Jim Groom writes another excellent piece in his blog, Bavatuesdays. In the post he makes the very important point that edutech poeple need to be aware, constantly aware, of the fact that technology, especially educational technology products like Blackboard, are bound up with corporate interests that are not our own. That technology does not always have the interest of teaching and learning to heart. I would add two things to this.
First, it’s not just corporations and capitalism that we need to be wary of, it’s governments too. Power is power, and educational technology can be the handmaiden of any institution willing to control it. What freaks me out about Blackboard most — and Angel too for that matter — is the way in which they push the assessment angle. In these systems the course becomes a conduit of information from the pedagogic periphery to the administrative core (and not between professor and student, the core relation). At some point, grade books — proffered as a convenience — will eventually frame how courses are taught and students graded, as they morph into devices for projecting standards and guidelines for teaching. The tail wags the dog.
Second, it’s not just Blackboard, but Web 2.0 as well. Facebook, for example, is about generating consumer data. It’s not, at root, about friends. So is Google. They’ve connected the web, but they’ve also helped transform the academic internet into a corporate web. The web is essentially a vast market mechanism which is quickly transforming and replacing the old, currency-based “system of the world” (if it has not done so already. The fact that banks and car makers are collapsing perhaps signifies this shift.) At least Blackboard is a knowable enemy, and therefore manageable to some extent. With Web 2.0, we have entered a matrix of surveillance the likes of which no dystopian novel I have read anticipated, since it is a matrix that we voluntary participate in. The degree of trust that we have given over to the web is amazing.
This is why I think edutech needs to do two things. We need to activate faculty as critics of technology, not simply users. By critic I mean one who understands technology for what it is, a cultural form with cognitive, pedagogical and social consequences, for good and for bad, and not merely a convenience. This is an important dimension of media fluency. And we need to encourage the development of what I call academia’s “indigenous” technologies, the true source of open source. Academia created contributed heavily to the creation of the internet and the web, and we have traditions of digital scholarship and e-science that provide alteranate frameworks for doing edutech than the Web 2.0 world of tags, life streaming, and network effects. These things are great — I am for them — but they can’t be our refuge from Blackboard.