Week 1: Exploring Assumptions About Technology and Learning – Summer 2023


Much of the content of this course is based on reading, finding and analyzing resources. This week begins with four assigned resources that introduce the following topics.

  • Cultural issues and technology in learning systems
  • Research in educational technology
  • Technological utopianism
  • The educational technology industry

These are introductory resources intended to lay some foundations in your understanding of educational and environments. In the following weeks we introduce the first of the four course themes.

Activity 1: Readings

Before we enter an exploration of literature and other resources in the four course themes, we begin with setting the stage to the wider picture with four resources. These resources aren’t focused on the use or effectiveness of technology in education, but rather get more fundamentally at the underlying dynamics and cultural assumptions we make about technology in education. The purpose of these resources is to introduce technologies in education not just as mere techniques, software and systems that do work for us, but also as products as well as influencers of our social, economic and cultural environments.

Begin by exploring the four resources below, and then follow up by reading the notes below.

Access these peer-reviewed research articles via TRU Library:

Then read this blog post:

Cultural Issues and Technology in Learning Systems

According to Chen, Mashhadi, Ang, and Harkrider (1999), “… an effective learning environment involves more than the use of technology—culturally mediated social interaction and perseverance towards a shared vision is an essential part of the learning process” (p. 228). A number of pedagogical approaches are, in their assessment, connected to underlying characteristics of “Western” and “Eastern” cultural traditions. While pointing out their wish not to over-generalize or stereotype these traditions, they point to a mechanistic world view in the West, as compared with a more holistic world view in the East, also described as dualistic versus non-dualistic. They claim that “Technology appears to make everything transparent, whilst, in fact, it is conveying and shaping both private and public understanding” (p. 221). These play out in such pedagogical distinctions as follows:

Table 1

Pedagogical Approaches Connected to Underlying Cultural Traditions



Thoughtfulness Memorization
Component skills Whole task
Breadth of knowledge Depth of knowledge
Diverse expertise Uniform expertise
Understanding Access
Cognitive fidelity Physical fidelity
Authentic problem solving Abstract problem solving
Multidirectional and multimedia communication Direct one-way communication

Chen, A. Y., Mashhadi, A., Ang, D., & Harkrider, N. (1999, December 16). Cultural issues in the design of technology‐enhanced learning systems. British Journal of Educational Technology, 30(3), 217–230. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8535.00111


These (and many other) different ways of seeing and understanding the world will have an impact on both the perceptions of technology itself and its role in society, and the way technology will be used in teaching and learning.

Research in Educational Technology

Rather than just look at cultural contexts of educational technology, Kirkwood and Price (2013) examine the research itself. What kinds of assumptions and beliefs can be found that underlie educational technology research? The authors make that case that researchers “should ensure that they acknowledge underlying assumptions and the limitations imposed by the approach adopted in order to appropriately interpret findings” (Kirkwood & Price, 2013, p. 536). What are these assumptions and limitations? Isn’t research just scientific and factual? Comparative studies—a hallmark of scientific research—have been used over many years to test hypotheses by controlling as many variables as possible, in order to isolate the specific variable that may or may not change due to an educational intervention. Interestingly, even major meta-analyses of this type of research reviewed by the authors did not discover any discussions about the assumptions underlying this type of research.

In very many cases, meta-analyses of this type of research find that very few comparative studies investigated meet the rigid criteria of this research approach. As noted by Kirkwood and Price, “Investigating the impact of technology using the comparative approach, by its very nature, imposes design constraints as the pedagogical components have to remain constant so the effects of the technology can be observed. Hence, the technological potential is not advanced or explored” (2013, p. 538). In other words, due to the strong sets of controls that need to be in place to ensure that the populations being compared are subject to no other influences or conditions than those imposed by the researcher, comparative scientific studies typically narrow the focus of research to one aspect of efficiency. As they note:

When comparing the performance of student groups to determine the effects of any innovation the comparison assumes that the inputs such as resources, learning activities, support, etc., should be equivalent or very similar. If student groups have actually experienced differing amounts of resource input or time spent on tasks, the comparison might provide an indication of improved outcomes, but it cannot be presumed that using technology was responsible for the improvement as the act of changing the resource compromises any claims that can be made about causality. (Kirkwood & Price, 2013, p. 539)

Classes of students cannot be treated in the same way as microbes in Petri dishes; there are often too many differences that are very difficult to control or even account for among student groups. In many cases, it is necessary to seek out other types of research—and largely qualitative or mixed methods—to gain a deeper understanding of technology and how it functions in educational settings.

Challenging Technological Utopianism

Technology used in education is not an isolated phenomenon; it fits into a larger social picture. While there continues to be great interest in the use of technology in education, and while some of the technologies used are designed specifically for education (e.g. the learning management system), in many cases such technologies as blogs, wikis and other social media were originally designed for wider uses and adopted over time by educators. The editorial by Lim (2018) describes examples of research that takes a step back from specific effects of research into technology and instead examines the wider phenomenon of educational technology and both technological utopianism and technological dystopianism. Utopianism is a belief in and striving towards a society imagined as perfect or greatly improved in such aspects as ecological, social or technological flourishing; whereas dystopianism is the reverse of this idea – i.e. the future as a dysfunctional nightmare as so often portrayed in science fiction (think of The Matrix, or Blade Runner movies).

