baffling contradictions

Here are some examples of concepts and practices about information and communication technologies (ICT) in education that leave me shaking my head in bafflement:

1. ICT is just a tool; using ICT transforms education

This example demonstrates two antithetical conceptualizations of digital technologies. The first example exemplifies as subjective view of digital technologies as a separable tool within the dominion of the perceiving subject. The second example exemplifies a technologically deterministic relationship between our uses of digital technologies and the influence these uses have on transforming educational practice. The first example demonstrates cultural determinism, that is, our human cultural practices determine which tools we may select and why. The second example demonstrates technological determinism, that is, the technologies we use determine the possibilities for human cultures of learning.

2. Learning in educational institutions needs to resemble learning in life; learning in educational institutions needs to demonstrate achievement of standards-based learning assessments

These two points of view are contradictory. The first point of view shows an appreciation for the efficacy and enthusiasm engendered by organic, emergent learning processes that arise from the pursuit of individual interests and curiosity. The second point of view maintains the organizational structure of educational institutions, an organizational structure that is rationalized through assessment processes. If we think about how we take up an interest in life, and pursue that interest to develop knowledge, skill, experience, and finally expertise, we do not need to rationalize our investment of time, energy, and money, because we are responsible for the investments we make in our lives. In an educational institution, the very existence of the institution needs to be rationalized in order to sustain the flow of financial support that makes the existence of the institution possible. Assessments of learning are the criteria by which an educational institution justifies its existence and the investments of stakeholders. Assessments of learning are not in the interests of the learners, they are in the interests of the institution.

3. 21st century learning should foster criticality, creativity, innovation and collaboration amongst students; 21st century learning must ensure all student learn core subject knowledge

These two curriculum represent contradictory views of the purpose of education. The first curriculum fosters a student body that is comfortable with change, who is trained and skilled at imagining new realities and capable of planning, testing, and implementing their discoveries. The second curriculum is a conservative program designed to ensure each succeeding generation is schooled in what the previous generation considered important or essential for the formation of a civil society. These two views are not necessarily contradictory, but are potentially at odds with each other, if their natural tendency to form tensions between these two forces are not acknowledged and negotiated. There isn’t anything inherently beneficial about searching for new ideas, approaches, or solutions, however, it is necessary for our human survival to keep searching for qualitative improvement to the perplexing problems evident in our human condition. Similarly, there isn’t anything inherently beneficial in conserving traditions or values that have been shown to be ultimately destructive to human civility, safety, or sustainability.

4. administrators and educators must harness the power of digital technologies and social media; concepts for educational organizational structures are conceived as models and frameworks, a continuous search for best practices to replicate throughout the system

These two examples demonstrate the opposing forces educators find themselves working within. On the one hand, the inexorable changes in human societies on a global scale, as a result of our involvements with digital technologies cannot be ignored. On the other hand, the very foundations of the educational institutions that have formed an edifice to learning prior to the digital age are based on artificial organizational structures, institutionalized interpersonal relationships, and operational protocols that do not exist outside the life system of the institution. If administrators and educators were to truly harness the power of digital technologies and social media, they would be undermining the organizational structures from which they derive their livelihood. When administrators and educators attempt to impose industrial era constructs such as models, frameworks, and universal best practices, they are hobbling the power of digital technologies and social media.

These are the central tensions that I have identified through my review of literature on ICT perspectives, practices, and the dynamic contextual conditions of educational institutions. It is these tensions that I argue must be addressed as politicians, administrators and educators attempt to adapt to the changing cognitive, cultural, technological terrain of life in the 21st century.


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