AECT Handbook of Research

Table of Contents

10. Postmodern and Poststructural Theory

10.1 Read me first
10.2 Postmodernism
10.3 Realism and the Symbolic: Two Ways of Knowing
10.4 Poststructural Feminism and Research in Educational Communications and Technology
10.5 Postmodern and Poststructural Theory
10.6 Conclusion
10.7 Envoi
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10.2 POSTMODERNISM (Denis Hlynka)

Postmodernism? The very word, at first glance, seems out of place in a Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology. But a closer look belies the claim. First attempts to come to grips with a definition of postmodernism are apt to lead to chaos. Postmodernism would seem to be a jargonistic term for anything new. To some, postmodernism should mean "after modernism." But if modernism means "contemporary," "now" or "current," then it would appear to be a contradiction of terms to have an "after-now," or "after-the-current-time," unless of course, one means "future." But postmodernism does not mean future.

Imagine two different approaches to the history and the study of educational technology. The first view is the traditional view. It sees educational technology as a study of how to improve teaching and learning through technology. This approach moves uneasily between a physical science paradigm and a behavioral science (see 2.2, 5.2) paradigm (Saettler, 1968).

The physical science paradigm focuses on the significant inventions of our time which seem to have a potential impact on the way teachers teach and learners learn. Moving linearly, this paradigm identifies the chalkboard, the still-picture camera, and the invention of photography, audiotape, the motion picture, television, videotape recording systems, and currently new information technologies of computers, telecommunications and the Internet. These are but a few of the inventions that have tried to change the classroom.

The behavioral science paradigm takes the same history, but from a psychological perspective. This view deemphasizes the hardware-software side and focuses instead on utilization. Typical chapters in this history might begin with Comenius's introduction of pictures into textbooks. Or perhaps the early tenets of behaviorism might set the stage for the principles of learning. Now the focus has moved towards making learning more effective and efficient. We do this by the science of control. Twentieth-century psychologists identified themselves as behaviorists, cyberneticists, cognitivists, and constructivists. Communication theory developed simultaneously from theories of individual communication models, to mass communication theories, to small group models. Educational technology was the pragmatic "educational" component of these theories, concepts, and ideas.

It is time to decenter all of this and to suggest a radically different view of educational technology, a view that perhaps doesn't yet exist. This view will eventually be classified as postmodern, although it might be described as simply following a different trajectory.

Suppose educational technology were an art form. The art objects produced are called texts, implying a semiotic perspective. These texts come in the forms of print, visuals, films, videotapes, computer software programs, and hypertext applications. The role of the educational technologist is the same as the role of any film critic, art critic, or television critic: to inform a target audience as to the introduction of a new text, to provide a critical commentary, to disclose to its audience how the text does what it does, and whether in the view of its critics, it is successful in doing what it does.

The history of such a field might begin with traditional modes of criticism. It would take ideas from the New Critics such as Vimsatt and Beardsley and provide a "close reading" of the text in question. Semiotics, the science of signs and sign systems, would provide a fruitful road to travel, beginning with Saussure's distinction of the signified and signifier, and continuing with Peirce's triadic object-interpretant ground. Early semiotic instructional technology would be seen as a theoretical attempt to relate a specific object with a specific meaning. Our study would segue into the philosophy of hermeneutics, the art and science of interpretation. Structuralism would provide a way to hang many of these diverse trends together, as researchers search for meaning in structure. The products of educational technology clearly provide a structural model that becomes known as the systems approach.

Our hypothetical history would show the movement beyond structuralism into poststructuralism. Now, the search for transcendental signifieds would be suggested as impossible or irrelevant, and philosophers such as Derrida and Foucault would provide us with new ways of seeing, which allow us to deconstruct and reexamine the hegemony of an instructional message. Baudrillard would focus our attention on simulation, or using his own preferred word, the simulacrum, and show that in fact it is difficult to know what is real and what is imaginary. Indeed, Baudrillard would argue for the "precession of the simulacrum," in essence a deconstruction in which reality itself is deconstructed as we enter a world of '.'Virtual" reality in cyberspace, a world that can be constructed through the application of computer technologies. Other strands would enter our thinking, too. A recognition of multiple ways of viewing would arise as we see the resurgence of cultures, and the rejection of the concept of empire. Ironic interplay of text would result as we become aware of the slipperiness of signifieds. Some critics would pull in one direction, others in other directions. A faint sense of the chaotic arises, and 0 seems about to fall in shambles. Yet, phoenixlike, out of the deconstruction comes reconstruction. We seem to start over, yet we are on a higher level, somewhat Re Bruner's spiral curriculum. We approach all technologies with a healthy skepticism, recognizing on the one hand the benefits of such progress, but coupling that recognition with a wariness, and a careful search for alternatives. We recognize now that an instructional message is not the same for all learners or even for all teachers. The pragmatist sees use-value. The constructivist sees how meaning is made. The critical theorist sees an ideological hegemony.

We seem to live an educational world of unlimited semiosis, a state of chaos that nevertheless is curiously healthy, an environment that searches not for the one best way but for alternative ways of reaching different goals. Our method is eclectic; indeed our method is so diverse as to seem to have no common language. To some, the result is chaos, and is therefore inherently anarchistic. And yet, there is an ironic feeling that in disunity there is unity, out of many comes one, e pluribis unum. "The wisest of them all knows this only: that he knows nothing yet."

It remains to be said that such a history of educational technology, did it exist, would be given the same term used by the architects when they discovered similar axioms. It is the same term employed today by literary critics who explore disjunct styles of writing for a contemporary world. It is the same term that art historians prefer, as do social scientists, as do historians of science. That term is postmodern.

