Last night, Stephen presented on Next Generation Digital Learning Environments, and during his presentation, two opposing sides of myself, who are both quite familiar with one another, continued their never-ending dialogue (like the cartoon angel on one shoulder and dirty red devil on the other). There is the side of me that is excited about the possibilities and potentials of technology in education (my inner technophile), and there is the side of me that is skeptical and terrified of what technology is doing to education (my techno-pessimistic self).
No technology is neutral. Take the humble index card. The index card was invented by Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy. The Swedish physician used the index cards to categorize and arrange hierarchies of the world’s flora and fauna. He cut heavy paper into standard-sized cards and stored a discreet bit of information on each (the origin of metadata), and the card enabled him to reorder his data while keeping each datum distinct. (Davidson, 2017, p. 113).
In Systema Naturae, Linnaeus also divided humanity into four races based on continent of origin and skin pigmentation. He specified “temperaments” for each race, and because of his hierarchical assumptions, those who were not white were assigned demeaning and lesser characteristics. He created four races, such as yellow, red, and black, and each of these were assigned negative characteristics. He also invented a fifth category, called monstrosus, which included people with disabilities and genetic differences (Davidson, 2017, 113).
The index card is particularly fascinating to me, as a librarian, because its use was picked up by Melvil Dewey. Dewey is famous for hiring women because they had the “housekeeping instinct” (Higgins, 2017, p. 70) that Dewey felt essential for library work. Melvil Dewey probably also liked to surround himself with women for another reason – he was a serial sexual harasser who got kicked out of the professional society he helped found at a time when it was much easier to get away with sexual harassment (Blakemore, 2017). The nondescript, everyday index card holds within it the history of racism and misogyny.
The web is no different. Here is Audrey Watters (2014) on this topic:
I have to come right out and say it, because very few people in education technology will: there’s a problem with computer technology. Culturally. Ideologically. There’s a problem with the Internet. Largely designed by men from the developed world, it is built for men of the developed world. Men of science. Men of industry. Military men. Venture capitalists. Despite all the hype and hope about revolution and access and opportunity that these new technologies will provide us, they do not negate hierarchy, history, privilege, power. They reflect those. They channel it. They concentrate it, in new ways and in old.
Harassment — of women, people of color, and other marginalized groups — is pervasive online. It’s a reflection of offline harassment, to be sure. But there are mechanics of the Internet — its architecture, affordances, infrastructure, its culture — that can alter, even exacerbate what that harassment looks like and how it is experienced.
The harassment of Chris Bourg, Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in March 2018 is a good example of what happens when someone confronts the ideology of technology in education. The ideological dimension of technology is expressed well by Veletsianos and Moe (2017) as a “technocentric belief that technology is the most efficient solution to the problems of higher education.” This technocentric belief “shows ignorance of the significant history and knowledge base surrounding technology use in education” (Veletsianos & Moe, 2017, Assertion 4). Veletsianos and Hodson (2018) have also shown that being more active online can lead to the weaponizing of social media against women academics. Today, at least, the techno-pessimist seems to have the stronger arguments.
Selwyn (2014) suggests there is a need to counteract the “almost unconscious urge to improve the human condition through technology.” Selwyn suggests that a pessimistic stance is the most sensible and most productive perspective to take because it allows room for an acceptance that specific things are getting better but that many social inequalities continue to persist, or worsen as a result of technology. The pessimist works within the limitations of educational technology rather than imagining its limitless potential. Techno-pessimism is a rewarding and heartening position because the pessimist expects nothing, whereas the optimist must suffer through a life of disappointment. The pessimistic perspective draws attention to the fact that the use of digital technology in education is never a completely predictable affair. The purposeful pursuit of pessimism is to be “a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will” (Gramsci, 1929 as cited in Selwyn, 2014, p. 16). Pessimism is not a passive resignation to one’s fate, but an active engagement with continuous alternatives to develop a set of pragmatic, achievable, and grounded interventions. In this, I hope that Stephen is successful in his work to transcend the limits of the learning management system.
Blakemore, E. (2017, December 19). The father of modern libraries was a serial sexual harasser. The History Channel. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/the-father-of-modern-libraries-was-a-serial-sexual-harasser
Davidson, C. N. (2017). The new education: How to revolutionize the university to prepare students for a world of flux. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Higgins, S. (2017). Embracing the feminization of librarianship. In Lew, S. & Yousefi, B. (Eds.), Feminists among us: Resistance and advocacy in library leadership (pp. 67-89). Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press.
Kenney, A. R. (2018, March 12). ARL denounces harassment of Chris Bourg following Code4Lib keynote. Association of Research Libraries. Retrieved from http://www.arl.org/news/arl-news/4487-arl-denounces-harassment-of-chris-bourg-following-code4lib-keynote#.W7elTtdKhhE
Selwyn, N. (2014). Distrusting educational technology: Critical questions for changing times. New York, NY: Routledge.
Veletsianos, G., & Hodson, J. (2018, May 29). Social media as a weapon to harass women academics. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2018/05/29/dealing-social-media-harassment-opinion
Veletsianos, G., & Moe, R. (2017, April 10). The rise of educational technology as a sociocultural and ideological phenomenon. Educause Review. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2017/4/the-rise-of-educational-technology-as-a-sociocultural-and-ideological-phenomenon
Watters, A. (2014, November 18). Men explain technology to me: On gender, ed-tech, and the refusal to be silent. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://hackeducation.com/2014/11/18/gender-and-ed-tech