19 Jan

Live-blogging the Readings: Bayne (2015)

Live-blogging the readings progresses with:

Sian Bayne (2015) What’s the matter with ‘technology-enhanced learning’?, Learning, Media and Technology, 40:1, 5-20, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2014.915851

I remember enjoying the Bayne articles that I read last year, so I’m going into this with some expectation of enjoyment. I’m also aware that this is a blog post with a primary audience of … maybe a dozen people, one of whom is the author of the article. I wonder how much that is going to influence my reading?
[I am using ‘reading’ here in the technical ‘critical analysis put down in writing’ sense; rather than the ‘actual looking at and understanding the words on the page’ sense. This is my literary training coming through, but also the fact that I’m listening to jazz on the radio–where a performance of a composition can be called a ‘reading’ (as Garry Koster does on one of my favourite jazz radio shows). ]


Anyway, on to the article!

Getting started

The first paragraph is interesting to read in the context of the change of the name of this course from ‘MSc in E-Learning’ to ‘MSc in Digital Education’. I certainly, in Australia, have not seen the term ‘Technology-Enhanced Learning’ used–I would assume it was a particularly tech-heavy example, perhaps using robotics, or the Occulus Rift. Here, I would use ‘e-Learning’ in general contexts, or something like or ‘instructional design’ to talk about specific jobs in very industry-centric contexts.

I frame the paper around three core questions: What is wrong with ‘technol- ogy’? What is wrong with ‘enhanced’? And finally, what is wrong with ‘learning’? I draw on three different frameworks in addressing each question: first I use insights from science and technology studies to draw into question what we mean by ‘technology’ within this context; I then adopt a position from critical posthumanism to look again at ‘enhancement’; and finally I refer to Biesta’s (2005) work on ‘learnification’ to emphasise what might be problematic in our too-ready use of the ‘language of learning’. (p.8)

Bayne attacks the issue from a multitude of angles. This is effective in an article intended to demonstrate a range and variety of weaknesses, not all of them fatal. From the abstract, I know her intention is to suggest “that we need to be more careful with, and more critical of, the terminology we adopt to describe and determine the field.”

Were Bayne’s intention to make a case for a usable alternative, or to propose that TEL be abolished, this ‘promiscuous’ approach would be more problematic. I’m not sure there is any ‘right’ answer here, though, so a messy ‘cluster’-ing is about right. It is also an example of what Braidotti has suggested, in The Posthuman,  will be the new post-Humanities, ‘web-like, scattered and poly-centred’ (p.164).

What’s wrong with ‘technology’?

In Haraway’s ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’, she suggests that ‘writing is pre-eminently the technology of cyborgs’. I’m going to use this to read this section.

Haraway argues:
‘Writing is pre-eminently the technology of cyborgs, etched surfaces of the late twentieth century. Cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallogocentrism. 

Fenwick, Edwards, and Sawchuck (2011) (qtd in Bayne) are arguing something similar:
Learning is an effect of the networks of the material, humans and non-humans, that identify certain practices as learning, which also entails a value judgement about learning as something worthwhile. This teaching is not simply about the relationships between humans, but is about the networks of humans and things through which teaching and learning are translated and enacted. (6)

Learning and technology have been intertwined for millenia. The invention of writing now seems to us ‘natural’, but was of course an extraordinarily disruptive technology. The invention of new kinds of architecture that enabled more people to hear the message (from amphitheatres to lecturns to raked seating); the invention of the blackboard, or the mnemonic…

Or this:

Which kind of suggests we don’t get what ‘learning’ is.

But first we have to deal with ‘enhancement’. 

Enhancement suggests that the underlying thing is generally good, but can be made better, it is ‘simply open to a little improvement and further consolidation via the ministration or utilisation of technology’ (Bayne 2015, p. 11).

What counts as ‘improvement’ is, as Hauskeller (2013) points out, highly context- dependent:
We always need to ask what a better performance in a specific context is good for and, of course also for whom it is good . . . The context determines whether a change is, overall, an enhancement or not. That is why forgetting can be as much an enhancement as remembering. (14–15)

It also suggests that technological intervention improves things, by default. The initialism TEL could be written out ‘technology-enchanced learning’. The hyphen links the adjectival phrase which modifies the noun ‘learning’. In a sentece, it is ‘learning’ that will be the grammatical subject.

Okay, finally, what’s wrong with ‘learning’?

In most instances, when we speak of ‘TEL’ we are in fact referring to technology enhanced teaching, and to institutional goals, rather than to the aims or cognitive gains of individual learners  … To reduce ‘education’ to ‘learning’ prevents us from asking critical questions about how educational goals are negotiated and how its power relations are constituted. (p.15-16)

The discussion here all still rather assumes that it is the education-machine that is getting in the way of learners learning, and not asking some even more basic questions. I quite understand that this isn’t the point of the article, but they are questions I have.

What is learning the opposite of? Is it the opposite of ‘ignorance’ or the opposite of ‘illiteracy’ or the opposite of ‘teaching’?

