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?
Search this Handbook for:



The following sections of the chapter categorize and describe existing works about critical theory and educational technology, based on the topics from the first part of this chapter and on topics that emerge from this work itself. Many works cannot be categorized neatly because they speak to *several issues; in such cases, works are categorized based primarily on "best fit" as judged by the authors of this chapter. The works cluster around the following issues:

  • Foundational issues
  • Societal relations
  • Communication and media education
  • Ethics
  • Action research
  • Ecology

9.7.1 Foundational Issues

This section addresses foundational issues related to critical theory and educational technology, including issues of philosophy, language, instructional design and development, computers, and visuals. Philosophic Views. In "Philosophical Foundations of Instructional Technology," Koetting (1983a) has written one of the first works to explicitly relate critical theory to various manifestations of educational technology (see also 3.8.1). He focuses on epistemological questions in order to explicate their centrality in instructional technology and to suggest alternative theoretical understandings, practices, and modes of inquiry. This is accomplished, partly, by examining Habermas's three forms of science: the empirical-analytic, the historical-hermeneutic, and the critical. (See the schematic on Habermas's epistemology, noted earlier in this chapter.) Each has a primary interest in, respectively, technical control, mutual understanding in life, and emancipation. Each form of knowledge differs in its strategies and cognitive interests, which are deep anthropological interests human beings have in their self-formed historical contexts (McCarthy, 1978, p. 59).

Koetting (1983a) points out that "Educational technology ... has its theoretical base within the framework of a scientific, behaviorally based model of rationality" (p. 8). Our uses of instructional design rely exclusively on an empirical, scientific model that is interested in control and that does not allow for any deviation from predetermined outcomes. This view is reductionist and simplistic and poses severe limits on knowledge and its formation. Koetting suggests that "we need to explore alternative ways of organizing curricula that acknowledge that students are capable of having views of the world" (p. 12). Thus, notions of epistemological ambiguity and diverse forms of communicating, learning, and conceiving of the world must be admitted to the field.

In a similar paper, Koetting (1983b) again refers to Habermas's knowledge types and suggests that the field of educational technology is rooted in a solely empirical view of knowledge. He says that expanding the field's theory base toward critical sciences would put us more in the mainstream of educational thought; help us examine more fully the languages of film, video, photography, and other media; and allow for more diverse and epistemologically appropriate educational outcomes, organizations, and research methods.

In Paradigms Regained: The Uses of Illuminative, Semiotic, and Post-modern Criticism as Modes of Inquiry in Educational Technology, Hlynka and Belland (1991a) note their association with the work of Habermas, saying the critical domain forms the basis of their book of readings (p. 7). Hlynka and Belland use critical to include connoisseurship, reconceptualism, semiotics, postmodernism, and poststructuralism.

In one chapter of Paradigms Regained, Murphy and Pardeck (1991) argue that educational technology advances a world view that denies the lifeworld and has adverse educational and social implications. The technological view fragments learning, is void of dynamism, and is monologic. Further, the technological view stifles communication, is more purely instrumental, and fosters lack of insight, imagination, and creativity. And it marginalizes morality. In contrast, education should return 'persons to a world of questions and

the world of direct experience, and existential claim, which is the only type of world individuals can call their own. The world that educators must resurrect . . . is the "lived-world," the pre-objective world that is sustained by human praxis (p. 394).

In a speculative essay in Hlynka and Belland's (1991a) text, Nichols (1991) looks at Haberinas's communication theory. After criticizing educational technologists' conceptions of knowledge, postpositivist philosophy, and disregard for the metaphysical, Nichols offers Habermas's theory of communicative action as a way of addressing these criticisms. Nichols concludes that educational technology is a system of purposive-rational action, that some educational technologists conceive of knowledge too narrowly, and that educational technologists generally do not operate consensually. Elsewhere, Nichols (1993) draws direct and not very positive links between educational technology and its apparent ideology. He says a technical and practical ideology dominates over a democratic-communicative ideology. That is, students and teachers are not responsible for knowledge and education but for fulfilling the desires of others, especially the desires to have power and make money. We must critically study this dominance and actions against it because such study can potentially encourage greater fulfillment of human communication, and freedom of communication is moral.