Educational technology today is not yet postmodern. But, ironically, educational technology is "always already" postmodern. It must be, as long are there are other voices with other ideas and other models out there waiting to be tried. The postmodern view will die when only one view is acceptable, when just one model can explain it A. And in a field as dynamic as educational technology, that should not even be a possibility.

This chapter will begin by defining the parameters of postmodernism, then examining the interface between educational technology and postmodernism. The literature reviewed will include the generic postmodern literature, as well as postmodern explorations that occur specifically within the domain of educational technology.

10.2.1 Postmodernism: A Definition

The concept of postmodernism is one that is still in flux and is a slippery one to capture. There are several ways into the maze of the postmodern world.

First, it is important to realize that postmodernism is not an ideology but rather a "condition." One does not opt to be a postmodernist; postmodernism has no project; postmodernism seeks no converts. Rather, the world can usefully be perceived within a postmodernist framework.

As such, the postmodern condition permeates all aspects of our contemporary society. Scientists write of postmodern science; literary theorists talk of postmodern literature. Postmodernism is found in architecture, literature, art, sociology, philosophy, education, and science.

Educational technologists do not have a choice as to whether or not they wish to "buy in" to the postmodern phenomenon. Very simply, postmodernism is.

The question, of course, becomes "is what'? One clear entry into the postmodern world is to return to the modernity/ postmodernity opposition noted earlier. Postmodernism must be post to modernity. Now we can ask: "What is (or was) modernity?" Lyotard (1989) defines modernism as an activity that is legitimized by metanarratives or ultimate best ways. (Derrida's similar term is transcendental signifieds.) There would appear to be several defining characteristics of modernity: (1) an overriding faith and belief in science and technology, (2) a focus on the positive benefits of technology, and (3) a general assumption that progress is an inevitable and desirable outcome of modernist thinking (Hlynka & Yeaman, 1991)

Yet, even modernity is difficult to place precisely. Smart (1992, p. 144) has compiled several of the traditional hallmarks of modernity as including:

    1. "St. Augustine's break with the classical conception of reason and reconstitution of the discourse of Western metaphysics"
    2. The emergence of the "enlightenment" of the 18th century
    3. The period of adventure characterized by voyages of discovery culminating in the discovery of the "new world" of the 15th and 16th centuries
    4. The "age of reason" ushered in by the science of Galileo and Copernicus, resulting in the rise of the scientific method
    5. The technological invention of printing in 1654 by Gutenburg

All of these are signs of modernity, summed up by Habermas as "the infinite progress of knowledge and ... the infinite advance toward social and moral betterment" (Habermas, 198 1, p. 4).

Postmodernism is suspicious and skeptical of the modernist vision and, at its extreme, totally rejects the perspective of modernity. If modernism is a search for metanarratives, then in Lyotard's words, postmodernism is an "incredulity towards [those] metanarratives." If to Habermas, modernity represents knowledge, then Lyotard argues that "the status of knowledge is altered as societies enter what is known as the postindustrial age and cultures enter what is known as the postmodern age" (1988, p. 3).

The defining characteristics of postmodernity would thus reject the tenets of modernity and replace them with (a) a belief in plurality, (2) a critical questioning of the benefits of technology, and (3) a questioning of "progress" as always inevitable, leading to a serious claim that "technological progress" may not be progress at all when examined by other yardsticks.

A variety of statements-not necessarily definitions will give the flavor of the postmodern condition:

Like the nightly news, whose quick camera cuts can juxtapose images of international violence with pitches for fabric softeners and headache remedies, the postmodern experience is best described as a perceptual montage (Solomon, 1988, p. 212).

Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodernism as incredulity towards metanarratives (Lyotard, 1988, p. xxiv).

Jencks (1986) thinks of postmodernism, as "double coding." Postmodernism has also been linked to "the culture of late capitalism" (Jameson), the general condition of knowledge in times of information technology (Lyotard), the replacing of a modernist epistemological focus with an ontological one (McHale), and the substitution of the simulacrum for the real (Baudrillard) (Hutcheon, 1993).

[A postmodernist will] develop actions, thought and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition and disjunction [and] ... prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive and not sedentary, but nomadic (Foucault, 1984, p. xiii).

A postmodern pedagogy ... has as its basis a questioning of the assumptions of positivist science. It rejects the notion of a grand narrative and the notion that truth is to be found through the application of rational thought or enlightenment. It also recognizes multiple readings or interpretations of a text and values eclecticism rather than one method (Tinning, 1991, p. 11).

10.2.2 Postmodernism: The Connection with Educational Technology

Postmodernity is clearly a significant movement in the arts. Architecture, literature, and the fine arts in general can offer clear cases of postmodern production. To cross the line over to where educational technology sits is perceived as a difficulty by many. Education and educational technology as social sciences are more comfortable with psychological and sociological constructs such as cognitivism (Chapter 5), constructivism (Chapter 7), and the like. Yet, a careful scrutiny of the definitional literature of postmodernism reveals clear ties with technology. Thus, McDermott (1992) writes that "modernism can be seen as a reaction to the early twentieth-century instructional design machine age, and postmodernism to the age of computers and electronic information design." Her definition provides a useful jumping-in position for educational technologists. If technology is clearly integrated with the concept of postmodernism, then the term is important for educational technologists who are merely giving notice that by use of the adjective "educational," they mean to say that they are interested in those dimensions of technology that exist at the intersection of technology, the arts, and pedagogy. McDermott continues: "Postmodernism signaled an important shift away from technological optimism to a crisis of confidence in the benefits of technological progress." It is important to note that, in these views, postmodernism is not to be perceived as a negative, Luddite phenomenon, but rather a shift away from an overzealousness.

