ROSE, Ellen. Hyper Texts: The Language and Culture of Educational Computing. London, ON: The Althouse Press, 2000. 210p. Resenha de: GRIFFITH, Bryant. Canadian Social Studies, v.37, n.2, 2003.
The last decade has seen a number of books on the subject of the use and benefit of computers in education. Ellen Rose’s Hyper Texts attempts to fill the much needed gap between Dan Tapscott’s Growing up Digital and Clifford Stoll’s Silicon Snake Oil. By focusing on language, Rose hopes to enable a serious consideration of what it really means to learn with a computer or to think about learning in terms of digital technology(p. xi); but does she succeed? The answer for this reviewer is both yes and no.
Although Rose cuts through the hyperbole she criticizes, she creates her own set to replace it with her use of poststructural language which is often even more dense than the arguments she rightly criticizes. Too often Hyper Texts reads like a religious tract to support Foucault’s insights and this is a pity because there is much good clear thinking buried beneath the metaphors. I also take issue with the planning of this book. If Rose intends her audience to be those educators and parents she addresses on her first page, I then wonder not only why she relies so heavily on poststructuralist language, as I have mentioned above, but also why she includes an in-depth study of ‘The McKenna Experiment’? I think the issue of linkage should have been addressed in the Preface. As a result, Hyper Texts attempts to do too much. It addresses a very important educational issue by using a complex, but appropriate epistemological lens. It also offers a case study, not uninterestingly, but one which becomes a diversion from the central argument. My guess is that the educators and parents who buy this book would have preferred a shorter and more accessible book on the former while the latter, the McKenna chapter, would have been a nice journal article.
Having said all that, let me present some of the well-made points in the book. First, and perhaps most importantly, Rose is correct in trying to find a way between the extreme positions, to try getting beyond the hype by not focusing upon the computerized classroom, but between the linesthat is, the discourse of educational computing itself, as found in cultural texts(p. 4). She is also correct, in my estimation, in pointing out the contrast in language claims between the modernist and poststructuralist positions for her intended readers because they need her to be clear about what these opposing views bring to the table for both her and them. Although not new, Rose’s claim that poststructural analysis involves recognizing that language is far more complicated than the neutral conduit of modernism, but is indeed constituted of multiple, continually shifting meanings in which power, truth, and knowledge are inextricably entangled(p. 7), is very much to the point. It is a pity that in far too much of this book this clear point is often obscured by language often found in doctoral dissertations.
Rose is also right in claiming that her task is all the more important because of the extent to which IT has, to use her modernist adjective, infiltrated our world. This task is not a new one. Certainly since the introduction of technology in European society, thinkers have tried to make sense of it by using a variety of different models. It might have strengthened Rose’s argument to point out that poststructuralism is just another lens to make sense of this on-going process.
I think that one of the real strengths of this book is the claim that IT offers itself as the virtual site in which our utopian dream will be realized(p. 28) and a good discussion follows on this point, drawing nicely on the literature. This is a good segue for the much argued points of whether technology equates to progress and who controls it. It is true, as Rose argues, that modernists tend toward a single authoritative perspective and that wiring the world helps that cause. What is not clear to me, and I expect for many of Rose’s intended audience, is how the multifaceted and extremely complex poststructuralist world is an improvement. One could argue, after all, that the modernist position is so easy to state that one could simply subvert it when it is inappropriate. A poststructuralist world is full of ‘as if’ multifaceted and complex contexts. That may be the way it really is, but Rose needs to use language in a manner to convince us of this.
Rose’s great contribution is the discussion of the issue of control. One wishes that this book was half the length and that this discussion was far more prominent. On page 58 she makes the insightful comment that The way in which one believes computers should be used in the classroom in turn has much to do with personal understandings of what constitutes knowledge and learning. If we believe that what we can do in the classroom is limited and defined by the limits of technology then we are in trouble. Rose suggests that the IT revolution privileges the stories of technocrats over those of other individuals (p. 73) and that we must be clear to distinguish between the desire to use computers from the desire to learn (p. 75). She says: the child may be drawn to computers in the first place because they offer an entertaining alternative to books and school-learning, in which case computer use constitutes an implicit rejection of scholarship (p. 75). This is an important point, and one addressed recently by Robert Hassan in his article Net results: knowledge, information and learning on the Internet. We really know far too little about how children learn in computer rich contexts and Western society is making some massive assumptions about unknown outcomes. Rose is correct in arguing that individual learner needs, not the limits of technology, must drive our use of technology in the classroom. In the end it is the teachers and parents who must participate in the construction of the meaning of information technology and educational computing(p. 177). She correctly argues that we must confront our own individual responsibilities as members of a society increasingly given over to the imperatives of technology (p. 177). The new intellectual which Rose describes in her last chapter is one who welcomes the challenges of our complex world and actively participates as an equal in the decision making about the place of technology in our lives. This too is not a new argument, and one not the sole prerogative of the poststructuralist, but it is one worth making again and again.
Let me end this review with a quote from the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) in the Federal Republic of Germany:
Information technology is already changing how we teach, learn and conduct research, but important research challenges in the field of education remain. We know too little about the best ways to use computing and communications technology for effective teaching and learning. We need to better understand what aspects of learning can be effectively facilitated by technology and which aspects require traditional classroom interactions. We also need to determine the best ways to teach our citizens the powers and limitations of the new technologies and how to use these technologies effectively in their personal and professional lives (PITAC 1999).
Hassan, R. (2001). Net results: Knowledge, information and learning on the Internet. Journal of Educational Enquiry, 2(2), 45-57.
PITAC report (1999). Ten critical national challenge transformations.
Stoll, C. (1999). High-tech heretic: Why computers don’t belong in the classroom and other reflections by a computer contrarian. New York: Doubleday.
Tapscott, D. (1998). Growing up digital: The rise of the net generation. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Bryant Griffith – Faculty of Education. Acadia University. Wolfville, Nova Scotia.