ Reflection over Experiences with ICTs" (unpublished ms, available from the author)We did in one respect display naivety, so the post-modernist critique applies (including, if one so wishes, to our write-up of it). On the other hand, the project did seem to make something of a positive contribution to those teachers and schools involved in it. Dismissing the work as naïve, then, would miss out on some important aspects. These kinds of complexities with choosing a single theory approach and sticking purely to it is what the present paper wishes to highlight for discussion. This is not to propose a pluralist approach to all studies, or the demise of method, or rigour. In pursuing these worthwhile aims, however, the discussion would do well to include a wider perspective across several studies, at least from some of the scientists. Theoretical rigour can, as feminists have argued for decades, also reside in other levels of abstraction than in the purity of a single approach.
An interesting discussion in theory terms is the interplay between post-modern and feminist perspectives. E.g. Lois McNay critiques Foucault’s work for leaving no explanatory space for change, notably leaving major developments such as the mass movements for women’s rights unexplained and inexplicable (McNay and Foucault 1994). In this sense, analysing the subtle and less subtle workings of power is vital for understanding change and non-change, and may be more than enough for a research project or a researcher’s life’s work. Approaches which permit analyses of dominance shed invaluable light on the situation and sensitivity of researchers and their readers to the networks which “more” or “better” use of technology in schools are meant to impact. Even more importantly, such approaches can illuminate the question of what networks such wishes form part of. They are thus vital for the field.
Nevertheless, precisely because of their strengths, they fall short of guiding willed change; for providing inputs into the conglomerate of politics-power-education-research which characterises much research on schools in Scandinavia today.
Action and reflection: Elements of a research agendaThe complex landscape of opinions, research findings, critique, enthusiasm, politics, expectations, democracy, anger, divides digital and otherwise, disappointments, expenses and naturalisations surrounding the usage of ICTs in schools makes it unlikely that any one approach to analysis would suffice. This paper has therefore explored two main approaches to researching the area, proposing that while these usually shun each other and do not mix well, both are needed for conceptual understanding and visionary development of schools and of society. Put bluntly: to discuss for what we would want computers today, use Bildung and other normative approaches. To understand why we are not already there, use Foucault, Actor-Network Theory or other approaches sensitive to the workings of power.
A specific additional challenge to researchers is learning to live with the multiplicity of views which such an approach necessarily would generate. How could we not only permit but value this? Donna Haraway’s perspectives on multiple rationalities (‘diffracted’ as opposed to singularly given rationalities; Haraway 1997) provides one conceptual possibility. Being sketchy, taking this as an inspiration and potential direction poses more answers than it provides for how to understand ICTs in education. Yet, the direction is necessary. As I have previously argued in relation to another field (Beck 1997) the question of how such diffracted rationalities are negotiated is itself an area of investigation which could be of interest for researchers.
Together with other authors cited, I argue the centrality of teachers’ evolving experiences at the ‘receiving end’ – and also the ‘acting end’ of the issue. While research can dip into examples and provide key tools for understanding, teachers must act. Questions include how to ensure teachers also have space for reflection. For researchers, conceptual challenges include addressing ways in which different methodological and theoretical approaches complement each other as well as practical understandings.
Awareness of the merits and otherwise of specific methodological and theoretical approaches is needed so that research and practice can proceed with awareness of what ‘blinkers’, what perspective, each provides. While individual studies and bodies of literature may beneficially stay within a single orientation, the magnitude and complexity of the issue at hand would be ill-served by not seeing across them.
Presently, as much energy goes into the development of technology, foci for research on practical uses of ICTs in schools which need to be highlighted include supporting teachers in reflecting on their practices and how to develop them, as well as developing thinking (or meta-theory) capable of relating the strengths of a wide range of approaches to each other and to key societal aims. In terms of the former, researchers may at times contribute by bringing ideas from other researchers, at other times by reporting on and discussing the experiences of other teachers. Some times by making and reporting on small interventions which may be offered as resources for practice, and other times by working on visions for technology uses in schools centered on the nature of the future society that this is to help establish.
This paper, then, has listed a host of challenges which might be worked on by those with the time and the inclination. (Action. And reflection.) Some specific examples of such challenges might be:
- Further development of how students’ critical ICT literacies could be furthered by teacher training.
- The longer-term consequences of using reflection scaffolds such as in the project presented in Beck and Jamissen (above) have not been studied. Nevertheless, approaches such as this have the capacity to support teacher development and it would be of interest to see it applied and adapted in other contexts too.
- Agency: It would be interesting to see how, for example, the literature on agency and autonomy could illuminate questions of teacher adoption of ICTs.
- Developing teachers’ capacities for collective action-reflection on contemporary ICT use may benefit from attention being paid to internalised power relations, i.e. voluntary compliance with what is considered ‘normal’ or expected.