Duro and Greenhaig (1992) agree with McDermott's technology connection as a defining characteristic of postmodernism:

Many of the shifts in consciousness that characterize postmodernism [are] the embracing of popular culture, the use of technology and the electronic media, multimedia events and feminism (p. 236).

Atkins (1990) has essentially argued in the same directions:

The ecological revolt that dawned during the 1960s ... Signaled a loss of modern faith in technological progress that was replaced by postmodern ambivalence about the effects of that "progress" on the environment. Just as modern culture was driven by the needs to come to terms with the industrial age, so postmodernism has been fueled with desire for accommodation with the electric age (Atkins, 1990, p. 131).

From the above, it can be seen that the literature of postmodernism reflects a major concern with the influence of technology on society and culture. The corollary to that statement is that the topic of postmodernism cannot be ignored by educational technologists. The above writers set a clear place for the consideration of technology (and by extension, educational technology) within the rubric of the postmodern. If the place has been identified, it remains for the gap to be filled.

10.2.3 Two Models: The World as Given; the World as Constructed

For a discussion of postmodernism, it is useful to identify and clarify two distinctly different and even contradictory ways of viewing educational technology. The first, and more traditional, is to see technology as part of a process for transmission of information. The second sees technology as a part of the construction of knowledge.

In the "transmission of knowledge" view, we theorize the existence of a sender, a channel of communication, a message, and a receiver. Perhaps the most noted versions of this approach are the Berlo (SMCR) model, and the Shannon Weaver Model. SMCR identifies sender-message channel-receiver as the basic elements of communication, while the Shannon-Weaver model is a variant that uses only slightly different terminology. The Shannon-Weaver elements include information source, message, transmitter, signal, noise, receiver, and destination.

By this view, the role of educational technology is to transmit an instructional message in which the focus is on effectiveness and efficiency. The intent is that a given message is transmitted from a sender to a receiver with as high a degree of fidelity as possible.

Within educational technology, the most noted variant of this sender-receiver model designed to facilitate the development of instruction is known variously as instructional development, instructional design, or instructional systems design. Specific models proliferate, but the general model follows a define-develop-evaluate structure that sees the educational technologist proceeding through a series of steps that define the instructional transaction, develop the appropriate solution, and finally test whether the solution has indeed been effective. Much of the history of instructional development has been a series of attempts to "fine tune" this model.

There is however a totally different way of looking at the flow of information. This second model sees the communication process as involving not the transmission of some given quantity of information but instead as the making of meaning. Such a model is partly semiotic, partly structuralist, partly poststructuralist, and partly postmodernist.

The focus shifts by replacing the sender-message-channel-receiver model with an alternative: author-text-reader. The change may seem only cosmetic. After all the author is the sender, the message is in the text, and the receiver is the reader. But literary theorists analyze the model differently. A key question revolves around the issue of where ultimate authority or truth lies. Traditionally, one assumes that the author of a work is the ultimate authority. If anyone knows the "truth," surely it is the author. But it quickly becomes clear that there are situations where authorial intent is not enough. For example, in the most extreme case, the author may now be dead, making it impossible to ask the author what was meant by a particular phrase. Or the author may not be reachable, or may have written the text in a different context.

As a result, authority of the author is replaced by authority of the text. "Truth" now lies in the text itself, while the new task becomes one of interpretation. Hermeneutics is one of the terms used for the science of interpretation, and perhaps one of the most familiar examples is biblical studies. The "truth" is in the Bible; what is needed are individuals who can translate or interpret what the text really means.

Contemporary literary theory takes another step forward. Perhaps the authority lies not only in the author who wrote it, or in the text that says it, but in the reader who reads it. After all, each reader is unique. Each reader brings to a text his or her own background, interests, needs, and understandings. Such a view would explain why one reader will select a given text as important, while another reader will readily dismiss the same text as either useless, irrelevant, or even wrong. Ask yourself to name the greatest novel ever written. You may say War and Peace. Your colleague may suggest Moby Dick. A third will surprise you with Gone with the Wind. Reader response theory allows for multiple discourses and multiple options. To search for a "best novel" is a meaningless modernist trap, no different from the elusive search for the best medium of instruction.

Probably authority lies somewhere in between the three: author, text, and reader. Reader-response theory replaces a linear transmission model with an active constructivist model of information. Such a view is "postmodernist."

In educational technology, Eraut (1989) reiterates the basic opposition of what he terms the positivist paradigm vs. interpretive paradigm. He notes that "positivists believe in expertise; interpretivists believe in wisdom." In particular, he attempts to relate the two:

Positivist approaches are stronger in instructional design, and , interpretive approaches in utilization. Positivist approaches are more readily found where there is political power and in large-scale developments, whereas interpretive approaches are found where there is little power and the enterprise is small scale and local. Positivist approaches are stronger in North America, interpretive approaches are stronger in Europe (p. 4).

These comments provide an entry into another significant issue, namely, that of the perceived neutrality of educational technology. The positivist/constructivist dichotomy presented above shows two approaches to the issue of neutrality. The positivist clearly supports a view where technology is neutral and the purpose of technology is to provide the most effective and efficient way of transmitting a given content. Technology is not supposed to get mixed up in the issues of what to transmit, or what to teach. That is the role philosophers or teachers or subject-matter experts. The constructivist or interpretivist view begins with a different assumption. The medium (or text or technology) is of necessity biased just as much as is the reader or the author. While most often educational technologists proceed from the assumption that educational technology is "value neutral," there have been some loud alternative voices. Harold Innis as early as 1951 tided his book The Bias of Communication. Marshall McLuhan became famous for his aphorism that recognized that a message is indistinguishable from its medium: "Me medium is the message." Bowers (1988) subtitled his analysis of educational computing "Understanding the nonneutrality of technology." Belland (199 1) has challenged the normal assumption of technology as tool with his "inverse tool" principle.