A work of note in a postmodern vein is "Postmodern Educational Technology" (Hlynka & Yeaman, 1992), in which the authors point out that the postmodern condition means questioning all dimensions of scientific approaches to technology use, recognizing there is no one best way to apply technology, and acknowledging that a postmodern approach can make a positive difference to the field of educational technology. Language. In several works, researchers examine fundamental issues of language and their relationships to educational technology.

For example, Koetting and Januszewski (1991a, 1991b) argue that the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, in particular, focuses narrowly on empirical analytic science. They suggest, on the other hand, that new dialogue, new conceptions, and new languages of educational technology can emerge and affect praxis in the field. Nagel's sense of theory as a systematic analysis of a set of related concepts is helpful for these new aspects of the field, because this theory is both a conceptual analysis of words and normative statements of their uses.

The relations among language, critical theory, and educational technology are uncovered also in Winograd and Flores's (1986) Understanding Computers and Cognition, in which they "have shown how the projection of human capacities [like language] onto computational devices was misleading" (p. 174).

In Hypertext. The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology, Landow (1992) draws substantial parallels between postmodernism and hypertext. He claims that hypertext, like critical theory, encourages multilinearity and webbing, the blurring of distinctions between reader and writer, multivocality, intertextuality, and decentering. Multilinearity replaces

the essentially linear fixed methods that had produced the triumphs of capitalism and industrialism with what are essentially poetic machines--machines that work according to analogy and association, machines that capture the anarchic brilliance of human imagination" (p. 18).

Postmodern conditions such as webbing and multivocality show us: (1) the historical connectedness of writing technology; (2) changes in the meanings of literacy education, author and narrative; and (3) a democratized and liberated existence. Landow notes that the technology of writing, in whatever form, "is the greatest as well as the most destructive of all technologies" (p. 203), but mostly he is "excited" and looks forward to hypertext's appearance, particularly in that "it offers us a means of looking a short way into one or more possible futures" (p. 203). Instructional Design and Development. Some publications in the area of critical theory and instructional design are subject/content specific (e.g., Stallings & Krasavage, 1986), but the generalized arguments that follow are more typical.

Nunan (1983) was among the first to critically "counter educational design," as he puts it, but of the works cited in this section, Streibel's (1991) may be the best known. In "Instructional Design and Human Practice: What Can We Learn from Habermas' Theory of Technical and Practical Human Interests?," Streibel (1991) shows that

an instructional designer cannot rely on a technical approach to design. Rather, an instructional designer has to be guided by a practical human interest and support the instructional and learning processes that actually take place" (p. 8). Five implications follow for the designer: (1) Find ways to construct meaning in context. (2) Find ways to create resources that support meaning-making. (3) Give up designing teacher user-proof instruction. (4) Give up seeing everything in terms of skills; instead, see learning in terms of judgments, collective deliberation, and collective meaning making. (5) Participate directly in learning.

In Computers in Education: Social, Political, and Historical Perspectives (Muffoletto & Knupfer, 1993), we find the Streibel (1993b) piece called "Instructional Design and Human Practice: What Can We Learn from Grundy's Interpretation of Habermas' Theory of Technical and Practical Human Interests?" Streibel uses Grundy's work in curriculum studies to look at the effects of technical and practical interests on design and to recommend that designers leave some space for teachers and learners to construct their own senses of good instructional design.

Wilson (1989) examines the relationships of instructional design to ideological claims in education. He presents a heuristic that gives the relationship of instructional design to each of the claims according to: who designs learning, what is designed, the people for whom learning is designed, why learning is designed, and how designing should be done. He argues that the use of instructional design is ethically justified only if it meets the criteria most associated with the critical position. Computers. As in other areas, not all people who find deleterious effects of educational computing are, strictly speaking, associated with critical theory, but they examine cultural and emancipatory effects of educational computing, and so can be called critical theorists. Such a researcher is Sutton (1991), who finds that computer uses in schools in the 1980s

maintained and exaggerated existing inequalities in education input, processes of computer learning, and output. Poor, female, and minority students had less access to computers at home and, in addition, less access to computers at school. . . . Poor and minority students were more likely to use computers for drill and practice than were middle-class and white students, and females outnumbered males in word processing but were underrepresented in programming. Teachers, while concerned about equity, held attitudes which hindered access: They believed that better behaved students deserved computer time and that the primary benefit of computers for low-achieving students was mastery of basic skills.... Thus, children who were minority, poor, female, or low achieving were likely to be further behind after the introduction of computers in schools....These inequities were found in the U.S.A., Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand (p. 494).

