What is Decolonising and What is Learning Technology?
This part is easy. Learning technology, the phrase adopted by the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), embraces digital learning, e-learning and online learning, formal and informal, intended, spontaneous or accidental, but also the pedagogies, philosophies, theories and cultures that surround and inform them. It is also educational technology or ‘edtech’ but this and perhaps the other terms all have assumed connections and associations with formal education systems, and we need to bear.
This part is less easy. Here goes. A manifesto from students at Keele University (2021) provides us with a working definition. “Decolonization involves identifying colonial systems, structures and relationships, and working to challenge those systems. It is not “integration” or simply the token inclusion of the intellectual achievements of non-white cultures. Rather, it involves a paradigm shift from a culture of exclusion and denial to the making of space for other political philosophies and knowledge systems. It’s a culture shift to think more widely about why common knowledge is what it is, and in so doing adjusting cultural perceptions and power relations in real and significant ways.” (Sadly and ironically, this uses the American English spelling.)
This sounds both highly political and fairly abstract however, events at the universities in Cape Town and Oxford, tagged as #RhodesMustFall, make it clear that feelings run high. Recent news about the repatriation of ‘Elgin Marbles’ – to use the colonialists’ terminology – and the Benin Bronzes and the simmering discontent about the appropriation of indigenous knowledge from cultures as diverse as the Sami and the San by pharmaceutical companies round out this picture.
A recent newspaper article entitled ‘Lecturers are key to ending colonial epistemicide’ (University World News 2021) provides an excellent and more accessible overview, saying “The simplest definition of decolonisation of the African university is the process of undoing all legacies of colonialism.” Understandably, given the African university context, the article does not focus on the legacies of colonialism within UK universities or the colonisers more widely. We must recognise that there are multiple experiences that learning technologists can help to decolonise, the Punjabi student in an English university, the Aboriginal student in an Australian university, the Kikuyu student in a Kenyan university, the Kabyle student in an Algerian university, the Basque student in a Spanish university and so on.
The first of three ALT webinars on the topic provided some other contributions saying, ‘Great to see a more detailed definition of decolonisation. Not just making space for minorities/ migrant communities, but highlighting colonial structures, and challenging them. As much as we wish, technology is rarely neutral (or neutrally used). ‘and talking of ‘undoing all legacies of colonialism.’
There are also movements to ‘decolonise the curriculum’ and moves to ‘decolonise research’ but what exactly might it actually mean? And given the moves to decolonise the curriculum, what should technologists do to decolonise learning technology before handing it on to curriculum professionals?
The Implications of Decolonising Learning Technology
The forthcoming #LTHEchat will help develop an improved understanding of the implications of ‘decolonisation’ for us all whether we are learning technologists, academics, allied professionals and/or researchers who use learning technology, and especially ‘edtech’. Decolonising is about combating the ways in which learning technology represents and reproduces the ideas and values of the dominant white anglophone majority. There is clearly a resonance between a mission to decolonise learning technology and a mission to decolonise the curriculum. Educators are not learning technologists and so the role of learning technologists is to decolonise learning technology before handing it onto curriculum specialists.
The topic had been on my mind for quite a few years in different forms. I wrote a paper five years ago (Traxler 2017) that implicitly tackled one aspect of it, namely the technology itself. I asserted that digital technology was instrumental in increasing the disadvantage of peoples, communities and cultures that were different and distant from the norms, values, habits, styles, languages and cultures of the global and national mainstreams. Specifically those distant and different from the dominant global Anglophone digital corporations. These represented the dominant largely white, European, metropolitan and bourgeois ethos of the colonial and post-colonial education systems and subsequently the neo-colonial global digital corporations, agencies and foundations. Digital technology in education was re-arming forms of colonialism or perhaps arming forms of neo-colonialism.
This happened in a multitude of ways. I can think of many but perhaps the emergent ‘decolonising learning technology’ community can add many more. Some include:
- Digital technology as a conduit to access knowledge and information
- Technologies of search (eg Google)
- Digital technology changes many aspects of language and of learning
- ‘Official’ languages used by the education system’s learning technology
- Critique the research that underpins digital learning and learning technology.
What emerges is the possibility of a simplistic but structured approach to decolonising learning technology. Working upwards and outwards from:
- Operating systems and system software
- Applications especially browsers, web2.0, social media and open source, interfaces and interactions
- Dedicated educational technologies especially MOOCs, VLEs and the surrounding and supporting software systems such as plagiarism detection, learning analytics and automated assessment
- Procurement, deployment, training, support, management and maintenance
- Buildings and architecture
- Curriculum design
- Edtech policy and guidance and
- Cultural and societal expectations
We need to be asking at each level, where is the colonialization, how does it happen and what should we do?
