Educational technology is controversial. Some see it as the solution needed to provide free global learning. Others see it a dangerous distraction undermining good education. To move this debate forward, we need theory that can help us understand educational technology and its role in the future of education. Most theories that have been applied to educational technology have been educational theories that do not account for the distinctive nature and potential of technology. This approach does not work because the tools that we use make a difference to the kind of teaching and learning that is possible. What we consider desirable in education is already informed by the kind of technologies that we are familiar with. In this book, we explore how education has been bound up with technology from the beginning. This means that what we think of as educational aims have already been shaped by technologies. It is important to disentangle the effect of legacy technologies on education if we are interested in designing for a future that will shape, and be shaped by, new emergent technologies. Thinking about the design of educational technology is thinking about the design of the future. The ‘dialogic’ theory of educational technology that we offer is a response to the challenges that face us today, challenges such as climate change, misinformation on the Internet, and the effects of Artificial Intelligence (AI). These challenges all stem from collective human activity that has not been steered sufficiently by collective intelligence.
Discussion of theory is contextualised in each chapter with case studies and illustrations of the design and use of educational technology in a wide range of contexts, from primary education through to adult lifelong learning. Each chapter ends with a short summary of practical implications for design. At the end of the book, we bring these implications together to offer a dialogical theoretical foundation for educational design.
This book is essential reading for all those creating and researching educational technology. It should also be read by those involved in making decisions about the design and use of educational technology.
2. An alternative history of educational technology
3. Affordance theory
4. The 'grammar' of educational technology
5. Steps towards a dialogic 'grammar'
6. Heidegger's hammer
7. The 'meaning' of technology
8. Technology and expanding dialogic space
9. Technology and expanding dialogic time
10. Researching educational technology
11. A dialogic foundation for the design and practice of educational technology
Extract from the Introduction:
Why do we need a 'theory' of educational technology?Most educational technology research is done with limited or no reference to theory (Bond et al., 2019; Bodily et al., 2019). And when theory is mentioned, this is almost always educational theory without reference to the theory of technology (An & Oliver, 2021). This chimes with the frequently expressed view that teaching should be led by pedagogy and not by technology. This claim is often asserted as a truism, as if no one could possibly disagree. A great deal of the theoretical literature on educational technology reinforces this assumption by expressing the concern that technology and technologists, possibly backed by money from the ‘EdTech industry’, are taking over education (e.g., Selwyn, 2017). In other words, the underlying framing here often seems to be that human-led education is good and that a technology-led education is bad.
At first glance, this makes perfect sense. On the whole, we use tools to help us achieve our goals. We like to think that we are in charge of the plan, not the tools that we select to help us. It would be odd to think of the tools as having agency on their own. Odd and also uncomfortable, perhaps even a bit frightening. The idea of technology taking over and telling us what to do is a common plot of dystopian movies and TV shows such as the Terminator or Westworld. But if we step back from this surface way of seeing things to take a more theoretical perspective it is not so clear that we can separate people from technology in any simple way. In Chapter 2, we argue that humans have always been entangled with technology. We established how a lot of the teaching and learning that most people tend to assume as being central to education serves the needs of technologies, especially communication technologies. The focus in primary education is on learning how to read printed signs in books, writing similar marks with a pen on paper, and how to use mathematical notations including numbers and a specialised symbol system. Because they have been around for a while, we sometimes forget that literacy and numeracy are technologies just as surely as social media apps on mobile phones or AI language assistants.
It is interesting that we do not tend to think of literacy and numeracy as technologies. They are clearly not natural nor universal. It is quite possible to be human without knowing how to use written sign systems. It is not obvious that oral societies are helped by education into literacy, indeed much of the evidence seems to point the other way[i]. Perhaps literate people are incapable of distinguishing themselves from their particular kind of communications technology and so assume that education that preserves and expands literacy is a universal human good. Taking a theoretical perspective or stance means questioning this kind of assumption. After all, non-literate oral societies also have education, and future societies in which the means of communication might be very different from what we can imagine now will also have education. If it is true, as we argue, that being human means to be bound up with technology, then it follows that education needs to change as technology changes. This is because when our technology changes, then so do we.
An overarching theme throughout this book is that we need to develop the theory of educational technology as a new strand in the dialogue about education. This is because, so far, our theories of education have not taken the distinctive point of view of technology into account. Technology does not just do what it is told and help us to realise our independently arrived at ends. Technology shapes us from the inside, it is always already there influencing how we understand ourselves and how we make decisions. This means that thinking about how we use technology in education is thinking about how we want to shape the future of education and, indeed, future humans. Designing educational technology requires thinking about what technology is, and what it could be, as well as thinking about what education is and what it could be.