Monday, 23 September 2013

Futurology is really 'presentology'


The Bigum Chapter looks at the issue of computers in schools using ANT. It also has some insight into futurology, and predictions about technology.

Bigum, C. (2012). Edges, Exponentials and Education: Disenthralling the Digital. In L. Rowan & C. Bigum (Eds.), Transformative Approaches to New Technologies and Student Diversity in Futures Oriented Classrooms: Future Proofing Education. London: Springer

The idea behind ANT is that everything is treated as a continuously generated effect of the webs of relations in which they are located. Nothing has reality or form outside of the enactment of those relations.

So the use of computers in schools is based upon the network built up over time of computers/software/teachers etc, and their practices. John Law describes this as resulting from a ‘hinterland’, which comprises the persistent patterns of relations performed – the routine realities and the statements about those realities.

For computers to be ‘real’ in schools they need to draw upon an appropriate hinterland. This means fitting in with the patterns of school practices – classrooms, timetables, curricula etc. So the impact of past ways of doing things influences the way we image what can be done. In other words thinking about the future is really thinking about the present – using our present narratives, and the ‘hinterland’ we inhabit or draw upon to make predictions about what could or should happen in the future. We need to look to an alternative hinterland to make alternative futures.

The problem with trying to look to an alternative hinterland, or to predict a future dominant discourse is that it's very difficult, if not impossible, to do. Most futurology uses contemporary dominant discourses, so it is really describing an alternative present rather than a future. In the same way that science fiction isn't really about the future - it's about contemporary morals, politics, and economics transposed onto an alternative world where ideas can be extrapolated and developed as 'what if...' scenarios. Because futurologists are using contemporary discourses, rather than predicting what discourses might exist, then it is very easy to say things like 'in the future all exams will be marked by computers'. 

If the dominant narrative is of commodification, competition, efficiencies etc – i.e. the narrative of neoliberalism, then that is how new technology will be embedded in the school/university.

photo credit: MikeLawton via photopin cc

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Summary of Facer and Sandford paper

Summary of The Next 25 Years: Future scenarios and Future Directions for Education and Technology

MSc Reading Notes

Facer, K., & Sandford, R. (2010). The next 25 years?: future scenarios and future directions for education and technology. Journal of computer assisted learning26(1), 74-93.

And...back to neoliberalism again

What comes out strongly from the Facer and Sandford paper is that the future is always contestable. History should be seen as a series of discourses, not simply a chain of events, driven by great men, or influenced by circumstance. The dominant discourse is that which is promoted and supported by the political and economic elite at that particular time. The ‘future’ is their version of the future, just as the past and present is their version of the past and present. The past, and present are contested, therefore so should the future. Decisions about the future are always political. It is a powerful political tool to be empowered to make decisions about the future, rather than to be railroaded down a particular track.

The current discourse is that we are propelled toward an inevitable ‘flat world’ where all human and natural resources are freely available to capital and where national boundaries are meaningless. Technology plays its part in this neoliberal discourse as it has provided the flat playing field for entrepreneurs. It is a discourse which sees capital as having triumphed over its enemies. It is difficult to see how this is not the case. The institutional and political power of the neoliberal project is ubiquitous and omnipresent. It controls almost all sections of the media, government departments, and the intelligence agencies. The language of life, education, , whatever, is the language of neoliberalism.

This future is one where people are wage slaves for capital in the knowledge economy, where we are all commodities, where human interaction is seen in terms of a series of transactions. However, there is always some hope that it can be different, and technology needs to play its part in that - it can free people from the demands of capital, and can put human agency back at the centre. There needs to be a move towards a future that is desirable and ethical, and which puts educators, and community and learners at the centre.

We can recognise the type of technological determinism that drives the prevalent discourse. We can also recognise that it ignores the complex relationships between technological development and social change. Human agency always plays a part in the development of technology, and we need to be able to look at the affordances of technology and consider how they can be appropriated or resisted. It is not the technology itself that drives change, but scientific and technological development provides resources for social change - this needs to be appropriated for ethical and desirable purposes, not for the military-industrial machine. It is up to us how those resources are used. The question then is what education should look like, if we reject the inevitable journey to the flat world future?

In the longer term

The information landscape gets deeper and denser - we know more about more stuff thanks to increasing storage capacity, and the ability to tag almost anything. The inevitable uses for this capacity, within the neoliberal discourse, is managerialism - measurement, testing, auditing, surveillance and discipline.

The future is also a networked and dispersed  future. We will exist in the space of flows, where distance will not matter, and where technological developments will make the sense of presence in digital spaces much stronger. However, geography and place will still matter for identity. The result of this is that there will be a breakdown of the boundaries between institutions.

The other issue is the breakdown of the knowledge economy. As work becomes outsourced - including traditional middle class jobs such as administration, legal work etc, then there will be fewer people employed in good well paid work. There will be a polarisation between the elite R&D workers and the low paid drones working to patterns and strict structures, and those in caring professions.

The worry is that education will simply become a means to prepare people for work in that type of society. A more desirable outcome is that it becomes a preparation for supporting informal economies, caring and community commitment.

There will also be a move away from the enlightenment view of the development of the individual in solitary spaces of reflection. The ability to connect to other people and to resources will always be there. What will become important is the participation in networks. The learning landscape will become more diverse and possibly fragmented - across those different institutions, and there will be a need to develop ways to measure achievement across those different spaces, and to recognise it and reward it. Portfolios of learning and learning achievement that follow people around throughout their lives. It will be important in this situation to have mentors to enable people to make choices about their learning, their work and their lives.

What do educational technologists and researchers need to do?

  • Design a curriculum for networked learning.
  • Develop a portfolio system of learning records that can be carried across different institutions. Develop networked relationships across those diverse institutions.
  • Develop the mentors mentioned above. This may help to tackle the social inequalities that will be latent in the diversification of education across multiple providers.
  • Build public forums to discuss technological change. It will allow technologists, educators, policy makers, learners etc a place to discuss whether to appropriate or reject technological changes. It will be a space where the future can be contested and different futures discussed.

We need to think about how education can progress outside of traditional learning places. There is also a need to to explore how people navigate these different spaces and operate across them.

There is generally a need to ask what it means to be human in the light of technological changes, and to explore the implications for social justice.

There is also the discussion of ethics across disciplines. There is too much emphasis on the ethical issues surrounding biotechnology, and ubiquitous computing, prosthetics, human-machine interaction, but not enough on the use of technology to gather data, testing, surveillance and all of that managerialist use of technology. Nor is there much of a discussion about the environmental impact of technology. It is perhaps more important to discuss the ethics of such managerialist uses of technology because it is more insidious and less obvious. It is these structures that underpin and help to drive the nature of education. Education comes to fit the needs of managers and their bean counting, and is a means to produce the wage slaves and knowledge workers of the future, rather than rounded human beings capable of making and having choices.

photo credit: The PIX-JOCKEY (no comments, no groups!) via photopin cc