On the other hand, a few thinkers (e.g., Apple & Jungck, 1990) have analyzed explicit connections between educational computing and critical theories. In "A Critical Analysis of the Use of Computers in Education," Streibel (1988) is one of the first professionals to conduct such an analysis. He explores the educational uses of computers for drill and-practice, tutorial, and simulation and programming. After alluding to Habermas's ideas about the social construction of knowledge, Streibel concludes that educational computing often embodies overly deterministic, behavioral, technological characteristics that limit personal responsibility for learning, mitigate against nonbehavioral goals of education, and leave the learner with "an underdeveloped intellectual agency within the qualitative, dialectical, and experiential domains of natural and social events" (Streibel, 1991).

In a later piece about "situated critical pedagogy," Streibel (1993b) addresses the role of emancipatory human interests, and he asks questions about praxis, situated critical pedagogy, interpretive processes, and emancipatory evaluation. To his earlier works, this one adds an interesting set of questions to educators about using computers in emancipatory ways: Do learners develop their own evaluative criteria in conjunction with fair educators? Is the discourse around computers comprehensible to learners? Are students participants in the construction of history and biography? Do evaluations result in appropriate individual and collective actions?

In "Culture, Power, and Educational Computing," Bromley (1992) analyzes the social, the artifactual, the historical, and the power relations of computers. He suggests that our computer uses tend toward individualism, the technical fix, domination of nature, efficiency, instructional systems thought, quantitative fixation, top-down thinking, positivism, and centralization. He shows how the social relations of progress, the military, and rationalization have contributed to these tendencies. He suggests that teachers be more responsible for computing and that a pedagogy that encourages student participation in decision making about computers will most help to make constructive uses of technologies. Bromley also explores the meanings of cybernetics in education.

As noted earlier, not every critical theorist concludes that technology is bound to be oppressive. The same holds for critical theorists in educational computing (e.g., Landow, 1992). Boyd (1987), for instance, uses critical theory to argue that computer conferencing may be a good technology for providing emancipative learning. Currently, students are emersed in schooling that is bureaucratic, domineering, and boring. Boyd suspects that computer-mediated conferences can be good, because everyone has an equal opportunity to have her or his arguments beard in such a conference. Though he thinks that education and computer-mediated conferences must aim for romance, precision, and generalization, Boyd believes that rational discourse of the kind that is possible via computers is most important if education is to be emancipative. Visuals. Several researchers have used critical theory to examine educational uses of visuals. Given that the International Visual Literacy Association and its Journal of Visual Literacy have begun to accept presentations and publications of a critical theory nature (e.g., Lewis, 1991), perhaps such examinations are a growing trend.

Moore and Dwyer's (1994) Visual Literacy: A Spectrum of Visual Learning is a compilation of much of the latest thinking and research about the relations of visuals to teaching and leaming, and several chapters in it are pertinent to critical theories. Two of the works, by DeVaney (1994a) and Nichols (1994), are discussed later in this chapter, but in "Representations: You, Me, and Them," Muffoletto (1994) argues that "The concerns of visual literacy go beyond questions of perceptions, production, and interpretation to questions of power and control over the formation of subjects" (p. 306) in the social world. He argues that the image is a social construction, and he wants the viewer to ask how social and taken-for-granted meanings accrue to that image. He also wants viewers to know how those who control images also control consciousness and who we think we are.

In a visually intriguing chapter called "Deconstruction and Visuals: Is This a Telephone?" Yeaman (1994a) shows readers how to resist dominant, and therefore oppressive, images. He uses visual examples, humor, and social analysis to examine conflicting senses and meanings in visuals and to show that images never mean what they say or say what they mean. In short, by deconstruction, Yeaman encourages readers to uncover the multiple meanings in visuals. His uncovering of the venerable Shannon and Weaver model of communication, for instance, takes us through layer after layer of meanings and, in doing so, helps us to see how the model is not "true."