The discussion of technology as nonneutral makes sense, and indeed becomes an assumption, from a postmodern constructivist viewpoint, while technology as neutral is an equally acceptable assumption from a positivist perspective.

10.2.4 Characteristics of Postmodern Educational Technology

This section will focus on those characteristics generally considered postmodern, and then place them within an educational-technology context. David Lodge (1977), writing about postmodern fiction, identifies five basic postmodern characteristics as contradiction, discontinuity, randomness, excess, and short circuit. Educational technologists may initially react to the considering of such characteristics within instructional design. Indeed, it might be argued that the five represent the antithesis of a well-thought-out instructional design system. For an instructional system to tolerate characteristics of contradiction, discontinuity, randomness, excess, and short circuit is certainly not a traditional view. Yet with closer inspection, one might reach a different conclusion. Open-ended "trigger films" feature contradiction. Hypertext (see 2 1. 1) is based on discontinuity and randomness. Computer-assisted instruction (see 12.1) -by introducing more alternative paths of procedure, feedback loops, and remedial tracks-in essence produces "excess." Contemporary instructional software, by allowing a student to bypass detailed sections based on pretest results, is using "short-circuit." The Internet, by providing access to databanks of information and all the communication possibilities characterized by the expression "the information highway," may well exemplify all of Lodge's characteristics.

Beyer and Liston (1992), writing within the domain of educational theory, argue that the term postmodern "is said to capture the fractured world in which we now live" (p. 372). They go on to identify three postmodern characteristics as being: (1) "against metanarratives" (and therefore supporting "die preference for more local analysis"), (2) as being against representationalism ("a disavowal of the view that knowledge of the social world can be representational or systematic"), and (3) emphasizing a "concern for the ,other"' (supporting multiple and minority discourses).

Lather (1991) has identified five characteristics of the postmodern condition especially relevant to education. These deal with issues of. (1) forms of authority and knowledge, (2) concerns for the individual, (3) the material base, (4) view of history, and (5) place of community and tradition. Each of these can readily be expanded into an educational technology context. The tentative discussion that follows exemplifies such analysis, which places issues of concern to educational technology within a postmodern structure. Form of Authority. This is characterized by "participatory, dialogic, and pluralistic structures of authority" (Lather, p. 161). Educational technologists have long realized that a single author(ity) no longer applies in a mediated production. One needs only to watch the title credits of a major "blockbuster" Hollywood movie to realize that not one but hundreds of authorities can and do contribute to a final product. Such a list includes director, producer, scriptwriter, composer, casting director, cinematographer, actors, technicians, and many others. The authority of a single author is thus fragmented into hundreds of pieces. Although we traditionally have credited the director as holding ultimate intellectual ownership of a film or video product, contemporary thinking now accepts the multiplicity of contributions. Products deriving from the methodologies of instructional design may not have the vast numbers of a Hollywood production; nevertheless, a sophisticated product goes through significant trials, revisions, and reviews, and is considered a team effort far more than an individual effort. Indeed, contemporary instructional design implicitly and explicitly valorizes the team approach to the development of instructional systems, programs, and products. Such features are purely postmodern. Concept of the Individual. The postmodern view presents the individual as a "de-centered subject culturally inscribed/constructed, contradictory, relational . . ." (Lather, p. 161). An important dilemma arises here. Should instructional designers aim at some "average" target audience member and assume that all users will have the same needs? Or should the program not only allow for individual needs but also in fact emphasize such differences? Traditional instructional development assumes an average student, and provides that student with a predetermined list of objectives. Yet contemporary constructivist theory has become very much aware of the needs of each individual student to create his or her own learning agenda. Technologies such as hypertext seem to encourage independent needs supported by a seemingly chaotic model instead of the more traditional linear model of curriculum presentation implying a single optimum path through a learning environment. Material Base. The material base of a postmodern view is information. Many terms have been floated, all of which are relatively synonymous: the information age, information society, cybernetic society, electronic age, etc. Information has always been a starting point in any curriculum development exercise, and an early first step in instructional design is to determine what information is to be included within a given product. A postmodern view looks at information differently. There tends to be a suspicious distrust of information as final, and instead an understanding that while information characterized by the signified looks solid, it is in fact rapid, multiple, and shifting. When information is seen in this way, the importance of what goes into a product or course becomes less important, and the focus changes from content to process. View of History. A postmodern view of history is "nonlinear, cyclic, indeterminate, discontinuous, contingent" (Lather, p. 161). Educational technology has only begun to explore its multiple histories. There is still only one standard history of educational technology (Saettler, 1968, 1990) that is essentially an American-based history. Indeed, it is significant that Saettler's original text was titled "A History of Instructional Technology," while the revised edition was more modestly retitled "The Evolution of American Educational Technology." We need to explore our other histories. Consider the following "alternative" histories of educational technology.

In Canada, educational technology has followed a unique path. The founding of a public broadcasting system (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) in 1939 provided a national communications link for a country widely separated by distance. This model was instituted some 30 years before the beginning of the American PBS network. Simultaneously in 1939 came the founding of a national film production unit, the National Film Board of Canada, an organization that brought the documentary tradition of John Grierson to its height. The aftermath of the Depression and the availability of a radio network allowed the formation of the Canadian Farm Forum, an interactive distance-education by-radio experiment that brought farmers together across the country. Contemporary technological experiments in Canada include Telidon, a unique and powerful videotex system. Concordia University developed one of the largest graduate programs in educational technology, while scholars and practitioners were united by the Association for Media and Technology in Education in Canada and the Canadian Journal of Educational Communication. All of this activity was punctuated and underscored by an intellectual climate led by thinkers such as Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis, and Northrop Frye.

