Cool tools for schools?

In numerous posts, I’ve expressed a concern that “EdTech” reduces children’s freedom. I believe educators have a social responsibility to recognise this danger and take action to avoid it. The current marketplace is unsurprisingly built on consumer platforms, not educational theory.

Educational theory is not the exclusive domain for examining technology in the classroom, nor is it more correct. One obvious reason for this is the ongoing gendering of technological subjects themselves, despite education being painfully aware of the problem and causes. Try as we might, Piagian theories of childhood development (based on chronology, gender, class and ethnicity) fails to account of pre-teen media and marketing. Our experiences as consumers (teachers, parents, children) do not allow us to make choices the context of a ‘free’ market. This problem is compounded by narrow ideologies and approaches to school governance.

I also have have concerns about the use of the neovernacular term “PLN” (Personal Learning Network) to describe digitally mediated peer-network cultures, knowledge networks and so on. From what I have read on ‘popular’ academic blogs and seen in presentations, the PLN includes little discussion and makes no account for the symbolic group membership and display rituals. These are two key aspects of the marketplace and thereby influence cultural meanings and consumer actions. The very fact teachers feel a need to have (and talk about) a “PLN” is representative of consumer need to make social arrangements around both symbolic and material resources. The PLN is used as consumer-segregation and therefore better understood using consumer culture theory than educational theory. The PLN is a thematically used to separate the “cool” from the “uncool”, the enlightened from the ignorant masses. Not everyone can “have” a PLN, and membership is embedded in manifested products.

I argue that children’s freedoms are not simply being frozen by teachers who do not readily adopt technology (where it is available), but made worse though the symbolic neovernacular representations by sub-cultures which actively erode the potential of social responsibility and equity. Reading the messages teachers post on social-media, there is an observable gap between the symbolic and material resources of private and public education. If you like, “social media”, most notably Twitter, has become a site for erosion and any criticism is a taboo. The very idea that teachers and technology could be eroding children’s freedoms and limiting their media education is preposterous.

The Internet is a place where children actively construct narratives of gender, identity, class — and in turn how they discover themselves. The way in which this is orchestrated, the separatist nature of discussions (by domain, subject, technology, geography etc.,) is the evidence of the consumer culture dominating the actions of participants. Through this arrangement, I argue that commercial conflicts (Teachers who push/force/advocate for brands such as Google, Apple etc) clash with “citizenship”. Furthermore the use of online “sites” such as “Cool Tool for Teachers” is symbolic of the intentional separation of “winners” and “losers” by separating the “cool” from the “un-cool” using highly commercial social arrangements.

I realise this view won’t be popular, however as I said at the beginning, there are many ways to examine the impact of educational technology on society. I would like to point at rich data extracted from the billions of hours applied to “EdTech” as beneficial to learning. I can see sales figures, I can see teachers fighting each other to become branded elites, but I don’t see much in the way of researched benefits. To be taken seriously “EdTech” must produce reasonable evidence about how children use media in the school age years and outside of the context of their messy everyday lives — and to justify why this set of popular ‘cool tools’ and social arrangements (PLN etc)are not simply a result of commonly understood consumer marketing methods.


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