ETEC 511: New Foundations of Educational Technology

This course breaks away from traditional conceptions of educational technology’s foundations – philosophy, history, psychology, sociology, politics, economics – and proposes “new foundations” grounded in the historical materiality of tools and their uses, accounts of how and why our educational tools have evolved as they have, and a way to illuminate those emerging and future catalytic foundations upon which educational technologies are being and will be built.

ETEC 511 follows a less well-established, more exploratory route, to investigate how technologies, and educational technologies in particular, have been and are being most powerfully shaped and driven. The reasoning here is simple: tools and theories most certainly change in tandem, but the drivers of that change have rarely been ideas. Consider, as one recent and continuing example, the system-wide adoption of educational technologies driven not by any technological innovations or pedagogical advancements in online learning but by a pandemic that brought global health systems to a state of crisis. To what degree has foreknowledge really impacted technological change? It is an apt and opportune time to reconsider how we think about our “foundations.”

To do that, instead of studying educational tools and technologies from the standpoint of our theories about them, we’ll set out from the other direction – to see what we can learn from our educational tools and technologies about how our educational ideas have been and are being shaped. This course will shift focus from theories to things and to “matter that matters.” These “new foundations” can be found in the agents and institutions and events that have most powerfully catalyzed and transformed educational technologies.

Why do we have the educational technologies we have, what have educators delegated to these tools, and what technology-pedagogy has been the result of that delegation?

Contemporary conditions of technocultural transformation call for new educational theories, new research methods, and new trajectories of inquiry in order to understand our technologies and their functions and uses as ‘tools of intellectual labour’ and to recognize where and how its development has been driven by aspirations, purposes, and methods disturbingly often distant from the enterprise of building an educated public sphere.

Course themes include:

  • Usability, Users, and Uses
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Algorithms
  • Media Convergence
  • Global Health
  • Sustainability
  • Digital Labour
  • Attention

Course goals

The goal of this course is to present a new view of educational technology, one that is attentive and responsive to the changed and changing contexts and conditions within which we are living and working. What is Digital Labour? Is “the cloud” just a very deceptive metaphor? Why does AI need “Artificial Artificial Intelligence?”

Central to that new view is accountability, which in turn requires “taking the blinders off”: actively digging into hard questions about where our tools come from, what work we have delegated to them (and they to us!), the real costs of digital technologies, and the ways in which education, health, and environmental sustainability are convergent domains. This exploration leads us to fundamental questions about pedagogy and offers some profound challenges to our current uses of digital tools in education. The goal, then, is to pursue and enable a better informed and more responsible balancing of the risks, costs and, indeed, harms of new educational technologies, along with their considerable gains and affordances.

Learning Objectives

After completing ETEC 511 you will:

  1. Be able to demonstrate advanced academic literacy: Graduate level reading and writing capabilities
  2. Have a broader perspective on the complex, multifaceted causes and conditions of technological change 
  3. Have acquired foundational knowledge of the origins and development of AI
  4. Have acquired foundational knowledge about how algorithms work and where and how they fail
  5. Be able to explain principles of usability, as well as ways those principles are typically undermined in practice
  6. Have applied usability principles to the design and prototyping of a digital tool/resource 
  7. Understand both how labour has been and is being transformed and how these transformations parallel pre-modern forms of worker exploitation
  8. Understand the direct and indirect relationships between local mobilization of advanced learning technologies and global-scale environmental costs 

Activities: Pedagogy, Intellectual Productions, and Case Study

This course follows, as much as possible, a “production pedagogy”, meaning that active creation and bringing ideas to life from conceptualization to execution, whether in material or digital forms, constitutes the pedagogical framework for all the learning experiences that compose its curriculum.  While plentiful and careful reading of traditional textual materials is integral to those experiences, there is a lot learned when the words are lifted off the page and we try to follow through into actually producing, articulating, designing, representing, or creating. And making things – whether that’s a game or a theory or an animation – is an excellent way, and one of the very best motivators, to think more deeply and build new skills. So the core activities in this course involve production, both intellectual and artifactual.

The purpose of these tasks is for you, as graduate students, to develop as intellectuals. Their value is not in learning others’ ideas in order to correctly recite them back, but in building and extending your interest and ability to do intellectual work in a media age that has driven logical and reasoned argument, evidence, and disciplined critical analysis to the margins and positioned fake news, ideology, and influence to the center. Learning, in this course, is NOT about correctness, and it is not about compliance. It’s for YOU to build your own intellectual frameworks and extend your familiarity with important work in this field, using a range of ways of thinking and writing and representing ideas.  Given this is a technology-focused program, IPs take a variety of forms beyond traditional essayist prose and will require you to develop some new skills and/or extend some existing ones.

Readings & Resources

All course materials will be available online via the Library Online Course Reserve (LOCR) linked to the course navigation menu and/or from hyperlinks to freely available videos and articles online.

Examples of required readings and resources:

Assignments and Assessment

1. Individual Intellectual Productions *includes required readings (35%)

Your job is to complete five out of the eight possible intellectual production activities. #1 and #2 are required, and three are your choice. Those 8 “intellectual production” activities are to be posted to your own website that you create, and some of those activities you will share with your classmates by linking to the course website.

2. Final Project: “What tools are for” (proposal: 5%, project: 35%, group presentation: 5%, individual retrospective project report: 5%)

Design and develop a Proof of Concept for a learning tool focused on ‘usability’ as your primary interest/challenge.

3. Tipping Point: A critical case study (15%)

A deeper dive into researching an instance of educational technological change, one in which a new educational technology displaces another.

Minor course topic, activity, reading/resource, and assignment details may change from year to year.