Pedagogy before Technology?
Don’t think so….

pedagogyThere are those who would prefer to pretend otherwise, but developments in the digital and networking technologies over recent decades, developments that are growing faster and deeper with every day that passes, have profound implications for education. The shifting technologies are, I believe, asking hard questions of educationists in relation to their use of basic categories such as pedagogy, curriculum, teaching, learning and so on. At one level we can play the game of perceiving all such categories as universals, as fixed terms that have universal application in all times and in all circumstances. To play this game, however, leads us to make the mistake that many have made when they offer flawed mantras such as:

“Education First, Technology Second.”

or

“Pedagogy must lead the technology.”

This is just plain wrong, and is a result of complacent teacher-ly thinking.

If we dissect this mindset we find a couple of contentious assertions:

  • first, that the very essense of learning, and the various components that make up teaching and learning, are more or less unchanging – such categories can be seen as, in some sense, fixed theoretical and practical entities across time, culture and context;
  • secondly, that technology is somehow subservient to pedagogy.

The reality, I believe, is that, throughout human history, this very essence we speak of has shifted and metamorphised considerably, and often, in response to changing economic and technological possibilities. It is an absolute truth that the technological basis of the society we inhabit will have a profound effect on the nature and form of education that can take place in that society. Indeed, new technologies can change what we mean by education because they change what it means to be educated. It is no more useful, in this context, to place ‘education before technology’ than it is to put ‘technology before education’.

The very nature of what it means to be literate, to be educated, is shifting around us. The deeply social nature of the technologies and digital platforms available today, an ever-expanding set of tools that continue to offer new possibilities for self-expression and for collective expression almost on a daily basis, already puts in question many of the long-held assumptions that have been part and parcel of schooling for so long. The nature of what it means to know, the role of the teacher in the learning process, the relationship between teacher and learner, the diminishing importance of prescribed content within curricula, the inadequacy (some might argue, irrelevance) of the school building as a self-contained place within which learning is supposed to happen, the questionable efficacy of arbitrary ’standards’ to be tested over and over again during a young person’s school career – all of these and many other issues mean that teachers today are faced with a stark choice between an outmoded reality that, if sustained, will render school increasingly irrelevant to most children most of the time, and the new reality, one that recognises the major shifts brought about by the developments in digital technologies in recent years.