Philosophies of Technology – Social determinism

This post forms part of a series, where I am attempting to identify my philosophies around teaching and technology, and reflect on the impact it has on my instructional design, as detailed in my initial post.

This second part of the series is focused on the philosophy of social determinism.  I commented in my initial post, the difficulty I have had with reading Kanuka article (reference at the bottom).  This part of the article was quite a handful.  I’m not sure if my interpretation below is correct or not.  Perhaps others have some insight into social determinism that may correct any misunderstandings I have.  Feedback is most welcome.

Kanuka introduces the concept of social determinism as: “… educators are concerned with the integration of technological artefacts within social systems and cultural cntexts.  This perspective emphasizes the way our uses of technologies are affected by the social structures and the social construction of technological artefacts.” This was the main critical failure identified by Kanuka in the uses determinism philosophy as I understand it. So with social determinism, the choice of technology is informed by the context in terms of society and culture.

Kanuka continues:  “Educators holding this view are concerned about the ways that social and technological uses shape the form and content of the learning experiences.”

So there is an acknowledgement that society and choice of technology affect the form and content of the learning experience.  This does sound sensible to me.

Kanuka then suggests that unless education providers learn to adapt and innovate in a marketplace of accelerating globalisation and increased competition, their long-term viability may be in jeopardy.  The solution she suggests from the social determinist is to “move to technologically innovative and consumer-oriented education.”

Here is a quote that I am not quite clear what she means.  Kanuka states:

These views rest upon the way technology is socially embedded and constituted.  In particular, social choices shape the form and content of technological artefacts (Dahlberg, 2004).  As with uses determinism, however, social determinism has logistical issues that are difficult to resolve.  Specifically, this orientation can lead to flawed understandings of educational technology, if developed without reference to user agency or material limits (Dahlberg).  The line of reasoning in this orientation – that technologies embody social choice – negates a multifaceted understanding of the place of agency in technological development … Social contexts do not simply manipulate education systems at will.  In our everyday lives, there is a dynamic mutual shaping between the social, technology, and users’ environments.

Yikes!  It is clear I am no philosopher. 🙂  I am guessing what Kanuka is saying is that technology is not socially embedded, but forms part of a 3-way relationship between sociality, technology, and the user agents, and the learning is shaped by all 3 aspects together.

The third instalment analyses technological determinism.

KANUKA, H. (2008) Understanding eLearning Technologies-in-Practice Throgh Philosophies-in-Practice. IN ANDERSON, T. (Ed.) The Theory and Practice of Online Learning. 2nd ed. Edmonton, AU Press.


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