9.7.2 Societal Relations

This section reviews works associated with critical approaches to understanding educational technologies and their societal relationships. Topics include social foundations, feminism, race, capitalism, and the military. Social Foundations. Michael Apple is among the best known of those who think critically about social relations of educational technologies, particularly in the realm of the political/ideological. We can see his thought played out in works such as Teachers and Texts: A Political Economy of Class and Gender Relations in Education (1986), "Teaching and Technology: The Hidden Effects of Computers on Teachers and Students" (1988), and Official Knowledge (1993).

Apple (1993) stresses that teachers often have problems as curricula and teaching methods become more rationalized and economized:

We tend to think of technology in education as something of a "better mousetrap." Given a process/product curriculum model that says that education is good if it gets us from point A to point B efficiently and cheaply, technology simply becomes one more means to get prechosen knowledge into the heads of students.... Films [and other technologies] are seen as better than dry text material or a lecture. Goals don't change. Only the means do. Film, in essence, becomes one more "delivery system" of official knowledge. The teacher sends; the student receives. "Banking" education goes on (p. 145).

Apple urges that one response to the conservative and technical agenda manifested in the banking metaphor is to help students be critical. He suggests that,

If we think of film not as a "delivery system"'of prechosen messages, but as a form of aesthetic, political, and personal production, our entire orientation changes. If we think of it as a way that people help produce their own critical forms of visual literacy, this too forces major shifts in our perspective on the official politics of knowledge as well (p. 145).

Similarly, Koetting (1993) urges educators to examine technology through the lenses of social foundations and curriculum theory. He shows that schooling acts largely to maintain the status quo--not to encourage deep reform-- by focusing on issues of economics, standardized tests, and the smooth functioning of society. He concludes that educational reform will not be substantive until we recognize that education is a political act; knowledge is socially constructed; and critical thinking is not simply cognitive but moral, social, and political.

In "Socio-cultural Methodology and Analysis of Historic and Current Instructional Materials" (Robinson, Wiegmann & Nichols, 1992), the authors attempt an unconventional approach to evaluating instructional materials, including video materials. They recommend asking a series of critical questions about who gains and who loses financially or politically or otherwise if a material is used.

Preston (1992), too, examines social perspectives in educational technology. After studying the social and ethical implications of educational computing in Queensland, Australia, he advocates a socially critical orientation for educational computing and technology, in which, for instance, teachers try to ensure that students are aware of social effects of computers; the computer is an empowering tool for students; benefits of computers are represented as a social good rather than solely an individual good; and questions of equity of access are addressed. Feminism. Although many feminists do not want to be included very directly with several of the critical theorists noted already, feminists are encouraging selfconsciousness and liberatory action that changes social and educational practices related to technology. In this way, at least, they are critical theorists.

Not a great amount altogether has been published in this area, but many topics are covered, ranging from various technological threats and promises for female teachers and students (Bohren, 1991); to media and sexism (Byerly, 1985); to the possibilities for critical theory in the field of educational technology (Jamison, 1994); to justice and caring (Kerr, 1990); to gender, languages, and computers (Rothschild, 1986); and to equity (Thurston, 1990). Other publications address issues of ethics and technological empowerment (Anderson, 1992, 1994) and action research and sex bias in media and materials (Clark, 1983).

Luke and Gore (1992) say that poststructuralist feminists "reject the self-certain subject, the truth of science and the fixity of language" (p. 5) and that "a poststructuralist feminist position takes issue with the technology of control" (p. 4). Rejection occurs "especially in liberal progressive discourses that make vocal claims to social justice on behalf of marginalized groups while denying their own technologies of power" (p. 7). So:

Within this [feminist] foundation there is greater specificity about our pedagogical goals than currently exists for what is still an abstract, generalized discourse of critical pedagogy... By locating our work in particular sites and with attention to specific practices, the possibilities for genuinely reshaping discursive and embodied relations in pedagogy seem within reach (p. 9).

