Technology in Education as Legitimate Symbolic Violence

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I am at the CUNY Technology Conference at John Jay and it’s been pretty striking to me how good my university is, but with Steve Brier’s presentation earlier in the day some ideas are gelling.

Historically, or at least ever since Petrus Ramus tried to impose as a Regius Professor in Renaissance Paris, technology in education has been both a source of capital and a source of violence. We tend to ignore that but technology in education is, before it is a means to improve student outcomes or improve teaching practice it’s a source of power and a tool to use to solidify political and administrative control.

That’s not to say it isn’t a means to improve education, but it does mean you have to be on guard and you have to be aware who is using it.

When politicians, regulators, business interests and the so-called charitable giving community come in with technology as a solution you can almost always bet that it is a tool to diminish the role of faculty and provide a less than optimal experience for students who come from outside the elite classes. That isn’t always the case of course, but it shouldn’t be any surprise that BlackBoard was owned at one time by the Carlyle Group and that MOOCs were so attractive to the venture capital community. Or that the Bill Gates people are so obsessed with so called education “reform.” Given the status and power of those pushing these technological changes it appears to be legitimate, so we can call it Legitimate Symbolic Violence.

Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice is a guide to understanding this.

The best kind of technology in education is the technology the faculty move forward. In this case it’s also a form of capital, but often the kind of capital that benefits young and progressive faculty. It’s also the kind of capital that puts a focus on actual teaching practice.