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:



In this chapter, many of the critical-theory analyses of educational technologies (e.g., Streibel, 1986, 1991, 1993a, 1993b) reflect a longer-standing kind of critical analysis. That is, they approach research from the point of view of "immanent critique, which proceeds through forcing existing views to their systematic conclusions, bringing them face to face with their incompleteness and contradictions, and, ultimately, with the social conditions of their existence" (Young, 1990, p. 18). Further, many of the studies (e.g., Koetting, 1983a, 1983b) use the Habermasian framework about sciences and their interests: empirical-analytic science (with a technical interest in control), historical-hermeneutic science (with a practical interest in mutual understanding), and critical sciences (with an interest in freedom). However, a few of the analyses approach educational technology studies more from postmodern (e.g., DeVaney, 1994b; Hlynka & Belland, 1991a; Landow, 1992), feminist (e.g., Damarin, 1989, 1990a, 1991a, 1994; Ellsworth, 1990), or critical pedagogical (e.g., Koetting, 1994) points of view, which often seek to understand the subjectivities of people being oppressed or ignored ("othered"') in educational settings (see also 10.2, 10.5).

Though no great amount of them has been published, the written works produced so far in this area give people a solid start on working with and understanding critical theoretical analyses of some basic aspects of educational technology, especially aspects of the philosophies and the epistemologies of instructional design, computers, and educational technology generally. Many of the studies conclude that educational technology, instructional design, and computer uses are focused on knowledge and learning that are too analytical, empirical, cognitive, decontextualized, and instrumental. This is to say that the technologies are not used as wisely as possible. A few authors (e.g., Nichols, 1993, 1994b) go so far as to say that learners suffer and technologists are morally suspect because educational technologies are misused.

Several topics about critical theory and educational technology have received minimal attention. These topics include social relations, feminism and technology and media, media and popular culture generally, and television and video. Further, some topics have received virtually no attention from critical theorists. Such topics include language, visuals, race, capitalism, the military, politics, ethics, and ecology.

A majority of the critical-theory studies cited here find problems with educational technologies. This is probably a result of the lack of experience educational technologists have with this kind of research as well as the nature of critical theory, which is intent on showing inconsistencies, incompleteness, and oppressive social conditions. The approach initially is bound to lead to seemingly negative appraisals of the technology.

In time, one would expect the view and the tone of the studies to take on a somewhat more positive face, given the potential for critical theory to encourage democracy, emancipation, and equality, for example. At the moment in fact, there is a strain of optimism that computer and other technologies will enhance communication, democracy, postmodernism, and so forth (e.g., Boyd, 1991; Denski, 1991; Landow, 1992; Preston, 1992). This is not to say a completely supportive or positive position about educational technology would ever be the position of critical theorists of educational technology. Given the inherently detrimental characteristics of technology (e.g., Winner, 1977; Taylor & Johnsen, 1986; Nichols, 1990, 1991), as well as critical theorists' search for oppression, totally sunny reports are best left to the technologically illiterate, to technophiles, and to technology capitalists.

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