One scholar for whom critical feminist pedagogy related to educational technologies is within reach is Suzanne Damarin (1988, 1991a, 1992a, 1992b). She is deeply analytical/critical of many forms and uses of educational technology (see also 10.4). In "Rethinking Equity: An Imperative for Educational Computing," Damarin (1989) discusses employment changes related to women in society, math anxiety, and computer anxiety; instructional and curriculum design; evaluation; and computer literacy as they relate to women's equity. In "Computers, Education, and Issues of Gender" (Damarin, 1990a) and in "Unthinking Educational Technology (Damarin, 1990)," she argues, among other things, that the theorizing of gender as available of consequence, valuing of women's experience as a scientific resource, and the positioning in the same plane as the researched can help us rethink educational technology. She also concludes that conventional research on the effectiveness of educational technology serves to take valuable control away from the teacher; students use technologies that are very sex biased; and women teachers and female students are denied access to much technology.

In "Rethinking Science and Mathematics Curriculum and Instruction: Feminist Perspectives in the Computer Era," Damarin (1991b) argues that computers can play a part in feminist reform of science and math curricula if feminism helps computers to move away from linear presentations of facts. Computers can open science and math to more women and more ideas. In "Women and Information Technology: Framing Some Issues for Education," Damarin (1992b) discusses views of the computer as superior human being, as cyborg, and as human-computer dyad, and she argues that these views have had less-than-positive effects on women and on at-risk and nonliterate students. Race. Though, as a topic of study generally, the relationships of education and race are being explored relatively well and often (e.g., Castenell & Pinar, 1993), very little has been written about issues of critical theories and race as they relate to educational technologies.

Exceptions include a work by Schwoch, White, Rilley, Scott, and Scott (1992) called "Drug Abuse, Race Relations, and the Prime Time News Program." The article analyzes a prime-time news report called The Koppel Report--D. C.lDivided City, in which urban black males are portrayed as the major perpetrators of illegal drug trade. Racism and a rich history of blacks overcoming overwhelming problems are never addressed in the report. White responsibilities for these problems are never addressed, and Koppel "wipes away the earlier accusations of genocide and race/class struggle, as well as the implication of government and social institutions in maintaining racial inequalities" (p. 77). In opposition to these problems, the authors see positive signs in alternatives such as a greater ethnic diversity in programming, greater numbers of camcorders with which people produce and understand programs, and a more active critical viewership.

In a study called "Photographic Images of Blacks in Sexuality Texts," Whatley (1993; see also Whatley, 1990) concludes that, though publishers may be trying to represent blacks more positively in textbook photographs, in some books there is a tendency to emphasize the black man to the exclusion of the black woman, and "The possibilities for the sexuality of the black man become polarized into the dangerous pimp, or the good, loving father, without allowing for the full range of sexual expression allowed to whites" (p. 102). Capitalism. As noted earlier, several critical theory studies examine the relations of capital to education generally (e.g., Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Liston; 1988; Feenberg,1991). However, very few works concern themselves to any extended degree with critical theory and the relations of capital to educational technology. Most give the topic scant treatment (e.g., DeVaney, 1994d; Nichols, 1993; Bromley, 1992).

If more literature did exist, it likely would have the tenor of Apple's (1993) work in Official Knowledge:

I must admit that when I am in Brazil, Thailand, and other countries doing educational and political work and participating with groups of people struggling to keep babies alive, to find enough food to eat, to even get a minimum of schooling for their children . . . I think that the relations that make up what we call capitalism are much more oppressive than other kinds of relations in many situations (p. 176).

In Teachers and Texts: A Political Economy of Class and Gender Relations, Apple (1986) has produced what may be the only book-length work to critically address educational technology and capitalism. In this empirical-critical work, Apple (1986) concludes that:

The new technology is here. It will not go away. Our task as educators is to make sure that when it enters the classroom it is there for politically, economically, and educationally wise reasons, not because powerful groups may be redefining our major educational goals in their own image (p. 174).

In another of the very few works on this topic, a piece called The Technical Fix: Education, Computers and Industry, Robins and Webster (1989) claim that the root problem facing education is "the technocratic imagination which has come to dominate and deform education" (p. 256). They suggest that "Above all, it is necessary to appreciate the future of education as a political and ethical matter" and that "This political emphasis is about overcoming the stance of acceptance, accommodation, and adaptation involved in the commodification of education" (p. 274). The Military. Except for relatively minor excursions into the topic (e.g., Bromley, 1992), as far as we can tell only Noble (1988, 1991) has written critically and at any length about the contradictions and social difficulties associated with the military's being responsible for so much of the technology found in education. In The Classroom Arsenal: Military Research, Information Technology, and Public Education, Noble (1991) talks about today's difficulties with public education and the potential for computer-based education (CBE) to fix those problems. He says:

while appearing to address these problems in public education, CBE research actually participates in an entirely different enterprise, one with marginal or antithetical import for education. This is the design and engineering of man-machine systems. CBE research is thus, at best, an expensive distraction from the concerns of education.

