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The Question Concerning Educational Technology

Dr Nesta Devine, University of Waikato, Hamilton

Presented to the University of Sydney/University of Waikato Research symposium, December 2002


It is generally accepted that educational technology, especially ICT, is a productive and positive tool (or set of tools) for bringing education to people to whom it would not normally be available for reasons of distance or mobility, or that it provides methods of making educative material more available in the sense of being easier to comprehend or analyse. In both these cases terms like ‘tool’ or ‘method’ suggest a neutral, non-emotive, non-political way of thinking about technology. I use Heidegger’s Question concerning Technology to interrogate this perception. He makes a distinction between technology as a ‘means to an end’, and technology as a ‘human activity’. The first I interpret as representing a form or idea of technology which is not in itself political: it is the ‘end’ which is political, the means is not. Technology as a ‘human activity’ is a positioning of technology as political. If technology (and science) is seen as apolitical, this has certain political advantages, both to government and to educators, with regard to educational technology. But I argue that it is impossible to separate technology from political decision making, it is just that, with time, technological decisions become naturalized and are no longer seen as contentious. Moreover, technology, as a form of science made practical, carries with it the politics of science, which Donna Haraway argues to be profoundly political, in its inclusion and exclusion of certain kinds of people.

The move to conceptualize questions which are political as technical effectively removes them from the theatre of political debate. Thus the privileges of science and technology are obtained for activities which cannot b divorced from questions of power, that is to say, from political questions.

But there is no uncontaminated political or technological position, since every change or lack of change embodies a certain set of power positions, so that the assumption, prevalent in government and educational circles, that educational technology is an apolitical, merely instrumental process, is called into question – the question being, the Question Concerning Technology.

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