A Post Modern View
Postmodernism is a perspective, a state of being that accepts a different set of beliefs than those held in the latest of the modern ages, which was based on the notion of industrial, scientific, positivistic enlightenment (Yeaman 15) Postmodernism rejects the view that science can be spoken in a singular, universal voice (Yeaman et al 6), and focuses instead on the various voices emanating from our vast and varied cultures and sub-cultures. It helps us to see that the objective truths that science and technology sought to discover are highly relative and political (Yeaman et al 11). Solomon (1988) says that:
The postmodern experience is best described as a perceptual montage. (212)
This montage indicates a recognition, acknowledgment, and acceptance of not just one or two but of multiple world views (Hlynka 1994 15). It is a radical change toward the multiple, the temporal and the complex (Prigogine 1984 xxvii). Not all postmodern philosophers agree as to what exactly postmodernism is; for some it is a rejection of the modern set of beliefs; for others it is a continuum that encompasses modern beliefs, then moves beyond them in an effort to effect cultural progress.
With regard to the postmodern view of technology, Yeaman says:
Postmodern thinking does not dispute the value of trying to improve both the world and human relations, but it does question the possibility of doing so with only science and technology. (16)
Instead, that process is couched in human terms, on a human scale. What started as an architectural movement has now grown into full swing in the social sciences as a means for redefining ways of thinking, being, and acting in the world in a very real sense.
There are a number of tools in the postmodern tool box. The two that I have selected with which to review educational technology from this postmodern perspective are the application of critical theory and deconstruction. Critical theory is a process that can be applied in any field of inquiry, whereas deconstruction is a sub-process, a means by which critical inquiry can be conducted.
Critical theory is the process of upholding the reality of ideas or forms over the reality of appearances. (Adams 1971) It forces "sociological empiricism to interrogate its own taken-for-granted exemption from the sullying interest of perspective, passion, polemic, and politics." (Yeaman et al 6)
Critical theory has helped to uncover some of the underlying assumptions forming the base of educational technology. These findings will be discussed in the last section. Many disciplines are turning to critical theory to account for themselves, their actions, and their responsibilities in the global context...in seeking an alternative to the scientific, technological, engineering heritage of positivism. (Yeaman et al 6) Leitch (1988) too says that "contemporary criticism is involved with the ethics of 'political, social, aesthetic, economic and theological values and interests'" (51)
Deconstruction is a tool of critical theory. It allows the individual to deconstruct, to look beneath that which is textually bounded, whether as a political, cultural, or sociological imperative, or as an opinion raised by an individual. The goal of deconstruction is to get at the underlying assumptions, to determine not just what was said, but who said it, for what purpose, for who's benefit. There is also the opportunity to seek out that which was NOT said; sometimes quite a telling task itself. The process of deconstruction "seeks the deconstructive moment or place where texts contradict themselves and fall away from their original meaning" (Yeaman 16).
One problem in deconstruction is that we as researchers are still constrained by language. As described by Derrida (1978), language itself may be endlessly self-referential, leading to the conclusion that text can be deconstructed "not once but in many different ways" yielding a variety of meanings based on the perspective of the deconstructor. The goal is to understand how, through deconstruction, multiple layers of message and meaning can overlay one and other, and that even after the process is complete, one's view may still be obscured.
Through inquiry into educational technology using critical theory and deconstruction, it has become apparent (amongst other findings) that:
[[dotaccent]] Scientific or technical solutions seem unsuitable for solving many world problems, including those in education.
[[dotaccent]] Institutions can be extremely dehumanizing, including educational institutions.
[[dotaccent]] Knowledge and instructional messages always have a cultural slant (Yeaman et al 7)
If we agree that the above conclusions are not acceptable states of being, which direction should we as educators, and as educational technologists take? Recall that those who work with critical theory "are concerned with questions of power, control and epistemology as social constructions with benefits to some and not to others." (Muffoletto 54)
For many postmodernists, an important factor is the incorporation of personal choice into the educational arena, both for education in general, and for the application of technology. According to Taylor & Johnson (1986):
Technological literacy is based on the awareness of the dialectic between technology and human choice. When technology eliminates the possibility for human choice, it is dehumanizing. Authentic human choice, human agency, involved an understanding of the responsibility and fallibility that come with decision arrived at in the full light of the critical continuum...In order to regain a perspective of what we want technology to do for us and what we want to do for ourselves, we need to gather in an individual and collective struggle...The first step of this struggle will involve the contextualization of technology, the arrival oat a common syntax and vocabulary that will allow us to reach a better understanding of how technological change effects our thinking, language, knowledge, attitudes and subsequent action. (216)
The goal of postmodern educational technology is to apply tools in a manner that allows individuals to think and act in a truly democratic fashion. Muffaletto states that:
If problems and solutions are defined in terms of efficiency, outcomes, and management the problems and solutions will be of one nature. If problems are contextualized in a discourse of democracy and social justice, efficiency, outcomes, and management may be part of the solution, but to "what and how" they refer to will be different. As education in the United States considers who and how it must change, technology as a medium which effects knowing, institutional, and individual relationships, as well as a sense of self and others, must be better understood within this discourse of democratic ideals. (54)
But what system of ethics should be applied? One option is to look into more closely that which has been described as a feminist approach, which employs both a feminist ethic and pedagogy.