At worst, the potential impact of CBE on education insomuch as it reflects a continuation of the momentum accumulated throughout its historical development, leads only to further fragmentation, decontextualization, and depersonalization of education" (p. 189).

9.7.3 Critical Media Education

This section describes critical studies related to feminist media literacy, media and popular culture, television and video production, and postmodern media analysis. Feminist Media Literacy. Some feminist perspectives are showing up in the critical literature about educational media, including Whatley's (1991) "Raging Hormones and Powerful Cars: The Construction of Men's Sexuality in School Sex Education and Popular Adolescent Films," and Hooks's (1992) Black Looks: Race and Representation.

Ellsworth and Whatley's (1990) The Ideology of Images in Educational Media is representative of works in this area. It is a unique collection of works that explore:

strategic understandings that ideological analyses make possible. It is intended to contribute to the strategies for interpretation available to educators as they define for themselves what is important to understand about mainstream educational media and what they must do with them in their particular contexts of struggle (p. 8).

In the first chapter of this text, Ellsworth (1990) points out that many educational films use conventions and viewing experiences that work against critical pedagogy, and that "media producers must stop creating images and narratives that invite viewers exclusively into physical, social, and ideological positions" where white patriarchal experts appear to know topics indisputably (p. 25). Media Analysis and Popular Culture. Several authors (Giroux & Simon, 1992; McLaren, Hammer, Shale& Reilly, 1995 ) have written critical examinations about media in general, the popular culture in which media occur, and education. In one such commentary, Giroux, Simon et al. (1989) study various forms of popular culture such as music and television to argue for a critical literacy that influences school curricula in terms of broadly democratic plurality. And the publication Strategies has been working toward media literacy for a long time, often from an overtly critical theory perspective (see, for example, "Schooling for Citizenship," 1992).

The kind of arguments found in Media Knowledge: Readings in Popular Culture, Pedagogy, and Critical Citizenship (Schwoch, White & Reilly, 1992) indicate how authors in this area want us to use critical perspectives to analyze film, television programs, advertising, and other forms of cultural representation. They say:

A critical pedagogy of representation must establish the relativity of all forms of representations by situating them in historical and social constructions that both inform their content and structure their ideological parameters. Second, a pedagogy of representation must bring to light the strategies that are used to structure how texts are read, used, and received within particular contexts and practices. At stake here is understanding not only how power is inscribed in a pedagogy of representation but also how such a pedagogy can be used to disrupt the ideological, cultural, and political systems that both inscribe and contain them. This suggests that the practice of reading ideologies be connected to the production of political strategies informed by transformative ideologies. Third, a critical pedagogy of representation must be able to articulate between representations that operate in particular educational sites and representations that operate in other cultural sites around similar forms of address and relevancies. Fourth, a critical pedagogy of representation must take up as a form of ethical address which grounds the relationship between the self and others in practices that promote care and solidarity rather than oppression and human suffering. In this case, a pedagogy of representation cannot be disarticulated from the responsibility of both politics and ethics (p. xxix).

Ellsworth (1989b), in "Educational Media, Ideology, and the Presentation of Knowledge Through Popular Cultural Forms," notes that students and others construct intersections between popular cultural forms and education when educational media incorporate popular cultural forms for teaching. In this way, educational media make legitimate school knowledge by associating it with positive connotations about leisure, entertainment, pleasure, and so on. To resist this legitimizing, she argues for a "transformative media education" that helps students to understand media mechanisms and to develop skills aimed at social change.