There are risks of course. Firstly, that any of these levels, decolonisation will degenerate into targets, objectives, percentages and tick lists. Secondly, that it will be seen as offering something extra or remedial or palliative to minority communities rather than offering something enriching to everyone. Thirdly, efforts at decolonisation will be driven by members of the majority community and inevitably seen through the lens of their (mis)understanding and privileges. Lastly, decolonising learning technology and decolonising the curriculum can somehow happen without decolonising the institutions and organisations.
Pragmatically and operationally, any process of change must appeal to managers, shareholders and the rank-and-file of any organisation as well as its ideologues, liberals and progressives. This division sounds like a categorisation from the Diffusion of Innovations frameworks, a rephrasing of, for example, ‘innovators’ and ‘early adopters’. Certainly any organisational transformation needs a Theory of Change and the Diffusion of Innovations provides at least a practical workable outline. It suggests working with early adopters and innovators supporting and encouraging the development of examples and pilots, working with opinion-formers and gate-keepers before moving onto increased institutional programmes and only lastly resorting to regulation and enforcement, but most of all recognising that at every step these are issues of ‘hearts and minds’.
References and Further Reading
Adams, R. (2021). Can artificial intelligence be decolonized?. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 46(1-2), 176-197.
Elers, S. (2014). Maori are scum, stupid, lazy: maori according to Google. Te Kaharoa, 7(1).
Hall, R. (2013) On the Secular Crisis and a Qualitative Idea of the University. Available online: http://www.richard-hall.org/tag/history/page/4/ (accessed on 13 October 2021).
Keele (2021) Keele’s Manifesto For Decolonising The Curriculum? Available online at http://www.keele.ac.uk/equalitydiversity/equalityframeworksandactivities/equalityawardsandreports/equalityawards/raceequalitycharter/keeledecolonisingthecurriculumnetwork/
Mail & Guardian (2012) available at https://mg.co.za/article/2012-12-27-zumas-dog-comments-meant-to-decolonise-the-african-mind/ accessed 13 October 2021
Meier, A., Goto, K., & Wörmann, M. (2014, June). Thumbs Up to Gesture Controls? A Cross-Cultural Study on Spontaneous Gestures. In International Conference on Cross-Cultural Design (pp. 211-217). Springer, Cham
Millwood, R. (no date) available online at https://www.teachthought.com/learning/a-visual-summary-the-most-important-learning-theories/ and elsewhere, accessed 18 October 2021
News24 (2013) Available online https://www.news24.com/news24/Technology/News/Mxlish-the-12th-official-SA-language-20130328, accessed 13 October 2021
Traxler, J. & Lally, V. (2015) The Crisis and the Response: After the Dust Had Settled, Interactive Learning Environments 24(5), pp1016-1024
Traxler, J. (2017) Learning with Mobiles in Developing Countries –Technology, Language and Literacy, International Journal of Mobile & Blended Learning, 9(2): pp1-15
Traxler, J. (2018) Learning with Mobiles: the Global South, Research in Comparative and International Education, Vol. 13, Number 1, pp 152 – 175
Traxler, J. (2018), Digital Literacy: A Palestinian Refugee Perspective, Research in Learning Technology, Vol. 26, pp1 – 21 https://journal.alt.ac.uk/index.php/rlt/article/view/1983
Traxler, J., Khlaif, Z., Nevill, A., Affouneh, S., Salha, S., Zuhd, A., & Trayek, F. (2019). Living under occupation: Palestinian teachers’ experiences and their digital responses. Research in Learning Technology, 27. https://doi.org/10.25304/rlt.v27.22
World University News (2021) Lecturers are key to ending colonial epistemicide, World University News, available online at https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20211006114502190
John Traxler, FRSA, @johntraxler is Professor of Digital Learning in the Institute of Education at the University of Wolverhampton and UNESCO Chair: Innovative Informal Digital Learning in Disadvantaged and Development Contexts. He has extensive experience developing e-learning and mobile learning capacity amongst university teachers. Over the last five years, he has become involved in policy and strategy. He is a frequent international keynote speaker, and has worked with a number of international agencies and international corporates.
Q1. How do the technologies we use in our work represent, reinforce and reproduce the ideas, concepts, images and values of particular countries, communities and cultures?
Q2. Do educational technology systems embody the teaching, learning and assessment ideas of mostly one community and culture?
Q3. Do the theories of e-learning come from one particular cultural and pedagogical tradition?
Q4. Which communities or cultures are different and distant from those represented by our technologies?
Q5. How would you define decolonisation? Who would benefit?
Q6. How is decolonising our work supported and/or constrained by our institutions, our IT and our curriculum colleagues?
https://wke.lt/w/s/ZKV_t3 via Wakelet
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