Does technology ultimately promote equality and enhance social relations?

I would welcome the guidance of anyone able to allay my fears, as well as the opinions of those sharing similar concerns, regarding the following:

 

As a PGCE (LLS) Sociology student, I am anxious for many reasons about the emphasis the government insists we place on incorporating numeracy, literacy and ICT (in particular) into lessons.  As Ken Robinson points out in his inspirational speech regarding the ways in which schools kill creativity: “Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects: at the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and the bottom are the arts.”[i]  For me, although sound numeracy, literacy and ICT skills are obviously important, especially in our ever-evolving technological age, elevating the significance of these skills/subjects above other rich fields of study, intelligences and talents has, I believe, the potential to inhibit rather than promote equality and diversity. 

 

As a Sociologist in admiration of Marxist philosophy (amongst others), I fear technology could become another means of alienation; firstly, state of the art ICT tools (relentlessly updated objects of consumption) are not free and are therefore not accessible to all.  Secondly, the effects of virtual social networking, for example, arguably have a detrimental effect on ‘real’ human interaction and social relations.  As a result, in these digital, globalised times, I am becoming increasingly preoccupied with the profound words of Jean Jacques Rousseau in his ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequality’:

 

They all ran to chain themselves, in the belief that they secured their liberty, for although they had enough sense to realise the advantages of a political establishment, they did not have enough experience to foresee its dangers.[ii]

 

Accordingly, regarding technology, although its educational advantages are explicit in our progressive society, in terms of equality and social relations in the long-term, I fear that collectively we, too, have become enchained and lack the experience to foresee its dangers.

 

 



[i] Robinson, K., (2012)  ‘Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity’ [Online] Available from:

http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity....

(Accessed 1 January 2013)

[ii] Miller, 1992: vii, in Rousseau (1992; Orig. 1755: 56)

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Hi Keeley

Firstly I agree that the increased importance of functional skills has got the potential to inhibit some subjects by putting barriers of numeracy, literacy and ICT in the way of achieving good grades, however it may be necessary to fit in with the way the world now works, because education is there to follow the trends of the global needs and economy otherwise lwithout these key skills imbedded the learners may be ill equipped for most industries.

Regarding technology I think that when looking at education it will always fall behind industry in speed of progress. The fear you have of technology is something that has always been there with technology but as humans we adapt very well to the ever changing environment. What would be your suggestions on ways to control technology in order to top it spiralling out of control, and perhaps becoming a danger?

Thanks, Sam you've made me think! And I am with you more or less about the functional skills but I also think placing equal emphasis on verbal communication, critical thinking and all-round social skills is important whilst in education, and in so doing individuals would be better equipped to succeed in the workplace.  I believe ICT should enhance rather than dominate our lives. We cannot, as it would be futile, and should not try to stop progress but we must remain in control otherwise like capitalism (here I go again!) it will, I fear, spiral out of control and we have no precedent in place to guide us.  To stop that happening, I think we must rely on educatation to highlight the potential dangers for future generations, and emphasise that, like all things, there needs to be a balance. All things in moderation! As you say, humans do adapt to our ever changing environment; we are constantly and unavoidably evolving but we must adapt and not surrender (if you see what I mean) to a virtual world. The art of 'real' conversation and relations, and the ability to enjoy simple, free, 'real' pleasures, that's what I'm worried about losing the most. That, and devaluing 'creative' minds over 'academic' ones. We should be celebrating our humanness above the wonders of technology because we are more wonderful and brilliant and imaginative than it.

Hi Keeley,

Human beings will always want and need to interact with others in the 'real' world, especially in education.

For me, my learning process is enhanced by being in a class environment where I can observe, discuss topics and listen to my peers. Much of our capacity to learn comes from feeling that we are in a safe place where we are able to contribute to the lesson.

I find it more challenging to learn without the support network of my classmates eg, on-line courses. I know there is so much technology available that I could use to help me get involved with my peers. but I much prefer the old-fashioned personal way and this approach lacks any sense of connection! However, some students may actually enjoy learning this way - it could be easier to ask for help on-line perhaps, rather than face-to-face. 

I can see how technology can help to promote inclusion etc but like you, I worry about the price we have to pay for staying up-to-date with it all.

Should we always be striving for the next new piece of technology? Surely we'll never be able to keep up!