Educational technology in Australia has tended to develop in the British tradition, with a distance-learning focus. A pioneering school of the air was provided to the isolated outback initially by John Flynn, the celebrated "flying doctor." Contemporary theoretic focus from Australia tends to be heavily based on critical theoretic, poststructural, and semiotic models.

British developments in educational technology are highlighted by several activities, including pioneering efforts in the development of film and television technology led by William Frieze-Greene, inventor of the first motion picture camera. This was followed by the development of a public system of broadcasting, the British Broadcasting Corporation. In computer communications, the British moved towards the production and introduction of a specific BBC computer for schools. In yet another direction, the entire concept of distant and open education was transformed with the development of the British Open University, a pioneer and leader in distance and correspondence education (see 13.2.2) based on the application of rigorous systematic instructional development.

Educational technology in India is highlighted by the SITE satellite project, promising education by satellite to every distant village. Educational technology developments in France placed that country at the forefront in telematics, while French intellectual theory brought about an entirely new focus with technological philosophers Jacques Ellul, Jean Baudrillard, and Jean Francois Lyotard. Educational technology in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America is typically treated as beyond the concerns of our usual perspective.

These paragraphs serve only to highlight the diverse histories that together provide a vast and as yet essentially unexplored area of the growth of educational technology around the world. The postmodern view recognizes that there is not a single history, but that there are histories. These histories are not independent units, but interdependent and interrelated in sophisticated and complicated ways, resembling less a history, and more a genealogy in a Foucauldian sense. Place of Community. A postmodern community begins with McLuhan's "global village" concept and extends to a "multinational hyperspace, difference without opposition, [and an international] ecopolitics" (Lather, p. 161). Educational technology is not a simple set of questions with right answers. Educational technology is a network of concerns, needs, and technological responses. Each community develops its own needs and focus. Yet within the local, autonomous community, technology recreates a new multinational community. As one example, today the Internet significantly supports e-mail, data transfer, and remote log-in on a regular and international basis. All of this will significantly change how we perceive both community and technology.

10.2.5 Postmodernism as Alternative Paradigms: Educational Connoisseurship

One major intellectual stream that a postmodern paradigm shift may lay claim to has been to suggest alternative modes of research and scholarship. Traditionally, educational technology has been treated as belonging to a scientific discourse. This means that the accepted modes of discursive practice have been grounded in a positivist philosophic mode.

Educational theory has long recognized both advantages and disadvantages of the positivist model grounded in a technical rationality. At the same time, a major alternative shift was to move from quantitative to qualitative modes. Hlynka and Belland (1991) have argued for yet a third, critical, discursive practice, stemming from the idea that educational technology may also be perceived as an art as well as a science.

The concept of criticism as a valid and useful approach to scholarship is, of course, not new. It flourishes most obviously in the study of the arts. Literary criticism, art criticism, and cinema studies have long and established critical histories.

Education and educational technology, both firmly grounded in quantitative, positivist, and systematic paradigms have been slow in accepting artistic paradigms as appropriate scholarship. Yet, the balance is in the process of being redressed. Pinar (1978) has labeled as "reconceptualist" those writers/researchers interested in that mode of thinking that conceptualizes education anew and privileges alternative modes of inquiry.

Huebner (1966) lays the groundwork for such analysis with his discussion of five basic foci for curriculum language. He argued that the five were technical, which provides a means-ends rationality to curriculum discourse; political, which focused on power and control; scientific, which attempts to maximize effectiveness and efficiency; aesthetic, which focuses on teaching and learning as an art; and the ethical, which examines the value of the educational act.

Following Huebner, John Mann (1968) presented what is generally considered one of the seminal papers leading the way for what Mann named curriculum criticism. Noting significant relationships between curriculum and fiction, be suggested that the curriculum critic should appropriately function as the equivalent of the literary critic. "As with the literary critique," he pointed out, "the function of the curricular critique is to disclose its meanings, to illuminate its answers" (p. 77).

The metaphor was expanded upon by Willis (1975) and Kelly (1975). Eisner (1979) turned to art criticism for an extension of the model in a different direction and provided the literature with two terms that have since entered the everyday vocabulary of all curriculum evaluators, namely, educational connoisseurship and educational criticism. Connoisseurship, wrote Eisner "is the art of appreciation," while criticism" is the art of disclosure."

Vallance (1977) became interested in expanding Eisner's work to a description of curriculum materials, a task that becomes of special interest to educational technologists. Vallance's critical description of an instructional television series titled The Great Plains Experience provides a case study of what the model of educational criticism can offer. Essentially, Vallance argued that, while at a superficial level, everyone is a critic of curriculum materials. These conventional curriculum reviews

deal either with surface features of the materials themselves or with the after effects of their use. But neither descriptions of the materials nor measures of their effectiveness really get at the heart of the matter. For neither addresses the question of what experience the curriculum materials make available to the student. The question is not a trivial one.

Criticism, to Vallance, is "the perception, analysis, interpretation, and portrayal of a work of art." McCutcheon, in turn (1979, p. 5), notes that:

the aim of educational criticism is to characterize, interpret, and appraise the nature of educational materials and settings and the nature of the curriculum and instruction taking place. Critics ask: "What is it like ... .. what does it mean," and "what is its merit?"

Eisner, within two editions of The Educational Imagination, provides a variety of examples of curriculum criticism.

