Openness in Education: Technology, Pedagogy and Critique


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Critical theorists subscribe to the Hegelian view that philosophical or critical reflection is retrospective, and for fear of becoming uncritical are generally against the idea that particular worldviews or ideologies should be propagated through formal education. This can make it difficult for the critical theorist to be anything other than negative about education, and perhaps with good reason: modern education is undergoing seismic changes which often manifest themselves as crises of commodification, corporatization, or the intrusion of extreme forms of technological modernity into educational institutions. Yet technological innovation raises pedagogical possibilities – many of them outside the academy – which are distinctly critical.

In this presentation I assess the state of the art in educational technology, focusing on approaches which identify as ‘open’. The kind of technological interventions in education typical of the last fifty years have often been centrally led and imposed, and thus representative of the encroachment of system imperatives into educational lifeworlds. However, recent technologies present new possibilities for a less linear and more lateral approach to education. While optimism about the pedagogical potential of new technologies must of course be tempered by remaining attentive to the dubious strategies and ideologies being employed by education policymakers. I focus on the case of open education to show how technological change is bringing about opportunities both for new and inclusive pedagogies, and for social critique. I appeal to Dewey, Freire and Illich to indicate some of the ways in which a radically democratic pedagogy rooted in information and communication technologies might stand as a bulwark to neo-liberal interventions in education, concluding with the suggestion that critical theorists should consider significant engagement with the design of learning system and communication technologies.

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  • Refs for the 1970s claim are in the Vinterbo & Ho paper
  • Openness in Education: Technology, Pedagogy and Critique

