Education/Technology/Power: Educational Computing as a Social Practice (Suny Series, Frontiers in Education)

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9780791437971: Education/Technology/Power: Educational Computing as a Social Practice (Suny Series, Frontiers in Education)

Interest in educational computing has grown explosively in recent years. School districts are rushing to invest in new technologies, hoping to "equip" students with skills said to be needed in today's world of intense economic competition. Is this enormous investment in computing technology a good idea?

Reaching a useful answer requires a more finely grained question: investment in what kind of educational computing? a good idea for whom? under what conditions? We need to know who is affected, how, and by what specific practices...but that sort of analysis is generally not available. And without it, the tremendous pressure schools are under to "keep up" technologically is likely to push them down unwise paths. This book is an effort to provide just such an assessment.

The computer functions as a symbol of the quality of education children are receiving. The appeal of this symbol depends on a number of assumptions about the nature of technology, among them that the computer benefits all students equally, as a neutral instrument with no connection to the unequal distribution of power in society; that access to such technology is a guarantee of upward social mobility; and that wider facility with high technology will alleviate the problems of the United States economy.

Despite their popularity, these assumptions are of dubious validity. Far from being neutral instruments, computers - like other technologies - are involved in many ways in the construction and use of power.

Education/Technology/Power moves from conceptual discussions of how we think and speak about educational computing, through studies of specific classroom practices, to analysis of efforts to realize the democratic possibilities of the technology. The contributors all share a concern with how technological practices align with or subvert existing forms of dominance, but otherwise represent a broad range of perspectives.

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About the Author:

Hank Bromley is Assistant Professor in Sociology of Education, and Associate Director of the Center for Educational Resources and Technologies, at the State University of New York at Buffalo. His interests lie in the areas of education and social change, the politics of technology, and feminist theory. In an earlier incarnation, he studied computers at MIT, joined an artificial intelligence research group at AT&T Bell Laboratories, and wrote Lisp Lore: A Guide to Programming the Lisp Machine. He has recently published in Educational Theory, Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, and Thought & Action: The NEA Higher Education Journal. With David S. Shutkin, he co- edited a September 1998 special issue of Educational Policy on "Social Power, Science and Technology, and Education." (Feel free to contact me at hbromley@acsu.buffalo.edu.)

Michael W. Apple is John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has written extensively on the relationship between education and power. Among his many books are Ideology and Curriculum, Education and Power, Teachers and Texts, Official Knowledge, Democratic Schools, and Cultural Politics and Education.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The overall structure of this book moves from conceptual discussions of how we think and speak about educational computing, through studies of specific classroom practices, to analysis of efforts to realize the democratic possibilities of the technology. The contributors all share a concern with how technological practices align with or subvert existing forms of dominance, but otherwise represent a broad range of perspectives. The collection deliberately encompasses a multiplicity of views, with contributors adopting disparate stances on such questions as the degree to which computing technology is inherently tainted by its institutional origins, the most promising locales and strategies for interrupting the status quo, and the utility of postmodern forms of social analysis. What follows is a brief summary of the book's contents.

PART I addresses the ways we think and speak about computing: who is positioned as authorized to speak, what kinds of language are available for them to use, what social interests does that language reflect, how does it regulate what possibilities we can envisage, and what alternative forms of language might we develop? Zoe Sofia's chapter analyzes the discourse of computing culture, showing how particular definitions of rationality privilege masculine modes of interaction with the technology. Her discussion provides a valuable counterpart to my own introduction, in that it identifies many of the same themes in prevalent understandings of computers (technological determinism, the military origins of the technology, the persistence of "command-and-control" presumptions, the conflation of information with power), but approaches those themes from a psychoanalytic and semiotic perspective, unearthing the "irrational" and "erotic" dimensions of computing culture.

In his chapter, Anthony Scott uses an expansive notion of aesthetics, incorporating all aspects of the embodied experience of interacting with the technology, as a vehicle for exploring the social and cultural facets of computer-based education. He too, through yet another route, finds the military heritage of the technology and the accompanying command-and-control mindset a continuing influence on contemporary practice.

Mary Bryson and Suzanne de Castell focus on the discourse of educational researchers, comparing three different narrative strategies - modernist, critical, and postmodern - to be found in the tales researchers tell about educational computing. Each kind of tale (some more than others) functions so as to regulate the meaning we make of computing practices, thereby sustaining continued inequitable relations to educational technologies.

Matthew Weinstein's chapter analyzes advertising for PCs and software and traces how the representations (both textual and visual) of women and of men in these advertisements support the construction of particular gendered identities. As Weinstein notes, actual gender practices are complex performances in no way confined to stereotyped media images, yet those representations do nonetheless provide the background in relation to which actual practices unfold.

PART II concentrates on specific classroom settings, addressing issues similar to those discussed in Part I, but doing so via exploration of how those issues arise in given locations.

In their chapter, Brad Huber and Janet Schofield extend U.S.-based research on gender-linked differences in how students experience educational computing to an international setting. They examine the ways boys and girls think about and use computers at a primary school in Costa Rica, viewed in relation to a social context that involves pervasive gender stereotyping.

Michael Apple and Susan Jungck also highlight the role of the surrounding social conditions in shaping the ways computers end up being employed in a given setting. The everyday realities of working life in schools favor some uses of computers while inhibiting others, and the teachers included in this study felt impelled by their circumstances to utilize a routinized and stifling computer-based curriculum unit, in spite of their own professional judgment.

PART III, the final section of the book, turns to analysis of attempts to realize the constructive potential of the technology. Although we have tried to document a variety of factors that can favor the reinforcement of inequitable social relations when computers are in use, there is nothing inevitable about that outcome. Indeed, the best reason to outline such factors is precisely to help ensure that they may be foreseen and counteracted. The chapters in this section report on efforts to do just that.

Peter Kahn and Batya Friedman begin with a philosophical treatment of the concepts of control and power, and from that perspective offer a survey of ways to use computers in classrooms to foster greater ethical awareness, emphasizing the importance of attributing agency to people rather than machines.

Brigid Starkey's chapter discusses a well-developed and widely used curriculum that appears to have been highly beneficial. "Project ICONS" depends quite heavily on the long-distance, inexpensive, and rapid communication made possible by email, but - very significantly - the value of the curriculum does not derive from the technology itself. The computers serve as a vehicle for a curricular philosophy and an involved set of classroom (and building-wide) practices that promote international understanding, and a collaborative, cross-disciplinary, self-organized form of learning.

Antonia Stone is the founder of Playing to Win, a non-profit organization which has been operating neighborhood technology learning centers in low- income urban areas since 1983. In her chapter, she reviews the features of their program which have rendered it accessible and useful, and identifies the changes in the larger political scene that would be needed for Playing to Win's successes to be replicated on a larger scale.

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