Educational technology does not lag behind in the connoisseurship domain. Belland has long advocated a thoughtful, careful analysis of the programs and products of educational technology. One of the first steps, argues Belland (1991, p. 33), is that "instructional technologists need to experience the "classic works" in the field, especially instructional film." Some of those films, which should be familiar to every educational technologist, include Braverman's American Time Capsule; the U.S. Navy's Film Tactics; Lorenz's The Plow That Broke the Plains; McLaren's abstract experiments from Canada, including Fiddle Dee Dee and Neighbors; Flaherty's Nanook of the North, and countless others. To be unaware of the first halting attempts in informational, instructional, and what John Grierson termed documentary style, is to be uninformed as to the powerful early contributions of our field. In a rush towards a vague future, we sometimes forget that we do have a history, and that many of our contemporary experiments have been done before, in some different form or medium true, but, nevertheless, we are indeed grounded in a rich and illustrious past.

A connoisseur should be aware of our history, so that we do not always "reinvent the wheel." For example, a perusal of the various volumes of the Encyclopedia of Educational Research through the decades, dating from 1940 to the present, will reveal much of the contributions of educational technology. Belland et a]. (1991) argue that a connoisseur who can communicate his or her depth of history, of art, of culture to others becomes a critic in the true sense of the word. He lists some six contributions of such educational criticism:

  1. Criticism could help explain a technological object or process in terms of the quality of the relationship between its content and its form.
  2. Criticism could help explain a technological object or process in terms of the relationship among the constituent parts and the whole.
  3. Criticism may provide insight into the unifying themes and designs that help to hold the technological object or process together in all its richness and complexity.
  4. Criticism may reveal the nature of the intimate experience that a well-informed, sensitive, and reflective critic has with the process or product of educational technology.
  5. Criticism may reveal the grounds on which interpretations and judgments of the processes and objects of educational technology may rest, as well as the consequences the object and/or process may entail in human experience.
  6. Criticism may serve to synthesize the knowledge derived from disparate research processes into more comprehensive theory.

Other examples of curriculum criticism dot the literature of educational technology. Belland and Taylor (1991) have experimented with a futuristic educational scenario for which Alger (1991) has prepared a "close reading" that is at once critical, aesthetic, and deconstructionist.

In similar vein, Moore and Garrison (1988) produced a two-page "joke" in ECTJ titled "The contribution of metaphysics to instructional technology," a paper that in many ways provides the ultimate example of an aesthetic response to the field of educational technology posed within a deliberate aesthetic frame of minimalism. Hlynka (1999) has provided a careful reading and deconstructive analysis of Moore and Garrison, showing their document to be full of meaning far beyond the apparent simplicity of the original "empty" paper.

10.2.6 Postmodern Methodologies: Derrida and Foucault

Novices in postmodern analysis tend to look for algorithms to focus their methodological] direction. On the other hand, postmodernists resist the notion of algorithmization. By stating a precise procedure, one is defeating a basic postmodern perspective that there is no one best way to proceed. To state a procedure precisely is in fact to provide a "transcendental signified," an ultimate meaning, and a preferred way. This is what postmodernism argues against. For this reason, the following algorithmic notes are presented with some hesitation.

Perhaps one of the major concepts of postmodern theory is that of deconstruction, a term associated with Jacques Derrida. Deconstruction is meant to provide a close reading of a text, but a close reading with a difference. The first step in deconstruction is to identify the "traditional" binary oppositions where the first term is the term normally valorized, while the second term is in opposition. Thus we have good/bad, nature/technology, male/female, and so on. The next step is to attempt to reverse the oppositions. That is, by analysis and argument, one shows that in fact the second term, usually devalued, should in fact be valued. An example: Some binary oppositions representing modernity might include these:

form/antiform Centering/decentering
design/chance boundary/intertext
hierachy/anarchy root/rhizome
finished work/ happening, "found" art cause/trace
paradigm/syntagm linear/nonlinear

Now, it should be recognized that in each case, it is the first term that is the "valorized" term. Within the idea of modernity, the key concepts are form, design, hierarchy, etc. Deconstruction takes some (not necessarily all) of the oppositions and shows how the "other" is equally valid. Take, for example, the second opposition from the above list: design/chance. From a modernist perspective, design is the favored mode. Yet on the other hand, does not the concept of design tend to limit and constrain? Teachers teach by designed lesson plan. But it is often argued that the truly effective teacher can capture the moment, bring contemporary happenings into the classroom, and relate all of these to the subject under discussion. This requires an aleatoric model, an ability to use randomness, and an effort to change direction on the spot. In fact, "designed" lessons more often than not lead to uninspired teaching and dull classrooms.

Thus the valorization of design deconstructs under close scrutiny, and we see that for design to work, one needs to incorporate some opportunity for chaos or antidesign. In fact antidesign is "always already" present in a good design. The moment one accepts the importance of design, one must recognize that antidesign must be present to prevent design from becoming static. Ultimately, the stated opposition no longer makes sense, and this identified dimension of modernity (design/chance) has been deconstructed.

Eagleton (1983, p. 133) has algorithmized Derrida's approach in a concise and useful statement:

Deirida's own typical habit of reading is to seize on some apparently peripheral fragment in the work-a footnote, a recurrent minor theme or image, a casual allusion-and work it tenaciously through to the point where it threatens to dismantle the oppositions which govern the text as a whole. The tactic of deconstructive criticism [is] to show how texts come to embarrass their own ruling systems of logic.

Although deconstruction is associated with Derrida, the idea has been around for a long time in other guises. Marshall McLuhan (1988) has presented a strikingly similar model within his presentation of what he called the laws of media. McLuhan argued that if one is to determine fully the effect of a given medium, one needs to ask four basic questions modeled after Karl Popper's falsifiability principle. McLuhan's four questions posed about media are as follows:

What does it enhance or intensify?

What does it render obsolete or displace?

What does it retrieve that was previously obsolesced?

What does it produce or become when pressed to an extreme?