A few authors also use critical approaches in the international arena (Trend, 1994) and in visual language (Goodman, 1992). Television and Video Production. Critical theorists in education also address television in any of its several guises. Some researchers examine resistance to patriarchy in commercial television (Lee, 1991). Becker (1986) explores the grammar of television. Authors in DeVaney's (1994b) Watching Channel One: The Convergence of Students, Technology, and Private Business employ a variety of techniques for understanding the ethical, political, economic, social, and cognitive--as well as educational--dimensions of Channel One, which has been seen by millions of teens. DeVaney's (1994c, 1994d, respectively) "Introduction" and "Reading the Ads: Bacchanalian Adolescence" are examples of postmodern approaches to understanding Channel One. In the latter chapter, DeVaney concludes that:

It is clear that the producers [of Channel One] borrowed production conventions or codes from two sources, namely, MTV and postmodern TV ads. However, parts of each of these TV formats are Rabelaisian in content and structure, because they build their messages upon the material base of the body, they both juxtapose unusual images with the fragmented body parts, and they valorize eating, drinking, and sexual activities. However, TV ads cannot completely abandon a structure that will appeal to those consumer-viewers accustomed to reading coherent modem text. So, the grotesque is eliminated and kept at bay, as it were, for the ultimate purpose of product sales" (p. 148).

Some writers advocate using media/video production to help people understand TV. For instance, Denski (1991) relates classroom experiences of trying to move theory into practice in order to break down various oppressive dichotomies--such as teacher/student--and foster empowerment, resistance, invention, and hope. Elsewhere, Higgins (1991) shows how video production is essentially a political act, how the structure of video is ideological and value laden, and how critical approaches may help students be conscious of these values and seek alternatives to them. Postmodern Media Analysis. Kellner (1991) uses a postmodern approach to analyze media, and he wants to develop a critical media literacy so that people can "survive the onslaught of media images, messages, and spectacles which are inundating our culture" (p. 63). This requires that the distinction between "high" and "low" cultures be obliterated and that skills associated with deconstruction and reading of culture be learned. Adbusters (Vancouver, British Columbia) magazine is one place where these skills are put to use toward understanding advertising.

9.7.4 Ethics

Only a few writers (e.g., Anderson, 1992, 1994) address the relations of critical theories to educational technology and ethical or moral issues. DeVaney (1994a) does so in "Ethical Considerations of Visuals in the Classroom:

African-Americans and Hollywood Film." This work analyzes nonstereotypic images of African-American males so that those producing and using images in classrooms can show that the presence of blacks is rightfully constitutive of American life. Nichols (1994a), in "Considering Morals and Visuals (Beyond School)," lends a little attention to a postmodern view of images and ethics by noting that several postmodernist thinkers "are looking at the moral implications of mass media, including films and television. They are asking who is justified and empowered and who is delegitimized and 'othered' by mass media" (p. 375).

In "Critical Theory, Educational Technology, and Ethics: Helping Teachers Respond Meaningfully to Technology," Nichols (1993) concludes that educational technologies are ethically suspect, and in "Searching for Moral Guidance About Educational Technology," Nichols (1994b) suggests that educational technology is deleterious to education and the environment. Because educational technologists willfully neglect issues of educational inequality and ecology, because we inhibit democratic involvement by those affected by technology, we are morally suspect. He suggests that Habermas's notion of consensual communication can, in part, help to bring a more morally balanced educational technology.

9.7.5 Action Research

in education generally, many action research projects have been carried out (Carr & Kemmis, 1986; McKeman, 1993; McCutcheon & Jung, 1990; Tripp, 1990). In the area of educational technology, some researchers (Berlin & White, 1992; Kember & Gow, 1992; Tanner, 1992; Watt & Watt, 1991) use action research but appear largely to neglect issues of truth, justice, and freedom about educational technologies. Legitimate knowledge in these works appears more often to come from those doing the research than from those being researched. Further, some authors (e.g., Nosek & Yaverbaum, 1991; Oakes et a]., 1985; Zeni, 1990) seem to support technologies uncritically; the research seems to have set out mostly to increase the infusion of technology and/or consumerism in education.

Other instances of action research appear to adhere to the characteristics noted earlier by Grundy and others. For instance, Morgan (1990) looks at distance education and concludes that qualitative evaluation has not much affected distance education, though it has the potential to do so. Harris (1986) proposes a shift from positivist to critical theoretical and hermeneutical epistemological foundations for research in library science. Calabrese and Acker (1987) argue for viewing the design of information systems from sociotechnical perspectives so that the systems might be practical. Leino (1991) describes a successful 5-year project in Finland where learning was to be more active and cooperative, learners were to be more self-responsible, school knowledge was to be integrated with students' social knowledge, and microcomputers were to be used effectively in this context.