    1. 1. Openness in Education: Technology, Pedagogy and Critique Robert Farrow London Conference in Critical Thought, 6th June 2013
    2. 2. Main claims of this presentation • Higher education is in transition • Traditional learning theories based on closed environments: need for new pedagogies based on open paradigm • Academics should do more to engage with novel technologies and embrace ‘openness’
    3. 3. Structure • I. Contemporary higher education • II. State of the art in educational technology • III. Critical theory and educational technology • IV. Openness
    4. 4. I. Higher Education • Commodification of education • Forced introduction of market forces • Students seen as customers/consumers; tuition rising • Education as means to employability • Govt strategy: fund research according to ‘impact’ • Strategization of academia
    5. 5. I. Higher Education • Technological and cultural change • Increasing specialism among universities – Elite institutions – Mass university – Niche institute – Local university • Division of research and teaching functions; career uncertainty • Scholars less tied to particular institutions • Scholars less tied to traditional dissemination
    6. 6. I. Higher Education • ‘Massification’ of higher education • Improved access to education and scholarly artefacts • Emergence of new forms of technologically mediated inquiry: digital humanities, interdisciplinarity, big data • Rise of ubiquitous and informal learning • Interest in markets opened up by technology • Co-opting the language of ‘openness’ – Green & gold access – The mixed picture with MOOCs
    7. 7. II. Educational Technology • Broadly construed as study of all tools and techniques employed in education • Interdisciplinary • A collaborative approach to iterative improvement of systems and practices
    8. 8. Open Education Movement • Belief that education is undergoing fundamental changes as a result of innovation in digital technologies • Improving access to education and widening participation by closing the ‘digital divide’ (Smith and Casserly, 2006) • Encouraging collaboration across disciplinary boundaries and between academics, educators, technologists and support staff within and beyond educational institutions • Argues that we need new pedagogies and systems for intellectual property which are adequate for contemporary education
    9. 9. Open Education Movement • A normative commitment to the idea that knowledge should be free, both to access and develop.  Reducing cost of education at point of delivery  Providing courses which are free to participate in  Rethinking educational materials as open-access, OER  Supported by a range of Creative Commons licences  Research projects and policy initiatives taking place around the globe Working towards pedagogies which make use of new technology
    10. 10. Open Educational Resources (OER) “OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.” (Atkins et al, 2007:4) Potential to catalyse a range of educational practices
    11. 11. Open Educational Practices • ‘Openness’ in education necessarily shifts the focus from content (OER) to practices (OEP) that are necessary for the use of that content (Mackey & Jacobson, 2011; Weller, 2011). • Assumption: learning is becoming more open, more complex • OER as radical object • OEP as radical practice • Degrees of openness The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology McAndrew & Farrow (2012)
    12. 12. “Open Educational Practices (OEP) are the set of activities and support around the creation, use and repurposing of Open Educational Resources. It also includes the contextual settings within which these practices occur.” Conole (2011)
    13. 13. III. Openness & Critique • Critical theories share an interest in the critique of oppressive or dominant economic and/or sociopolitical force • Link between educational technology & critical theory generally underexplored • Feenberg (2002) suggests critical theory has been left out of the debate over technology • Kellner (2003) advocates radical restructuring of educational systems • Critical theories of education should have normative-utopian dimensions (Nicholls & Allen-Brown, 1996)
    14. 14. III. Openness & Critique • New ways of seeing, categorizing, mapping, connecting and relating theory to practice (Kellner, 2003) • Knowledge is fundamentally political and bound up with human interest: critical theories strive towards emancipatory forms of knowledge (Habermas, 1971) • Rejection of idealist, elitist and oppressive elements of pedagogy
    15. 15. Dewey • Education is fundamentally pragmatic, with theory emerging from practice • Emphasis on freedom and independence, not conformity and memorization
    16. 16. Freire • Leading advocate of critical pedagogy • Emancipatory, dialogical approach which rejects dominant values and promotes transformation • Link knowledge to praxis to bring about social change
    17. 17. Illich • Postindustrial model of education • Emphasis on ‘community webs’; informal and autonomous learning networks • Connectivism
    18. 18. Adorno • Disabusing ideology ‘of its pretention to reality’ through critique • This forms the basis for alternative forms of understanding and possibilities for action
    19. 19. Habermas • Stresses communicative aspects of academia • For Habermas the university has a centrality in the symbolic reproduction of the lifeworld • Defence of systems even in the face of colonizing tendencies
    20. 20. Benjamin • Formative education should encourage experience of the fullness of life
    21. 21. The role of the university • What role for the university envisaged by Humboldt or Schelling? • Bildung is bigger than education [Erziehung]: complex concept comprising educational, cultural and political perspectives, emphasizing rationality, autonomy, self-activity and a culture of active participation • A reflective, creative form of self-realization or self-cultivation achieved with and through relations with others • Unrestrained interplay between the individual and the world • Fulfilling the innate human potential of the individual • Education has a function; Bildung is a value in itself • See Deimann & Farrow (2013)
    22. 22. Bildung (Modern) • Bildung had a considerable impact on German educational thought and has entered educational and political terminology • Widely seen by the 1970s as ideologically compromised and without empirical value; relaunched by Klafki (1985) • Hegelian-Marxist tradition: criticism of capitalist model of knowledge production: increase profits by treating learners as consumers rather than active, reflective agents (Adorno, 1966; Leissman, 2006) • In Germany, now a byword for education as business, framed in terms of measurable competencies, though arguably currently undergoing a renaissance (Prange, 2004) The Open University's Institute of Educational Technology
    23. 23. IV. Openness: summary • Obviously the relationship between technology and society is complex and disputed • Technology can now be used to perpetuate centrally controlled systems or decentralized, informal, dialogues which support learning • Resources for self-reflexive critique of commercialisation of education and engaging in discourse about educational culture • Need for new pedagogies which emphasize critical reflection, autonomous inquiry and information literacy rather than instruction and print literacies reproduced online
    24. 24. Open Education: Opportunities for Reflexivity • New emphases on authenticity, autonomy • New possibilities for articulation through participatory culture: social media, identity, mobile, augmented reality • Resources for self-reflexive critique of commercialisation of education and engaging in discourse about educational culture • OER has the potential to support critical thinking through access to a rich base of learning materials from different contexts • New pedagogies which may be involve re-appropriation or remixing of educational materials
    25. 25. Critical Pedagogy: worries about e-learning • Technology suspected of instrumental attitudes; being insufficiently dialogic and mechanistic • ‘Factory’ model response to the changing economic conditions of higher education • Automated models of education typically reproduce, rationalize and perpetuate established forms of knowledge and ways of learning • Technological determinism • Myth of the knowledge economy (Friesen, 2008)
    26. 26. Being Open, Being Critical • Researchers should consider only disseminating their work ‘in the open’. (This may have career implications!) • Need for sensitivity to the way that commercial providers are co- opting the rhetoric of openness. • Resistance to the commodification of knowledge • Critical theory provides a way to question the background assumptions, definitions and roles informing technological innovation in education • Conversely, openness in education provides fresh opportunity for reflection, critique & building communities and sharing perspectives
    27. 27. References • Adorno, T. W. (1966). Negative Dialektik. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag • Atkins, D., Seely Brown, J., & Hammond, A. L. (2007). A review of the open educational resources (OER) movement: Achievements, challenges, and new opportunities. San Francisco, CA: William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.hewlett. org/uploads/files/ReviewoftheOERMovement.pdf • Conole, G. (2011) Defining Open Educational Practices [online]. Available from p=373. • Deimann, M. & Farrow, R. (2012) Bildung as a critical foundation for open education. Open Education: Beyond Content. October 16-18, Vancouver, Canada. • Feenberg, A. (2002). Transforming Technology: A Critical Theory Revisited. Oxford University Press. • Friesen, N. (2008). Critical Theory: Ideology Critique and the Myths of E-Learning. Ubiquity (June). Available from • Habermas, J. (1971). Knowledge and Human Interests. trans. by Jeremy J. Shapiro. Boston: Beacon. Press. • Kellner, D. (2003). Towards a critical theory of education. Available from
    28. 28. References • Klafki, W. (1985). Neue Studien zur Bildungstheorie und Didaktik: Zeitgemäße Allgemeinbildung und kritisch- konstruktive Didaktik. Weinheim: Beltz. • Liessmann, K. (2006). Theorie der Unbildung: Die Irrtümer der Wissensgesellschaft. Wien: Zsolnay. • Mackey, Thomas and Trudi Jacobson (2011). “Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy.” College and Research Libraries 72, no. 1: 62-78. • McAndrew, P. & Farrow, R. (2013) ‘Open Education Research: From the Practical to the Theoretical’ in McGreal, R., Kinuthia, W. and Marshall, S. (eds) Open Educational Resources: Innovation, Research and Practice. Commonwealth of Learning and Athabasca University, Vancouver. pp.65-78 • Nichols, R., & Allen-Brown, V. (1996). Critical theory and educational technology. In D. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research for educational communications and technology. New York: Simon and Shuster Macmillan, 226-252. • Prange, K. (2004). Bildung: a paradigm regained? European Educational Research Journal, 3(2), 501-509. • Smith, M.S. & Casserly, C.M., (2006). The promise of open educational resources. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 38(5), 8–17. • Weller, M. (2011) The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice. Bloomsbury Academic.
    29. 29. The Open University Walton Hall Milton Keynes MK7 6AA philosopher1978