(McLuhan & McLuhan, p. 7)


The result is a useful set of guidelines that has nevertheless not been systematically examined by researchers. The contemporary postmodern reincarnation and extension of McLuhan is found in the work of Baudrillard.

Deconstructionist methodologies have appeared in the literature of educational technology in recent years. Yeaman (1992) has summarized the impact of deconstruction on educational media. Hlynka (1989, 1991, 1992) has provided several deconstructionist readings. Curtis (1988) has deconstructed visual statements, while Magnusson and Osborne (1990) have provided an interesting deconstructionist reading of the concept of modular instruction. Suchting (1992) has provided a careful deconstruction of constructivist thinking.

Just as Derridian analyses provide a deconstructionist approach to analysis, so a Foucauldian analysis provides a focus on power connections. Michel Foucault is the "other" major personality in postmodern methodologies. Grounded in power issues and poststructural historiography, Foucault provides an alternative model towards asking postmodern questions. Cherrybolmes (1988, p. 107) has algorithmized Foucault in the form of eleven questions as follows:

  1. Who is authorized to speak?
  2. Who listens?
  3. What can be said?
  4. What remains unspoken?
  5. How does one become authorized to speak?
  6. What utterances are rewarded?
  7. What utterances are penalized?
  8. Which categories, metaphors, modes of descriptions, explanation, and argument are valued and praised; which are excluded and silenced?
  9. What social and political arrangements reward and deprive statements?
  10. Which metaphors, modes of argumentation, explanation, and description are valued?
  11. Which ideas are advanced as foundational to the discourse?

Foucauldian analyses are also in evidence in contemporary educational technology research. Damarrin (1994) has coupled feminist theories to the theories of Foucault, while McBride (1989) has provided a useful Foucauldian analysis of mathematical discourse in the classroom. Taylor and Swartz (1991) discuss the ramifications in educational technology to the statement "knowledge is not value neutral." In particular, issues of equity become significant.

10.2.7 Postmodernism as a Theoretic Underpinning for Hypertext

New information technologies have resulted in a variety of new forms of communication. Among the most popular of these is hypertext (see 21.1). Landow (1992) defines hyptertext as "blocks of text and the electronic links that join them." Hypermedia, by extension, would be blocks of media and the electronic links that join them, where the "blocks of media" might be presented as still visuals or as motion visuals with Quicktime or Linkway. The term hypermedia is often (but not always) synonymous with the current use of the term multimedia. One of the more popular versions of hypertext is HyperCard, which is the popular Macintosh utility allowing students (and others) to create and use hypertext documents within a Macintosh environment. Computer programmers and others have been intrigued for perhaps a decade as to the potential of hypertext as a teaching/learning tool. Only recently have theoreticians (Landow, 1992; Ulmer, 1991; Burnett, 1993) drawn attention to the fact that the intellectual theory that undergirds the technology of hypertext is in fact postmodernism.

Ulmer (1991) suggests that Derrida's concept of graimmatology provides a useful framework for hypermedia studies. Derrida has coined the term grammatology to suggest a study or science of writing. Derrida's grammatology is grounded in the idea that writing is devalued and seen as inferior to speech. Further, written reference is unstable. This creates a "difference" such that a text must always defer to something else. To Ulmer (1991), grammatology proves a theoretic frame of reference

free of the absolute commitment to the book apparatus that constrains research conducted within the frame of critique. The challenge of grammatology against all technological determinism, is to accept responsibility for inventing practices for institutionalizing electronic technologies.

In particular, Ulmer focuses on the card index metaphor that HyperCard so readily simulates as a perfect simulacrum for postmodern theories. It is an idea for which art critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin (1979) has previously set the stage:

Today, the book is already, as the present mode of scholarly production demonstrates, an outdated mediation between two different filing systems. For everything that matters is to be found in the card box of the researcher who wrote it, and the scholar studying it assimilates it into his own card index (p. 78).

Burnett (1993, p. 1) follows with the same general argument:

What distinguishes hypermedia is that it posits an information structure so dissimilar to any other in human experience that it is difficult to describe as a structure at all. It is nonlinear and therefore may seem as alien wrapping of language when compared to the historical path written communication has traversed; it is explicitly nonsequential, neither hierarchical nor rooted in its organizational structure and therefore may appear chaotic and entropic (p. 1).

The most extended analysis to date of hypermedia as postmodern theory stems from Landow (1992). Using postmodern concepts of intertextuality, multivocality, decentering, and nonlinearity, Landow argues that "what is perhaps most interesting about hypertext, though, is not that-it may fulfill certain claims of structuralist and poststructuralist criticism but that it provides a rich means of testing them" (p. 11). Indeed, he argues that "hypextext has much in common with some major points of contemporary literary and semiological theory, particularly with Derrida's emphasis on decentering and Barthes' conception of the readerly versus the writerly text." In fact, hypertext creates an almost embarrassingly literal embodiment of both concepts" (pp. 33-34).

To reiterate: It is argued that hypertext, one of the key products/concepts of contemporary educational technology, is grounded in postmodern theory. To work with hypertext, one of necessity must have a working acquaintance with postmodernism. It is a challenge that deserves to be taken seriously by more educational technology researchers.

10.2.8 Postmodern Texts

What makes an effective text? Traditional instructional design advocates such design guidelines as clarity, statement of objectives, verification of content, and so on. Yet, as one can guess from the above discussion of hypertext, there is already a postmodern view that sees texts differently. Spring (1991) provides guidelines from his personal experience:

The postmodern textbook should avoid the presentation of information in a neutral language. Knowledge is not neutral. By presenting the reader with a compendium of information, the modem textbook, in contrast to the postmodern textbook, conveys the impression that scholars agree on a particular body of knowledge.... The postmodern textbook should ... present the reader with a multiplicity of views of a given field of knowledge (p. 197).

