AECT Handbook of Research

Table of Contents

9. Critical Theory and Educational Technology

9.1 Introduction
9.2 Foundations of Critical Theory
9.3 Habermas's Epistemology
9.4 Critical Theory and Technolgy
9.5 Critical Theory and Education
9.6 Critical Theory of Educational Technology
9.7 Topics in Critical Theory of Educational Technology
9.8 Problems with Critical Theories of Education
9.9 Problems with Critical Theories of Educational Technology
9.10 Summary
9.11 Being Critical Educational Technologists
9.12 Why Appropriate Critical Theory?
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The balance of this chapter addresses critical theories as they relate to educational technology. The first relationships come from theorists previously mentioned in this chapter. Primarily though, the work of critical theorists more formally and closely tied to professional educational technology groups is surveyed.

Several of the critical theorists noted earlier assess the relationships of various sorts of technology to schooling and learning. They are interested not only in the obvious hardware and software of educational technology but also in technology as technique, bureaucracy, rationalization of the lifeworld, and so forth. For instance, remember that Habermas (1981/1987, p. 147) says that rationalization has created education systems that rely less on the normative mandates of the church or the family. He and other critical theorists think education systems have inhibited learners from reaching levels of maturity that foster communicative, democratic, or responsible learning (Young, 1990, p. 23). McLaren (1994a), in Life in Schools, addresses the topic of "Technologizing Learning" when he concludes that in listening to experts who would have us reduce students to computer printouts by encouraging them to develop mechanistic cognitive styles, we perpetuate social inequality. In such circumstances "What we are left with is an emphasis on practical and technical forms of knowledge as opposed to ... transformative knowledge" (p. 220).

Giroux (198 1) uses Habermas's ideas of human interests to speak about technocratic rationalism, arguing that

schools and teaching are governed by "the technical imperatives of rational engineering" (p. 10). Giroux (1988b) critiques the following assumptions of technical model of curriculum:

(a) Theory in the curriculum field should operate in the interests of lawlike propositions that are empirically testable. (b) The natural sciences provide the "proper" model of explanation for the concepts and techniques of curriculum theory, design, and evaluation. (c) Knowledge should be objective and capable of being investigated and described in neutral fashion. (d) Statements of value are to be separated from "facts" and "modes of inquiry" that can and ought to be objective (p. 13).

This emphasis on objective, lawlike, valueless knowledge encourages people to ignore important aspects of schooling. Giroux (1981) says that "both intentionality and questions regarding the ethical and political nature of schools have been either ignored or dealt with reductively" (p. 10). As McLaren (1994a) puts it, "Teachers often emphasize classroom management procedures, efficiency, and 'how-to-do' techniques that ultimately ignore an important question: 'Why is knowledge being taught in the first place?"' (p. 177).

To resist these problems, Giroux (1986) advocates democratic practices, critical citizenship, and intellectual teachers. McLaren (1994a) says: "As teachers we need to collectively demythologize the infallibility of educational programmers and so-called experts, who often do nothing more than zealously impose their epistemological assumptions on unassuming teachers" (p. 219).

Feminists, too, are aware of educational technology and its effects. For example, Luke and Gore (1992) say that feminists are against "the technology of control" such as that found in many current liberal progressive discourses. Remember that Wajcman (1991) studies the differential effects of technology on men and women in society and suggests that technology may even foster feminist action and scholarship. A bit later in this chapter, Damarin (I 990a) shows how, among other things, educational technology usurps classroom control and is biased against women teachers and students.

Note that, like other critical theorists, critical theorists concerned with educational technology are not always solely negative in their relations to technology (see 10.5.6). Just as Marcuse and Habermas believe that media can be used to enlighten and emancipate (even if often they are not used in these ways), and just as Giroux urges a hopeful "language of possibility," educational technology critical theorists can be positive. For instance, Ellsworth (1990) uses a form of critical pedagogy "that sees a special potential role for media in facilitating liberatory education" (p. 11).

Positive attitudes aside, few people attend to critical theory and its relations to educational technology. Such paucity is indicated by the fact that Saettler's (1990) history of educational technology does not reference any forms of critical theory. However, "Chapter 3--The Sources of Influence on Instructional Technology," in Instructional Technology: Definition and Domains of the Field (Seels & Ritchey, 1994), includes at least a passing reference to postmodernist, feminist, and constructivist "Alternative Perspectives," as they are called by Ritchey and Seels (1994, p. 12). Nonetheless, some researchers are examining educational technology and critical theory, as we see in the next section.

Updated August 3, 2001
Copyright © 2001
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