Technology Matters: Technological Determinism

A Contextual Note:  I will be taking an educational technology research seminar this fall.  The text is Technology Matters: Questions to Live With by Davide E. Nye.  Since the topics are of general interest, I thought I would aid my own learning by blogging about each chapter.  The question which has been posed to us by the professor is “How do Nye’s responses apply to K-12 teaching and learning?”

The first chapter asks the question: Can We Define Technology?   His first definition revolves around evolution and concludes that only intelligent apes and human beings MAKE tools.   He goes on to suggest that technology is more important in terms of social rather than technical evolution, since, unlike animals, humans are not simply content to live but are always looking for change and growth.  His answer to the which came first–necessity or invention–is, in many cases, invention.  Nye writes,

“Necessity is often not the  mother of invention.  In many cases, it surely has been just the opposite, and invention has been the mother of necessity.  When humans possess a tool, they excel at finding new uses for it.  The tool often exists before the problem to be solved.  Latent in every tool are unforeseen transformations” (p. 2).  It occurred to me that, while this may be true for the larger culture where it seems that new tools are, indeed, changing the way we work, live, learn, and play.  In schools, however, we have Larry Cuban’s report of what normally happen to technologies: they are absorbed in the culture of the school.  Education changes them rather than the other way around.  Indeed, I heard that message just this week from several technology and curriculum directors from several different school divisions.  The Internet, certainly THE disruptive technology of the past decade, is being tamed, or in some cases, bypassed completely through the use of INTRAnet resources.   The vagaries of the web and access to broad-enough bandwidth are making schools more interested in gaining some control.  For instance, they subscribe to a video streaming service but the videos are loaded on their own server to facilitate use.   And, the problems of kids stumbling on porn or predators online have made them more eager to subscribe to closed networks that provide drill and practice or integrated learning systems that can be more easily used by teachers.  No worry over how to both use weblogs or wikis and how to keep students safe…stand-alone software and secure networks have paired together to create a technology teachers already understand: worksheets and guided practice.  The software probably includes data collection as well, something that has become a hot topic in recent years as educators try to figure out how to improve standardized test scores.  In this case, it is assessment that is driving both invention and necessity.

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