Traditional instructional design guidelines assume that the reader will interact with the author in a linear mode. However, contemporary research is beginning to offer alternatives to linearity, even within traditional texts.

A particularly interesting example of attempts to move traditional text into nonlinear modes is the domain of children's literature. Two areas will be mentioned here: (1) interactive fiction and (2) postmodern writing for children. Educational technologists have become interested in interactive fiction in a traditional textual mode. Probably the most commercially known product is the "choose your own adventure" books. In addition, educational technology research has made some significant forays into the field. For example, Norton (1992) has examined the literary concept of discourse as created by computers. Desilets (1989) suggested that interactive fiction is oriented to problem-solving strategies and therefore engages the interest of students. McLellan (1992) has qualitatively studied children's reactions to interactive stories presented within a HyperCard mode. The conclusions support the hypothesis that children can adapt to the interactive HyperCard mode of presentation. Even children's picture books, normally produced within a fairly standard presentation model, have begun to take a deliberate postmodern turn. Whether young children can understand all-or even some--of the subtleties is open for research. Two examples are David Macaulay's Black and White (1990) and Catherine Brighton's Five Secrets in a Box (1989). Black and White. Black and White illustrates postmodern characteristics of multiple discourses and uses the strategy of resisting closure. The large-format picture book for primary school age children physically divides the book into four stories. But rather than presenting the stories sequentially, they are presented simultaneously. The first story, "Seeing Things," is presented in the upper-left quadrant of each two-page spread and tells of a young boy taking a train trip. The second story, "Problem Parents," is placed in die lower-left quadrant. "A Waiting Game," located in the upper-right quadrant, tells of passengers at a station waiting for a train. The lower-right quadrant story is called "Udder Chaos" and deals with a herd of Holstein cows blocking a train track.

Three of the stories are in full color, while one, "Problem Parents," is illustrated in sepia. The book is full of intertextual references to the other stories. In addition, the visuals must be examined carefully for further intertextual (intervisual?) content. Children may choose to read the four stories all at once, or they may choose to read each story separately. The entire book is prefaced with what the author calls a "warning."

This book appears to contain a number of stories that do not necessarily occur at the same time. Then again, it may contain only one story. In any event, careful inspection of both words and pictures is recommended.

The result is a delightful children's picture book that challenges nearly all our assumptions of what children's books should be like. It also poses some interesting questions on the limits of understanding of young children which deserves future research. Five Secrets in a Box. Five Secrets in a Box (Brighton, 1987), on the other hand, at first appears to be a simple story about the real daughter of Galileo. It is perhaps a discussion of girls and science. But once the original text is read, the young reader is presented with at least three alternative texts, each of which subtly or radically changes the meaning of the original simple story. One of these alternative texts is placed in the inside front cover, as a kind of preface, but not labeled as such. This text seems to explain the main picture story but adds substantial detail missing from the main text. A second alternative text is found on the inside back cover as a kind of postscript or epilogue that provides radically new content and changes the potential meaning of the story once again. Even the back flyleaf provides new information that adds to the story. Some information, such as the fact that Galileo was never married, is deliberately hidden from the reader. Finally, the visuals that support the text are themselves instructive. For example, the written text never sets the scene in Pisa, Italy, nor refers directly to the famous leaning tower story where Galileo drops light and heavy objects to test his theory of gravitation. Yet the visuals clearly picture the famous leaning tower on several pages. This requires an intertextuality that forces a very young reader to reach beyond the book itself for more complete information.

Thus once again, we have a postmodern text aimed clearly at very young children which violates all traditional rules of storytelling and in so doing features multiple contradictory texts and messages.

10.2.9 Postmodern Explorations in Educational Technology

The literature of postmodern educational technology that began as a trickle in the 80s has suddenly become a flood in the 90s. While single papers abound, special issues of journals seems to provide an effective avenue dissemination. Leading the way was the Research and Theory Division of AECT with a special issue of its in-house newsletter in 1989 edited by Koetting, consisting of a half-dozen postmodern and critical papers. The following year saw a special issue of the Journal of Thought edited by Robinson. The 1991 text Paradigms Regained presented some 26 scholars attempting to define a common place for postmodern, semiotic, illuminative, and critical theory studies within the broad rubric of educational technology. A 1993 book edited by Muffoletto and Knupfer extended the exploration specifically into the computer realm. The February 1994 issue of Educational Technology edited by Yeaman provided yet another dozen papers of postmodern commentary related to the ethics of educational technology. Deconstructive studies are found in the work of Yeaman (1994a, 1994b) and Hlynka (1991). Feminist approaches are represented by Anderson (1994) and Damarin (1994, 1991, 1989). The concept of an educational cyborg is found in Jamison (1994) and Yeaman (I 994c).

10.2.10 Conclusions: Future Directions

As it becomes clear that postmodernism does not espouse a Particular cause but is merely a "condition," researchers should more willingly add postmodern tools to their research toolbox. Postmodernism is able to provide a theoretic Support and foundation for the following:

  1. Nonlinear thinking (as in hypertext studies)
  2. Multivocality and alternative paradigm research, providing a move away from the concept of a transcendental signified (as in increased acceptance of qualitative research)
  3. Aesthetic/critical approaches to scholarship
  4. Close readings and deconstructive readings to provide careful and thoughtful analyses of the role of information technology
  5. Intertextual relationships
  6. Decentering strategies which will assist the researcher in defocusing on traditional questions and refocusing in new and revealing ways
  7. A closer relationship between the sciences and the arts, and between fictional and nonfictional modes of analysis and presentation




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