All the articles introduced by Lim in this overview portray dimensions of technological utopianism/dystopianism:

In recent years, especially with the rise of right-wing populism and violent extremism across the world, media and academic discourses surrounding societal implications of social media have indeed taken a dystopian turn. This dystopian turn stands in stark contrast to the utopian discourses that previously dominated media coverage and scholarly literature, where the very same media were lauded as tools for democracy and social change. (2018, p. 375)

Hints of technological utopianism can be seen in such portrayals of educational technology, as this provided by Bonk (2017) complete with exclamation mark:

Without a doubt, human learning is changing in dozens of ways. There has been no moment in the evolution of the human species wherein learning delivery mechanisms, learning contents, and learning requirements to survive were changing so rapidly. What is clear is that as we head toward the Year 2020, we humans are in the midst of a learning revolution. During the past few years, learning has become increasingly collaborative, global, mobile, modifiable, open, online, blended, massive, visually-based, hands-on, ubiquitous, instantaneous, and personal. And this is just a start! (p. 3)

In such descriptions of technology in education, the use of technology is considered a relatively recent development and precipitant of “revolutions” that can occur in as little as seven-year cycles.

The Educational Technology Industry

In contrast, and more critically, in our next reading Watters (2017) notes in her blog article the long history of technology in education, going back to centuries of writing, print and more recent technologies such as computing (itself already used for over 60 years in teaching). Watters claims that rather than being something new or recently invented, technologies are a product of our history and include practices, beliefs and systems that warrant further exploration. In critiquing the Silicon Valley culture from which much current educational technology is marketed, Watters notes the trend toward promoting individualized or personalized learning enabled by technology: “The flaw of traditional education systems, we are told, is that they focus too much on the group, the class, the collective. So we see education being reframed as a technologically-enhanced series of choices – consumer choices” (2017, para. 22). The notion of personalization is often hailed as the singular strength of learning technologies, but so far the concept arises from a deeper mindset of individual versus community and collaborative learning. This is just one example of the assumptions that can be built into educational technologies, in a culture that values individualism and consumer-based ideologies of social progress.


Assignment 3: Discussion Posts and Participation (10%)

Discussion Post 1

This activity draws on your readings and thoughts thus far in the course, and asks you to share them with others. In the discussion area of this course, introduce an educational technology that you use or are interested in learning more about. After a brief description, consider the following in your writing:

  • What claims are made about what this technology can do to enhance or support learning?
  • What kinds of assumptions about learning does it make?
  • What questions would you have about this technology that require deeper research and reflection?

This write-up should be posted by Friday of week 1 and approximately 300 words. Following this, respond to two other posts, and in each response add your own brief reflection and one question to those already provided in the original comment. This activity is about practising raising questions that will stimulate further exploration and research, not necessarily finding all the answers at this stage.

Assignment 1: ePortfolio and Blog Posts (20%)

Blog Post 1

This blog post is the first in a five-part blogging assignment. It starts the building of a foundation for a large part of your work in this course. In it you are asked to describe your own personal and professional context and your interest in any one of the themes from the list provided. (You may also choose your own, but this will first require discussion with your Open Learning Faculty Member to ensure your topic meets course requirements.)

The purpose of this post is to start your thinking early about your theme selection for the Final Project, as well as about your own interest and application to your professional setting or area of interest. As part of this assignment, write the first draft of your research question(s) which will be further developed for use in your Final Project. Read Developing a Research Question from SUNY Empire State College (n.d.) for more information about a research question.

Your post in total should be approximately 600–700 words. Cite at least three resources such as journal articles, videos, or academic websites. In this blog post you should:

  • Introduce yourself and tell us a little about your professional setting and interests.
  • Describe of one or more technologies and learning environments you work in or which are of interest to you.
  • Provide your analysis of how one of the technologies you’ve described supports and enhances teaching and learning.
  • Write down the first draft of your research question(s) for the Final Project.

Assignment 2: Team Presentation (20%)

Part of the learning in this course involves team activities. By the end of this week you should be formed into teams. The size of teams will depend on the number of students in the class. Your Open Learning Faculty Member will provide further information.

Next week your team will choose for a date and topics for your presentation.


In this first week we learned the overall structure of the course and read four resources by Chen, Mashhadi, Ang, and Harkrider (1999); Kirkwood and Price (2013); Lim (2018); and Watters (2017) which set the stage for further research. We see throughout these resources an array of ideas that prompt deeper thinking about the role of culture in our perceptions and uses of technology, and the dominant narratives that underlie them. For educators with an interest in technology and its potential in education, these assumptions and narratives may be surfaced, discussed, and taken into account when we delve into the many issues that arise in our practice and in the wider culture.

We read and thought about resources, formed teams, and wrote a blog post and discussion post.


Bonk, C. J. (2017, June 26–29). The fourth industrial revolution meets the fourth e-learning revolution. Immersive Learning Research Network Conference – iLRN 2017, Coimbra, Portugal. http://castor.tugraz.at/doku/iLRN2017/iLRN2017OnlineProceedings.pdf

Chen, A. Y., Mashhadi, A., Ang, D., & Harkrider, N. (1999, December 16). Cultural issues in the design of technology‐enhanced learning systems. British Journal of Educational Technology, 30(3), 217–230. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8535.00111

Kirkwood, A., & Price, L. (2013, June 4). Examining some assumptions and limitations of research on the effects of emerging technologies for teaching and learning in higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(4), 536–543. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12049

Lim, M. (2018). Challenging technological utopianism. Canadian Journal of Communication, 43(3), 375–379. https://doi.org/10.22230/cjc.2019v44n3a3393

Watters, A. (2017, May 24). Education technology as “the new normal.” Hack Education. http://hackeducation.com/2017/05/24/new-normal

SUNY Empire State College. (n.d.). Developing a research question. https://www.esc.edu/online-writing-center/resources/research/research-paper-steps/developing-questions/

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