Object Lessons: Towards an Educational Theory of Technology


  • Suzanne De Castell
  • Mary Bryson
  • Jennifer Jenson




This article offers a critical consideration of current initiatives, and concomitant discourses, exhorting educators to adopt and integrate digital tools on a large scale. Despite immense obstacles standing in the way of full-scale implementation, educational perspectives critical of the e-learning imperative are, for the most part, marginalized and/or ignored, as economic interests are prioritized over more specifically educational ones, and a new breed of entrepreneurial academics give intellectual legitimacy to commercial and corporate ideologies. New 'partnerships' of designers and developers committed to technology for its own sake now create products for the 'education marketplace,' with little or no experience of, or interest in, underlying educational goals, while explicitly educational theories are supplanted by a re-purposed economistic discourse. Two prominent examples of 'educational technology' are describe here: the "integrated learning system" and the "networked e-learning environment", and some contrasts are made to the authors' own, small-scale, school-based technology research and development efforts. This latter type of interventionist work, designed to challenge business-as-usual in the culture of public schooling, offers a critical perspective on the typically under-theorized and unproblematic uptake and mis/uses of new technologies in school-based settings. It is proposed that one way of re-thinking the purposes and uses of new technologies for education might be to re-position common theoretical questions, asking not how education might use these new tools, but instead asking what, educationally, they might offer; instead of theorizing educational technology, then, the focus becomes an educational theory of technology. Adopting this reflexive stance, which views intervention activities as object lessons, provides instructive opportunities to learn from our tools even as we endeavor to rethink, not just their uses, but more fundamentally the prospects of digital technologies for reconceiving the very idea of a truly public education.




How to Cite

De Castell, S., Bryson, M., & Jenson, J. (2002). Object Lessons: Towards an Educational Theory of Technology. First Monday, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v7i1.923