Is learning always a good thing? We like learning, especially in higher education, and have often made huge sacrifices to have it. I often wonder if those sacrifices are worth it. What disciplinary ground have I gained (and yes, I am using Foucault’s militarised, bodily, training image on purpose), what other kinds of movement and knowing and being have I lost?

Is learning a thing where we get more skills and information? Or more wisdom? Or more kindness? Is there a point where we have enough knowledge (there is ‘information overload’, can there also be a ‘wisdom overload’)?

How do we count what is learning, what is learned, how well it is learned? Might these forms of counting mean that others can be discounted?

Bayne ends:

It is time to re-think our task as practitioners and researchers in digital education, not viewing ourselves as the brokers of ‘transformation’, or ‘harnessers’ of technological power, but rather as critical protagonists in wider debates on the new forms of education, subjectivity, society and culture worked-through by contemporary technological change. (p. 18)

Returning to Haraway:

That is why cyborg politics insist on noise and advocate pollution, rejoicing in the illegitimate fusions of animal and machine. These are the couplings which make Man and Woman so problematic, subverting the structure of desire, the force imagined to generate language and gender, and so subverting the structure and modes of reproduction of ‘Western’ idendty, of nature and culture, of mirror and eye, slave and master, body and mind.


To Read:

Biesta, Gert. 1998. “Pedagogy without Humanism: Foucault and the Subject of Education.” Interchange 29 (1): 1–16.

Biesta, Gert. 2005. “Against Learning. Reclaiming a Language for Education in an age of Learning.” Nordisk Pedagogik 25 (1): 54–66.

Biesta, Gert. 2006. Beyond Learning. Democratic Education for a Human Future. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Biesta, Gert. 2010. Good Education in an Age of Measurement: Ethics, Politics, Democracy. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Biesta, Gert. 2012. “Giving Teaching Back to Education: Responding to the Disappearance of the Teacher.” Phenomenology & Practice 6 (2): 35–49.

Biesta, Gert. 2013. “Interrupting the Politics of Learning.Power and Education 5 (1): 4–15.

2 thoughts on “Live-blogging the Readings: Bayne (2015)

  1. I really enjoyed this – a new experience for me, to read a ‘liveblog’ of an article I wrote some time ago – all kinds of mixed up temporalities here but I love the format. I particularly like your kind re-casting of the promiscuity of the influences as ‘web-like, scattered and poly-centred’ : )

    One thing I’d like to hear more on, if you’re inclined to write more, is the bit where you say ‘The discussion here all still rather assumes that it is the education-machine that is getting in the way of learners learning, and not asking some even more basic questions.’ Could you elaborate a bit more? Really in the article I’m trying to argue in favour of the education-machine, or at least propose that it be introduced into our thinking a bit more than it currently is. Some questions your excellent post prompted for me:

    Do we need an opposite of ‘learning’? And would our ‘learning outcomes’ be better if we re-framed them as ‘wisdom outcomes’?

    • Thanks for this thoughtful reply, that prods me to go further.

      The discussion here all still rather assumes that it is the education-machine that is getting in the way of learners learning, and not asking some even more basic questions.

      By the ‘education-machine’ I meant “technology enhanced teaching, and… institutional goals” [using Adorno and Foucault to think of the school-as-institution with power/social/economic structures and intentions] which I understood you were putting in opposition to “individual” learners’ “aims or cognitive gains”. The concept of ‘technology-enhanced learning’ or ‘education’ was thus problematised as being institution-facing rather than focusing on, enabling or starting from the place of the student.

      I think my question or discomfort was with the concept of ‘learning outcomes’ in the first place. With credentialism, and measuring knowledge or codifying it. I had some question about the concept of being a learner. I’m still trying to articulate this for myself because all my life has been committed to being either a learner or a teacher (and often both at once), so I’m trying to wrestle with a paradigm and an article of faith from the inside of it.

      In order to start unpacking what I think about learning, I was trying to work out what I mean by the term. Is learning a thing that is done by the other person in a learning-teaching relationship? Is learning a thing we do whenever we gain more knowledge, information or skill? Is being learned a status you can acheive (like being a medieval clerke, or having a degree)? (I did this the first time round by thinking of antitheses, but I agree, that migth not be a useful way to go further.) Each of those ways of defining learning are problematic in their own way, and so I wondered if there might be another model that was less about power, status or data.

      Hence wisdom. I think there can’t be ‘wisdom outcomes’–that’s the point of wisdom. It’s a process, and not necessarily a linear one. Sometimes small children, teenages, the elderly, or people who have pursued a religious path are deeply wise, and the next minute deeply unwise.
      I am also not sure that there is always a use to wisdom, or an outcome from it. It’s hard to measure, and it’s not always clear who is wiser in any given situation. I’m not sure it can be taught, though I think it can be valued and fostered. And wisdom doesn’t always give answers to your questions, sometimes it says you are asking the wrong question altogether, or that you should wait for 10 years before asking the question again.

      Perhaps that’s the major issue with machine-knowledge (the robots and AIs and data stores)–they can learn, they can know, they can teach; and often faster and more accurately than a human. But they don’t have wisdom, and that is why they have the potential to get it so wrong.

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