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The future of computers in education

Ten years ago I wrote a blog post with the title (Critical) history of ICT in education – and where we are heading? I feel that the post is still pretty accurate interpretation of the history, but there are some issues I see today differently.

Timeline of the Main Paradigms of Using Computers in Learning (Leinonen 2005, 2010)

In 2005 I was optimistic. Social media and free and open content were growing. More people were having access to free knowledge. Services and platforms for social interaction were becoming user-friendly and more accessible for more people. A large part of the Internet was commons. Internet was on its way to become a global public sphere to create, share and participate.

In 2005 many things started to change. Closed social media services, especially Facebook (found in 2004) and mobile apps (iPhone 2007), started to take over the internet.

Already for some years, for many people Facebook and the Internet are the same. Or actually many people using Facebook and mobile apps don’t even know that they are actually using Internet. The most ironic anecdote in this issue is that today Facebook owns the domain and host there a project claiming to provide free Internet connection for people who currently can’t afford one.

Today Internet is also a battlefield for intelligence agencies. As a such, it is causing a real threat to democracy, civil liberties and human rights. It is fair to say that in 2015 the world is a lot like the world described in the Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Furthermore, surveillance is not only the business of the national intelligence agencies. There are proofs that Internet corporations are collaborating with national intelligence agencies. Surveillance is easier in a walled garden than in a public space.

Because of walled gardens, mobile apps, lost of net neutrality and online privacy, Internet is not anymore what many of us think it should be.

So, what are the consequences of these changes for the future use of computers in education?

In 2005 I wrote:

I really hope that in the late 2000 social software and free and open content will make a real breakthrough in the field of educational technology. Blogs and wikis have already brought web back to its original idea: simple tool for your personal notes that are easily accessible and even editable by your peers and your potential peers.

About the pedagogy I wrote:

The pedagogical thinking behind the social software and the free and open content can be located to the social constructivist theory and cultural-historical psychology. “Any true understanding is dialogic in nature” wrote Mikhail Bakhtin and Lev Vygotsky wrote that “all higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals”.

Although, things didn’t go exactly the way I hoped them to go, there is hope.

The history of computers seems to be a continuous power struggle between exploitation and common good. For instance, PC was partly a respond to the worry that the governments running the main frame computers would have the ultimate power over people as the holders of the data and all the computing power. PC was there to give power to the people.

Similarly, the free and open source software was a result of people looking for alternatives for proprietary software that was seen to limit some of the most fundamental freedoms, such as a right to study (how the program works) and a right to help your neighbor. By introducing free software license people doing software found a way to protect these rights.

Also the growth of the Internet itself was a result of people inventing new models of governance and taking distance from the traditional corporate and governmental forms of organizations. Yochai Benkler (2013) have called these organizational forms of the internet governance, the Web, many FLOSS development and Wikipedia practical anarchy and working anarchy. We may assume that this has been partly a social response aiming to protect people’s freedoms as computer users.

Today using computers in education is problematic. E-learning cloud services where the main interest is to have your data rather than to help you to learn are common. MOOCs are good example of this. At least part of the trick with MOOCs is to collect data about the users and use that for various purposes. Often MOOC providers don’t even know why do they collect the data in the first place. There are same challenge with many publishers and providers of digital learning materials and services. In some countries there are even plans of aggregating content from various sources to a single service to make it possible to collect data about the use of the content from every school children attending a school. This would mean that in a couple of years someone could have a database to check, for instance, how many time a student X tried to pass test Y or played the game Z, when she was 7 years old.

These cloud services are collecting data with the believe that, at some point the data will be valuable. For what the data could be used then for? It could be sold for universities looking for talent, recruiters, human resource departments, insurance companies, intelligence agencies . . . I know that most likely it is not, but it is possible and therefore I am worried.

Still I am optimistic. From the history of computing we may learn that we can turn things around. We can hack things.

In our everyday practices we can find ways to use computers in a beneficial way in education without giving our data to anyone. For instance, we should always provide our students options to do their online studies anonymously. When selecting learning materials for our students, we can favor open access journals and open knowledge. When publishing our own research, we can again favor open knowledge when ever possible. We may use only services that are primary web apps and therefore work with all the web browsers and devices.

Furthermore, we must educate people about the Internet. We must make sure that everyone understands how the Internet works, why net neutrality, internet privacy and data privacy in general are important. We may tell people about FLOSS, open knowledge, creative commons and the importance of having fair use in the legislation (e.g. we do not have this in Finland).

We may invite people to protect the Internet as commons. We may support and use those services that are in common. We may show people how to edit Wikipedia and how to publish useful media in the Wikimedia Commons. Like all good things in the world, also the Internet commons needs caretaking.

Disclaimer: I don’t have anything against Facebook. I actually like their service. Facebook has made social media a mass media and that is exactly what I wanted to happen in 2005. I am also sure that a world with net neutrality, privacy, democracy, civil liberties and human rights benefits Facebook, too.

5 replies on “The future of computers in education”

The article is no longer available 😦
Do you have a copy somewhere? I’m writing my graduation work at my university about the use of technology in education and this would really come in handy.

Oh, and thanks for all your work posted here. This is something invaluable for me.


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