Cutting Through the Techno Hype: Questioning Inherited Assumptions

Muffoletto "provides the reader with a broad historical and social perspective of computers in education." His thesis can be best understood from the introductory comments to the book on page 4 and 5. It reads as follows: "The introduction of any device or tool into the classroom environment must be considered in reference to change. The definition and control of that change has, since the late 19th century, been the domain of the expert. The role of the educational expert in defining curriculum and legitimate forms of knowledge has been removed from the interpretive social world and situated in the objective disinterested world of science. ... Muffoletto argues for the "unmasking" of the expert as a nonsocial, nonhistorical subject. Muffoletto's argument is clear: To understand computers in educational practice the idea of the expert must be unpacked and placed in a social, historical, and political world. Accompanying the expert is the discourse of expertise and science. But more so, the expert participates in the discourse of power and interest. In turning to the expert for solutions to predetermined problems, the expert also defines or redefines the problem(s) in light of certain ways of knowing. The way problems are articulated frames the possible actions to reach a solution. Computers in education have been framed by discourses and struggles of our social history(s). Therefore, what can be discussed, who is heard, and the actions to be taken are all linked to our beliefs about expertise and about technology." (LAD)

This article considers the philosophical and historical concerns that guide thought and action related to the vision of computers in education. The authors position that many competing epistemologies in the fields of educational technology and education research pose different assumptions about the social world and the world of schooling itself. Hypermedia is presented by the authors as "a new information technology designed to relate data processing to human thought." However, this metaphorical jump should be viewed with caution. They further argue that with hypermedia's introduction into the "field of education ties research to state agendas." Namely that there is an "overt purpose to provide technological responses that will modernize schools in relation to changes perceived in the workplace and culture." (LAD)

Shenk has a pessimistic view of the supposed promises of technology. He describes it as a "sort of mindless techno-utopianism [that] threatens to distract us..." He further goes on to state that "ever on the horizon sits a wondrous technology promising to deliver a truly suitable, educated, civil, democratic society. And, though it never does quite work out that way, the hope springs eternal."

Another poignant issue that Shenk addresses is the dichotomy between data and knowledge, between publicly available information and public understanding. One would think that with the assumed use in public knowledge one would also see a "dramatic expansion in public education over this century" -- not so he asserts. We are much like a "cargo cult" society in which our core belief is "that the mere presence of computers will somehow bring learning back to the classroom." He continues on to say "education is about enlightenment and not just access." (LAD)