H800: Imagined negative futures of technology in education


Image: Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week’s reading on H800 has been about the negative aspects of using technology in education. It’s been quite refreshing, if a little contrived, as some of the reading was from about a decade ago and technology has moved on. While the focus was primarily in the university sector, it’s interesting to look at some of the predictions made over 10 years ago and reflect on what has happened. Of course predicting anything technology-wise more than a couple of years down the line is a bit foolhardy (Myspace anyone?)

We were asked to look at issues of technology adaptation in universities with focus on negative consequences with reference to three sources:

1) Wesch video (the one with miserable students holding up signs)
2) Diploma mills (commercialization and commoditization of education against plucky faculty and students)
3) Students frustrations with a distance learning/online-only course (but only 6 students on the course with 4 actually surveyed and what looks like a dodgy tutor and technical issues)

The readings revealed frustrated students and a stressed university sector exacerbated by untrained teachers, technical failings and the commercial impetus overiding educational aims. In reality, I presume that there are good, bad and indifferent examples of technology implementation but a more logitudal and broad survey of evidence needs to be pursued. 

A summary of the problems associated with implementation of technologies seem to be:

1. Lack of time and resources for teachers and tutors to use and influence technology-based learning. Underestimation of time and cost it takes to develop modules for online learning.
2. Lack of skills and training for developing pedagogically sound learning using technology and lack of skills on part of students.
3. Institutional pressures, power struggles, apathy and resistance or making decisions ad hoc.
4. People trying to make a quick buck: selling VLEs and equipment.
5. Lack of government regulation especially on quality, funding, student loans.
6. Credibility of institutions under threat eg LSE due to involvement of private sector, buying decisions, types of degrees awarded.
7. Less contact time, more drop-outs, lack of transformative university experience. Poorer experience for many students.
8. Uneven access to technology, especially in developing countries.

It does seem however that there are some trends and certainties that mark out technology adoption which we need to bear in mind and probably not try and deny or fight against:

1. Technology implementation is already far advanced so unlikely we will be able to stop it, even if we wanted to.
2. Social media take-up increasing generally therefore more familiarity with technology as ubiquitous tool especially mobiles.
3. University funding under pressure and increasing privatisation of HE sector. Less money, more students.

In the light of this, here is my list of (foolhardy) predictions for the future based on the above and on readings:

1. Technology enables and will continue to enable access, flexibility and Social Media collaboration, community, choice and empowerment. Technology implementation will be good and bad across the sector depending on how the problems mentioned above are dealt with.
2. Commercial imperitives will mean students can vote with their mouse. Some institutions will fail.
3. Blended learning might reduce costs due to economies of scale and increased flexibility. Blended learning will become the norm. Fully campus-based instruction will be rare.
4. Involvement of private sector and business will increase.

Of course, what happens in developed and developing countries will vary. In a South African context, technology especially through the mobile phones is driving access but the education sector is still to catch up. The potential for disconnect and missed opportunities is high, as well as the danger of outside intervention from commercial interests seeing Africa as a huge untapped ‘educational market’.



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