In her article entitled The Rite of Right, or the Right of Rite, Anderson (1994) makes an excellent distinction between our current modern, positivist approach to education, and a post-positivist, postmodern approach. She likens each to ballet and improvisational dance, respectively. In ballet, what is valued is technique, drill and practice, and control. In improvisational dance, what is valued is the aesthetic that the individual is able to bring to the performance, the dynamic fluidity with which each movement is interpreted and re-conveyed. The same can be said for each perspectives view of education and the application of educational technology.
Feminist ethics and pedagogy are devoted to the deconstruction of the dialectic; creating community by encouraging the individual, through one's own narrative and the narrative of others to 'fold in' on one's self, even one's beliefs, to see the perspective of other and to perceive and accept others in light of our common humanity.
Sartre also perceived the need to re-engage with self and other; that rarely is something of societal value created by the individual. Instead, it is the individual-in-community. He said:
Thus, we must at the same time teach one group that the reign of ends cannot be realized without revolution and the other groups that revolution is conceivable only if it prepares the reigns of ends. It is this perpetual tension-- if we can keep it up-- which will realize the unity of our public. In short, we must mitilate, in our writings, in favor of the freedom of the person and the socialist revolution. It has often been claimed that they are not reconcilable. It is our job to show tirelessly that they imply each other. (Sartre 1965 246)
Jameson (1993) also discusses the need to develop a thread of commonality; a visceral understanding of the basic, underlying human condition (Sagan). Jameson writes:
I think one cannot too often emphasize the logical possibility, alongside both the old closed, centered subject of inner-directed individualism and the new non-subject of the fragmented or schizophrenic self, of a third term which would be very precisely the non-centered subject that is a part of an organic group or collective. Indeed the final form of Sartre's theory of totalization emerges in the very attempt to theorize such a group and the subject-positions within it. Meanwhile, although the theory and the rhetoric of multiple subject-positions is an attractive one, it should always be completed by an insistence on the way in which subject-positions do not come into being in a void but are themselves the interpellated roles offered by this or that already existing group Whatever truce or alliance one wants to stage between one's various subject-positions, therefore (deliberately excluding the stigmatized possibility that one might try to unify them), what will ultimately be at stake is some more concrete truce or alliance between the various real social groups thereby entailed. (345)
This shift from self-centeredness to community-based knowing (Gilligan 1982) and being is also supported by Damarin (1994), who suggests that instead of looking at knowledge acquisition as a process of consuming truth that is out there in an extant body of knowledge, that we become concerned with "being with knowledge" (Bonder 1985) so that "students can become free thinkers who are capable of negotiating new relationships with knowledge, and with each other." (Damarin). Her view is that our greatest opportunity for understanding comes from individual narrative:
Different stories can be seen as the same story. Justice becomes confounded with injustice, uniqueness with commonality, and goals and ideals with conditions and restrictions. (35)
Damarin espouses Nodding's 'ethic of caring' as the basis for teacher/student interactions that can have a profound effect on the design and application of educational technology:
"The design resources... of a caring ethical relationship...would begin by honoring cultural narratives, objects, artifacts, and procedures of both the classroom and the wider society; the designer would seek ways of preserving, amplifying, clarifying, and bridging these narratives, objects, and actions... Designers might also turn their attention to the provision of multiple opportunities for the one cared for to express learning and to exercise the practice of free thinking. (37)
Is this enough? Can an educational community be based on such cultural narratives? If the practice were supported throughout the organization, perhaps. There have been examples of community-based school systems that have integrated a variety of cultures into their larger culture-of-school. From my understanding, John Abbott's Education 2000 is just such an environment.
But the process has to be grounded in mutual respect, and the individuals involved have to come to the table understanding and accepting what is expected of them. It is a systemic proposition. Otherwise, like all other social band-aids, it will eventually fall off, leaving the wound of individualism bleeding once more.