ConclusionIn addressing the core issues of ‘what for’, discussions about the aims of education and how instruments and techniques contribute or not to these might, for example, lean on and learn from insights into contemporary Bildung theory which includes addressing social inequalities. Discussions about what the obstacles may be, could benefit from insights gained from, for example, ‘deep descriptive’ approaches sensitive to the practical workings of networks. In making change possible, in translating the above discussions into daily practices, in letting experience influence plans, participatory methods developed from ‘politically critical’ approaches could make substantial contributions. A key contention of this paper, then, is that despite – or because of – the substantial differences in conceptual, philosophical, methodological and practical approaches, all are needed. A discipline, or body of research, which wishes to make headway on the applied problem of how, what, when, and for what ICTs should and could be taught in the education of the young, cannot afford to exile any of these sources of insight.
While continued debate is needed on the appropriateness of using information and communication technologies (ICTs) in schools, and the appropriateness of various approaches to doing so (including questions such as the meanings of being “digitally literate”), such debates must be subordinate to the key question of ‘what for?’ In other words, what society the teaching of, and with, ICTs should strive to contribute to.
On such grounds, instrumental questions such as, for example, what would constitute ‘effective’ teaching, can be addressed. In such debates, perspectives from existing approaches ranging from the normative to the meticulously observational can contribute; as well as participatory and critical approaches.
This paper is written in celebration of and dialogue with Svein Østerud’s engagement for the relevance of questions about technology usage to the issue of schooling for democracy.
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|1||BSc(Hons) in Computation and D.Phil. in Cognitive and Computing Sciences.|
|2||This may by now be one of the (few) developments that actually does take place in every country, though highly different in terms of level of education, private/vs. public provision, whether or not teachers are receiving adequate training, causing greater or smaller Digital Divides, etc. Thus, my claim is far from saying that all kids attending school get to see, let alone use, a computer.|
|3||On the ‘polemic’ and personal style of this paper: A reviewer found this troublesome. It is meant to be. In this paper I refuse to take what Donna Haraway refers to as the panoptic God’s-eye view (Haraway 1997) commonly expected in academic writing, preferring instead to contribute to expanding the genre by making visible some of the experiences which have contributed to my questioning the body of research to which I am expected to contribute. This is not to say that my present effort is particularly well carried out, but I will defend its direction. In this I am leaning on long-standing critique of common conceptualisations of science as a provider of truth, contributors to which include ‘post-modern’ approaches (questioning the production of truths); importantly, feminist critiques of the omnipotent perspective of ‘modern’ as well as some writers otherwise thought of as ‘post-modern,’ as well as a diverse body of research on how technologies and scientific truths come to be. For me, chief influences have been the late Leigh Star (e.g. Star 1991, Bowker and Star 1999, Star and Bowker 2007) and Donna Haraway (1991, 1997). (Haraway (1991) is a response to Sandra Harding’s earlier work on alternative objectivisms in science; traces of a decades-long debate which I recommend to interested readers.)|
|4||The annual symposium was that year eventually cancelled, due to “the difficult economic times and the increasing pressure for university staff to gain funding for visiting such events.” (http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/ocsld/isl/isl2011/index.html accessed 21st June 2011).|
|5||Interestingly, stories exploring challenges that did not find solutions, or the difficult trade-offs heard anecdotally among teachers, seem much harder to come by.|
|6||E.g. Freire (1996 )|
|7||Some critique of this position is summarised later in the paper.|
|8||Exceptions include Hans Skjervheim  1996 and Lars Løvlie 2003, the latter building on Haraway’s work.|
|9||Bildung corresponds roughly to dannelse in Norwegian. E.g. Løvlie, cited above, discusses technology in relation to dannelse.|
|10||Including the need for selecting some generic issues for our times (currently, e.g. educating for taking responsibility for the natural environment) and a proposal for how to conduct such selections, and subsequent re-selections, through a panel of people.|
|11||Such ‘micro-power’ – a term often associated with Foucault – could in this analysis range from tacit acceptance of own subordination (e.g. as highlighted by Freire 1996 ), via internalised compliance with subtle oppression-subordination structures whether or not one stands to gain from them (e.g. via ‘governmentality’ and ‘normalisation’ as analysed by Foucault), to the potentially constructive, society-changing uses of ‘governmentality’ (as highlighted in aspects of Foucault’s writing, e.g. as analysed by Lois McNay (McNay and Foucault 1994)).|
|12||After the schools had submitted their proposals, the municipal administration decided that all projects had to use a specific Learning Management System, whether or not this made sense to the individual project envisaged.|
|13||Beck, E.E. "Steps toward Massively Distributed Participation: Teachers’ Reflection over Experiences with ICTs" (unpublished ms, available from the author)|