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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Only a few educators understand the purposes and approaches of critical theory and are using it. Few people understand that critical theorists are working with the relations of technology to issues of human understanding, freedom, and action (as opposed to narrower issues of cognition, technique, science, or the practical) in the realms of ecology, society, school, and culture. Most educational technologists are examining, say, visuals, but not from the point of view that asks why someone should learn the content of visuals. People are examining educational capital from the point of view that asks where to get more money for more computers, but not from the view that asks why supporters of educational computing are taking advantage of women, people of color, and poor people, as Sutton (1990) concludes. Instructional design is being examined, but not often from the view that asks how we use it to get students to unconsciously do as someone else wishes--and to do so, mostly, for reasons of power and profit. This limited view is apparently the case even with design theorists who support constructivist learning and other newer approaches to instructional design (such as those described in Hannafin & Hooper, 1992, p. 27).

Critical theories of educational technologies should be hopeful remedies to the kinds of problems with conventional stances toward technology identified in this chapter, and some readers may now be convinced that some version of critical theory is useful and enlightening and educative. What, then, could these hopeful people do by way of pursuing a critical theory of educational technology? Basic suggestions to this effect include:


  • Educational technologists should use research methods embraced by critical theorists, as long as they are regulated by norms of noncoercive, democratic conversations. Action research in educational technology, for example, could move into the schools, where students and teachers should have primary responsibility for reports/activities associated with the research.
  • Educational technologists should become more engaged with research about many foundational, essential, provocative, and morally pertinent issues that are largely unconscionably ignored. The issues include aspects of the philosophies and the epistemologies of instructional design and educational media generally. The issues include societal relations, feminism, and popular culture. Further issues include critical relations of educational technology to language, visuals, race, capitalism, the military, politics, ethics, and ecology. The potential for fostering learners'social, educational, ecological, and democratic responsibilities and sensibilities related to technology generally and to educational technology specifically are enormous. Even more, our potential to engage individuals and cultures not directly related to education could be enhanced with critical?theory approaches to educational technology. After all, we are responsible to people of all walks of life.
  • Educational technologists should become critical pedagogists. Doing so holds tremendous prospects for engaging learners in meaningful education. Critical pedagogists should be guided by thoughts like McLaren's (1994a):

    Knowledge is relevant only when it begins with the expenences students bring with them from the surrounding culture; it is critical only when these experiences are shown to sometimes be problematic (i.e., racist, sexist); and it is transformative only when students begin to use the knowledge to help empower others, including individuals in the surrounding community (p. 197).

  • Educational technologists should not be busy using technology to do things to and for learners. We should be busy asking learners to tell us what to do--and to tell us from philosophically, economically, politically, ecologically, and educationally informed subjective positions.
  • Educational technologists should be developing greater amounts of nonprint forms of critical scholarship. Very few materials in forms other than print were found in researching scholarship for this chapter. Yet, multimedia critical approaches to understanding educational technologies would lead to understandings that are far more humanly accessible, widespread and, so, potentially freeing.


Updated August 3, 2001
Copyright © 2001
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