Global and local histories of edtech

The RED team was delighted to be part of the early-stage launch of the special issue of Learning, Media and Technology on “Towards global and local histories of educational technologies”, edited by Katie Day Good and Barbara Hof, on 2 June 2023.

“We thought it important to hear from researchers and practitioners about how the localised work of teaching with media has long been entangled with global forces, be they technological, industrial, economic, or social”, said Katie Day Good in her opening remarks:

In terms of attending to the “local” in the history of edtech, the authors in this issue encourage us to think about the roles of culture, geography, industry, and asymmetrical power relations in shaping visions for what edtech is, what it is useful for, who can design it, and how it can be implemented.

This is, Katie suggested, also about redressing the historical erasure of voices and stories of minoritised innovators and edtech users.

Barbara Hof then turned to the “global”:

While we acknowledge local practices, the special issue also aims to situate histories of edtech within global economic forces, intercultural interactions, and international media flows; to highlight asymmetries in access to knowledge, funding, and technology.

Indeed, this is a truly global set of perspectives on the narratives and practices of educational technologies, from radio to the Smaky school computer, educational television to testing practices. With perspectives from Cameroon, Switzerland, India, Turkey, South Korea, Estonia and including broad regional perspectives on Africa and Latin America.

The papers manage to address local, geographic and temporally situated issues, and simultaneously global issues, like modernisation, reform, innovation, civil rights, datascapes, in/equality, hype cycles, and futurity. Some dive deeply into local settings and cases, others work across borders, adopting transnational methodologies.

I fear that I am too easily seduced by similarities at the expense of attending to differences across time, but I admit that I loved seeing the ads for the “new and revolutionary radio achievements in the new radiolas” in the 1920s (Sonia Robles). Revolutionary! New! Modern! 100 years ago. I appreciate how today’s discourse echoes this past discourse, especially the advertising discourse that Sonia foregrounded, which spills – we see – into political and press discourse.

Joe Haupt from USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

RED was at the event in three capacities: Patricia Ferrante and Federico Williams represented the RED author team of the paper “In/Equalities in digital education policy – sociotechnical imaginaries from three world regions”, which gives key insights from across the cases from the first stage of our project, the analysis of educational policies. (Manuscript accepted, due to be published soon. Update to follow.)

As commentator, Inés Dussel reflected on the theoretical relevance of the special issue. Education, she argued, has always already been technological. This is becoming more visible for more people with digital technologies, but the entanglements are deeply historical. She warned us that the localisation of technologies can blind us to global dimensions – and welcomed the way this special issue manages to hold both perspectives at once.

As one of the editors of LMT, I participated by simply lurking in the background, enjoying the talks and the contextualisations offered by the guest editorial and the three speakers, Inés Dussel, Sonia Robles and Ben Williamson.

The internationalisation of the histories of edtech is, as Sonia Robles pointed out, such a vital perspective to grounding today’s edtech practices, circuits, economies, futurities and so much more. And the historicisation, as Ben Williamson noted in his final comments, reminds commentators on contemporary edtech the edtech is laced with contingencies and uncertainties, which punctures the idea of tech being any kind of silver bullet.

Historical research on educational technology has grown in recent years, yet there are, as Katie Day Good and Barbara Hof pointed out, still gaps in terms of geographic reach, cultural focus and methodologies. I join with them in the hope that the insights and connections offered in this special issue will open and extend the conversation about both historicising and globalising educational technology.

Header photo by Ben White on Unsplash.