Week 1 Resources


Popular cultures

Film 1: Bendito Machine III (6:35) 



This animated film tells the story of technological development in terms of ritual and worship - the characters in the film treat each new technology as god-like, appearing from the sky and causing the immediate substitution of the technology before it. What is this film suggesting are the ecological and social implications of an obsession or fixation on technology? Do the film’s characters have any choice in relation to their technologies? What are the characteristics of various technologies as portrayed in this film?

Film 2: Inbox (8:37)



Inbox is a quirky representation of the ways in which web-based technology connects people, the limitations of those connections, and the nature of communication in a mediated world. Depending on how you interpret the relationship between the two main characters, and the ending, you might argue that this is a utopian account, or a dystopian one - what do you think, and why?

Film 3: Thursday (7:34) 



Thursday depicts a tension between a natural world and a technological world, with humans caught between the two. What message is the film presenting about technology? What losses and gains are described? Who or what has ‘agency’ in this film?

Film 4: New Media (2:21) 


A very short, very grim representation of the effects of technology on humanity. There are definite visual echoes of 'Bendito Machine III' here - what similarities and differences can you identify between the two films?

Finally: There are many utopian and dystopian stories about technology told in popular films from Metropolis to the Matrix. Can you think of an example and describe or share it in the discussion board, on your blog, or on 腾讯微博(using the tag(标签)edcmooc. 请浏览:腾讯微博如何加标签)

Ideas and interpretations

Chandler, D. (2002). Technological determinism. Web essay, Media and Communications Studies, University of Aberystwyth. Download as PDF.
(Please note that this reading is a web essay, available from http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/tecdet/tecdet.html, but we are also providing it as a PDF. An alternative, web-based version is available via the Wayback Machine.) 

Chandler’s web essay explores the concept and history of technological determinism, which he defines as ‘seek[ing] to explain social and historical phenomena in terms of one principal or determining factor’ - technology. Chandler calls this theory ‘reductive’, and points out that as a way of understanding social phenomena, reductionism is often criticised as being overly simplistic. This is especially the case when determinists become ‘technocentric’ - ‘trying to account for almost everything in terms of technology'. He introduces concepts such as ‘reification’; ‘autonomy’; and ‘universalism’, as elements of technological determinism. Importantly for our purposes, he also indicates how we can identify when a determinist position is being taken, even if an author or speaker doesn’t make it explicit: 

The assumptions of technological determinism can usually be easily spotted in frequent references to the 'impact' of technological 'revolutions' which 'led to' or 'brought about', 'inevitable', 'far reaching', 'effects', or 'consequences' or assertions about what 'will be' happening 'sooner than we think' 'whether we like it or not'.

The resources below contain some language like this, and you will probably start to notice it elsewhere. The relationship between technological determinism and utopian and dystopian accounts is one we’d like you to consider and discuss as you engage in the readings and films during the rest of this week and next week. 

Dahlberg, L (2004). Internet Research Tracings: Towards Non-Reductionist Methodology. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 9/3. 
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2004.tb00289.x/full (a few people have noted they are having troubling accessing this open-access article, so we have uploaded it as a PDF as well)

Now that you know more about technological determinism, you may find it useful to explore two other perspectives that are common in discussions about the web and e-learning. Dahlberg describes three orientations towards the internet: 

  • Uses determination: technology is shaped and takes meaning from how individuals and groups choose to use it. Technology itself is neutral. An example of this way of thinking can be seen in the educational mantra: ‘The pedagogy must lead the technology’.
  • Technological determination: technology ‘produces new realities’, new ways of communicating, learning and living, and its effects can be unpredictable. This is the position Chandler explores in detail in our core reading.
  • Social determination: technology is determined by the political and economic structures of society. Questions about ownership and control are key in this orientation.

Which of these perspectives do you lean towards in your understanding of the relationship between technology and pedagogy? Can you point to instances in society or in your own context where this stance is necessary or useful? 

Dahlberg argues that none of these perspectives, on its own, is enough to explain everything that needs to be explained about the internet. Each is useful, and each is overstated. Depending on the questions we need to answer, different approaches may be necessary. The same could be said about e-learning - that we need more complexity, more nuance, than any one determinist position can offer us. It’s therefore extremely useful to be able to identify these positions, and in particular to know what we are dealing with when grand narratives are told about how great, or how terrible, technology is. 

Perspectives on education

Ceraulo, S. (2002). Change comes hard:
higher education's view of online learning follows the familiar "pc pattern". eLearn Magazine,http://elearnmag.acm.org/archive.cfm?aid=566844 

This short editorial is a great example of technology being positioned as inevitable, and inevitably positive. The article takes the form of a reprimand to anyone who might think they can ‘go back to life before e-learning’. Professors are described as out of touch with the needs and desires of students. Drawing on the history of the personal computer, Ceraulo makes a comparison between the computer company IBM in the 1970s and universities in the early 2000s. Do you think this is a good comparison? Do you see this as a ‘utopian’ account of e-learning? Why or why not? What aspects of technological determinism do you detect here? 
Rheingold, H. (1996). For some, the Net is a lifeline. Brainstorms, http://www.well.com/~hlr/tomorrow/lifeline.html.

Howard Rheingold has been an advocate of virtual communities and digital participation since the 1980s, and is an important voice in the sphere of participatory media and digital literacy. This short piece from 1996 offers a glimpse into the life of a disabled teenager called Blaine, for whom the internet offers a ‘complete and equal connection to the world’. Going back to the six claims introduced at the start of this block, which of these are demonstrated in this article? Is Rheingold’s account an example of ‘instrumental’ approaches to technology? 

Noble. D. (1998). Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education. First Monday 3/1.http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/viewArticle/569/490 
Noble’s piece, still a classic 15 years on, shows just how long debates about the consequences of digital education have been circulating. In contrast to Daniel’s speech, the orientation here is clearly dystopic. Where Noble frames ‘administrators and commercial partners’ as being in favour of ‘teacherless’ digital education, and ‘teachers and students’ as being against it, these divisions have never been clear, and they certainly aren’t now. Why does Noble say that technology is a ‘vehicle’ and a ‘disguise’ for the commercialization of higher education? How can we relate this early concern with commercialism to current debates about MOOCs, for example? And how are concerns about ‘automation’ and ‘redundant faculty’ still being played out today? 

Last modified: Tuesday, 14 April 2020, 12:56 AM