Sociology of Technology

  • Concept Map--an alternate view (to come)
  • Resources, Links (to come)

Most Prominent Contributors

Kerr & Taylor

Hlynka & Belland

L. Winner

D. Newman

Marx, Weber, Durkheim (19th century)


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Definition of Learning

  • Learning is cultural reproduction and changes in social dynamics.

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Description of main concepts

  • Technology is seen as rational, ordered and controlled—all advantageous qualities.
  • Americans have long assumed that technological solutions might bring increased efficiency order and productivity to education—now, if we could just find the right one…joint ventures with business have often taken this approach; Replace old technology (teachers) with new technology (computers)
  • There have been many unforeseen social effects with the implementation of technologies.  Does technology contribute to the problem or solutions?
  • Beside the efficiency model people, there is a group that sees technology as a basis for increased lateral communication, community and democracy.  Yet another view proposes that technology might be used to emulate art over science and the scientific method, focusing on values rather than proof.   “We must refuse to accept efficiency as the pre-eminent goal” says Neil Postman.
  • In the last 150 years, schools and education have been universally institutionalized having defined sets of bureaucratic procedures for processing students, dealing with teachers, staff and addressing the public and communities.
  • As technology is seen as a solution to bureaucracy, sociologists ask what technological conditions encourage bureaucracies to become more flexible and responsive?
  • How are traditional roles of administrators, students, teachers and the community (parents) changed with the introduction of technology into schools?
  • Technologies have built in political and social meanings (Winner L., 1980) by virtue of the ways we define, design and use them.
  • The growing move toward high-stakes computerized testing could disadvantage minority students.
  • What does it mean socially and politically in our different groups not to have a cel phone, laptop, PDA, projector, whiteboard, digital camera, computer in the classroom, printer, CD burner, DVD player, gaming console, car, email address, or website—or the latest, greatest version of these?
  • If technology is viewed as a support for teachers and a validation of their role and authority, then it will be accepted, but will be disregarded if it is seen as a replacement or alternative to a teacher’s presence and worth.  Computers seems to fall somewhere in the middle.
  • Where educational technology is introduced, ongoing training and support must be provided, school and district support should be clear, and teachers should be given opportunity to develop their own style.
  • In the final analysis, educational technology’s primary impact in schools may be less about student learning, and more about the work done in schools: how it is defined, who does it, why, and how it connects with the surrounding community and systems of which it is a part.  What does a classroom look and feel like, is learning more active or passive with technology?
  • That technology impacts our society is clear (automobile, telephone, television, microwave, computer, Internet) What the moral and ethical consequences are is less clear and rarely examined.  A new critical sociology of educational technology is needed to consider the sociological consequences.

    Key terms

    • Sociology-the study of how people interact as members of groups and organizations.
    • Organizations
    • Bureaucracies
    • Roles
    • Groups of affiliation (joined voluntary) vs. ascription (involuntarily assigned)
    • Technology adoption
    • Technology as new form of cultural capital (digital divide)
    • Technopoly—Deification of technology (Neil Postman)

    Relation to other theories

    • Seems to have relation to systems theory views on groups and bureaucratic organizations (complex self-regulating systems, resistant to change)
    • Addresses some power structure and hierarchical structures addressed by post-modernism and feminism

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Initial (knee-jerk) Reactions

  • Sure a lot of questions…scant on solutions.
  • Technology plays a big role in social change (= education) because it affects bureaucracies which thing schools are—It’s a perspective…sounds ok, but I’m not sure the argument is solid enough.
  • I disagree with the premise that technological assistance will ultimately lead to expert replacement—it may lead to one becoming expert in other areas.  Replacement should not be feared. (easy for me to say in my prime)
  • Computers are talked about as if they represent one thing.  Computers do so many different things that speaking of them in such terms is both meaningless and counterproductive. They are used to process complex datasets, communicate with grandma, handle financial transactions, play games, teach skills, write novels, control robots, record experiments, design airplanes, test spelling, edit movies, count buffalo, test blood pressure, tutor students in physics concepts.  It makes no sense to speak of them so generally as if the hardware had cynical or mystical properties--Guns don’t kill, people kill!

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Relevance to Instructional Systems Design (ISD)

  • Understand the attributes of different technologies so as not to confound an intended message. Instead select technology that best facilitates the desired activities and/or message with the least amount of “noise”.
  • Understand that technology can be used to enforce power structures and roles, or to largely eliminate such structures and empower students to explore new roles.
  • Technology is an amplifier—of both good and bad practice.
  • Technology can execute defined sets of rules and tasks (drill and kill activities) potentially changing the nature of what teachers and instructors should spend their time doing in class.
  • Dealing with a group of self-directed learners with significant resources to control and satisfy their own learning is no easy job.
  • IDs must be capable of separating the technically feasible from the ethically desirable (J. Weizenbaum, MIT)

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What I Don’t Know yet / Questions

  • Technology is believed to be the great democratizer of society—in some ways it is, but it has also created a class system of haves and have-nots. How real is the digital divide, and in what contexts does it matter?


Source: S. Kerr (1996). Toward a Sociology of Educational Technology.
ch. 6 in Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology
. D.H. Jonassen (ed.) NY: Simon & Schuster

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Page last modified: Wednesday, November 6, 2002