Perhaps all we really need in order to learn is a room full of like minded people, a 'facilitator' and a topic to discuss!

Theresa

Hello,

Me too - I would feel very alone and uninspired doing an on-line course. We think alike :)  It's useful to have the technology to enhance learning in the classroom (so long as there's not the presumption that all have equal access to it beyond it) - it saves time, accounts for a whole range of learning styles and has become invaluable as a research tool but I agree - it's the people, the dynamics and the face-to-face discussion and controversy and laughter that make learning really rewarding.  That, and a fantastic, passionate 'teacher'. Thank you, Theresa. 

I think ultimatley it boils down to the teacher. Thankfully our education system from 11 upwards allows students to be taught by a number of teachers, all of which will be comfortable with different things, i think this variation is healthy and should allow for development of ict skills as well as essential human skills such as communication. I often hear people talking about how education should keep up with the technology the students are using, ultimatley if these students are the experts then there is little we can teach them about it, however we can use it as a tool to develop human skills.

It is definately true to say that as teachers we will never be ahead of our students when it comes to maximising the use of technology as they are being bought up in an ever increasing "digital world".  Therefore, i feel this is inevitable.  However, the extensive use of technology does not always bear a good impact upon our younger generations.  The use of the English language is too often than not replaced with shortened text slang and the art of conversation and good communication skills is slowly decreasing.  When teaching recently in the LLS within a work experience module where students had to arrange their own work experience placements, a large majority of the class would sooner text or email a placement than pick up the phone and have a conversation!  

Laura, thank you! I agree about losing the beautiful art of conversation. It is fundamental to human relationships and by communicating increasingly by text/email and 'social networking' something very special is gradually being lost; a sort of human intimacy and 'truth' (feelings, expressions, mood, eye contact, reaching out - that sort of thing). Text/email/social networking are useful, of course, but as a means of communication I am worried that they are changing - and not for the better - social relations.   

I do think technology can give us 'the easy way out' at times when communicating with people, as it may seem less intimating to write an email to someone than to pick up the phone. I do think sometimes it can be an age thing or not having the skills to express yourself in that way. When I was a teenager my mum pushed me to speak up and do my own ringing up when I needed to, otherwise I wouldn't have, as I felt too much pressure with the person on the other end of the phone and I didn't want to say the wrong thing, but my mum taught me how to communicate in this way. When communication skills are taught, maybe we need to look at the different forms of communication and by the different means they're delivered, like teaching people how to communicate over the phone as well as in written form.

When speaking to a teacher recently they used text messages in a functional skills lesson. Each student had to write down some text messages that they'd been sent and then put them into proper grammatical sentences. I found their use of bringing technology and what the students were doing on a day to day basis a fantastic way to engage students.

Yes, I agree, the text messaging sounds like a really good idea! We can't avoid it so we should use it but be in control of it. And I think your mum did the best thing for you, to help you feel confident when communicating.  Texts etc are useful but, and I'm with your mum, emphasising the importance of 'real' communication is so important.  But, I bet there were worriers like me when the telephone was invented! Thank you, Andrea

Yeah it's a good point they could have been worries about it, and I don't know anyone who doesn't have or hasn't had a telephone, so in time maybe newer means of communication will be embraced as whole heartily as the telephone now is.

Thank you, Chris.  I hadn't thought about that and you're absolutely right. It is really helpful for students to be exposed to a variety of teachers who use technology in different ways, and teach in different ways.  We cannot keep up with the students as they seem to be the experts but I think we must explain to them how to use technology as a complementary tool so that they don't become over-reliant on it, and encourage face-to-face discussion and social skills.  I think we have a duty to educate them about its potential 'dangers' too. 

Hi keeley, I think in some areas it can definitely promote some social relations, but it really is dependant on how it is used, to me I think we have to move with the times and lets face it computers are a big way of life, however saying that there are still people out there that don't wish to have the Internet let alone a computer and or will always prefere to have that face to face interaction. I know that the government are most insistent that we encourage our children to become more independent, as well as competent in technology, a few years back they offered grants to lower paid or unpaid families to be able to purchase a laptop or pc therefore trying to promote equality. and as much as i hate to say it within education I do feel that it has its benefits, even on here is a kind of social relationship x

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