9.7.6 Ecology

Few publications deal with critical theory as it applies to educational technology and ecological issues, though as this chapter is being written, the Professional Ethics Committee of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology is about to accept a new principle on this issue for its code of ethics. The principle encourages members to account for the ecological changes associated with their technology.

Elsewhere, Damarin (1990b) identifies links between educational technology and ecological damage. She elegantly fuses critical notions about domination and fragmentation with "ecology," and she suggests that:

Ecofeminist considerations invite us to consider whether educational technology perceives the reality of "all aspects of human leaming" as more like a freestanding machine than a living social organism, and to unthink this perception. How are educational technology practices of "analyzing problems and devising, implementing, evaluating, and managing solutions" rooted in more general notions of certainty, objectivity, and domination? How do these practices sanction the domination of both nature and women (and men)? (p. 4).

Nichols (1990) suggests several environmental and social catastrophes that will be exacerbated by educational technologies in that our uses of them support the

destructive Western belief that humans should or can control most of our existence via increasingly dominant rational and technical descriptions and manipulations.... Reports of the Earth's declining condition make us clearer each day about the predicaments and dangers science and technology ... have brought. In contrast, notions of a less rational-technical but balanced coexistence with the rest of the world, wherein our existence is dependent on leaving it free to influence us too, have slipped into a vague background knowledge for most Westerners.

More recently, Nichols (1994b) cites Bowers (1993) in order to say that:

The ecologically suspect beliefs to which Bowers refers include progress, individualism, and rationalism. Each of these beliefs is often associated positively with educational technologies ... [but] technology uses a lot of energy, most of it being carbon-based fuels that pollute. Also, just where does all the used plastic in computers go when it is discarded? (p. 42).

9.7.7 Related Works

Several individual pieces and collections of criticism of educational technology bear mentioning. These works are less directly related to versions of critical theory noted in previous sections of this chapter, but the authors hold to ideas such as emancipation, social justice, and ecological concern, and/or they exhibit the same critical attitudes about science, technology, and rationalization as found in works noted already.

Relatively early in the appearance of microcomputers in educational arenas, the Teachers College Record (Sloan, 1984) published a special issue raising critical questions about computers in education. Except for once in this issue (Simpson, 1984), critical theory is not mentioned; however, to the extent that the issue is one of the first times that scholars challenge the rationalization inherent in computing and force existing views of educational computing to their systematic and spurious conclusions, it is well worth citing. A special issue of The Journal of Thought (Robinson, 1990) is noteworthy, and the February 1994 edition of Educational Technology (Yeaman, 1994b) magazine is worth rementioning, because they make critical, broad, and penetrating analyses of educational technology, and they appear to be the only professional publication theme issues devoted to the study of the ethical and societal dimensions of educational technologies.

A similar uniqueness also can been seen in individual works by authors such as Hlynka (1989); Kerr (1989), Kreuger, Karger, and Barwick (1988); and Yeaman (1990). In "Resisting Technological Momentum," Taylor and Johnsen (1986) say that our lack of understanding of technology:

contributes to technological momentum and its pernicious effects. To overcome this condition, educators and young people will need to develop the vocabulary, definitions, concepts, and, equally important, the will to engage in a critical and extended study of technology (p. 219).

Bowers (1988, 1993), too, speaks eloquently to the ways education and rational-technical thinking are culpable when it comes to ecological threats (though, as noted in the next section, he would not want to be categorized with many of the critical theorists examined here). He concludes that middle-class culture, its schools, and its naive support of educational technologies combine to perpetuate ecologically destructive beliefs in the goodness of progress, individualism, and rationalism (Bowers, 1993, p. 15).

Updated August 3, 2001
Copyright © 2001
The Association for Educational Communications and Technology

1800 North Stonelake Drive, Suite 2
Bloomington, IN 47404

877.677.AECT (toll-free)

AECT Home Membership Information Conferences & Events AECT Publications Post and Search Job Listings