Kamis, 01 Maret 2012

0 Marketing educational technology to teachers and parents

Selling the digital dream
Marketing educational technology to
teachers and parents
David Buckingham, Margaret Scanlon and
Julian Sefton-Green

New media and communications technologies have always been
surrounded by expansive claims about their educational value. If we look
back to the early days of television, and even before that to the advent of
the cinema, it is easy to find examples of such Utopian views. These new
media would, it was argued, quickly supersede traditional styles of
teaching and learning. They would give children access to new worlds of
discovery, re-awaken their thirst for learning and release their natural
spirit of enquiry. It was even suggested by some that these new technologies
would make schools and teachers redundant.
Perhaps, inevitably, history permits a degree of scepticism about these
claims. We all know schools in which technology has remained unused
in cupboards or been employed in limited ways which fall absurdly short
of the promise it is seen to offer. Larry Cuban’s book Teachers and
Machines (Cuban 1986) provides ample evidence of the failure of such
experiments in the history of educational technology. The basic ‘grammar’
of education has, he argues, remained largely unchanged for much of the
twentieth century; and educational reforms often fail to have much lasting
impact because they do little to change the basic institutional character
of the school.
In the light of such arguments, it is hard not to feel a similar degree of
scepticism about the advent of digital information and communications
technologies (ICTs). One might be tempted to conclude that these new
media are just another illusory, magical solution to some imagined
educational problem; and that they will almost certainly fail to fulfil the
enormous claims that are made on their behalf. There is undoubtedly
some truth in this position; and one of our primary aims in this chapter
is to question—indeed, to puncture—some of the rhetorical claims that
are typically made in this regard. Nevertheless, this is more than just
another case of history repeating itself.
Looking a little more closely at the history of educational technology—
and particularly at educational television—there are three points that
relate in an interesting way to our present situation. First, these Utopian
claims about the educational potential of new media sit awkwardly
alongside simultaneous arguments about their negative impact on
children. During the 1950s and 1960s, television was being strongly
promoted to parents and teachers as an educational medium; and yet
there was already growing concern about the effects of screen violence
on children’s behaviour—and, more broadly, about the detrimental
influence of television entertainment on child development (Himmelweit,
et al. 1958). ‘Education’ and ‘entertainment’ seem, in this situation, to
be regarded as mutually exclusive categories: education is necessarily
good for children, while entertainment is automatically bad.
Second, these early claims about the educational value of the medium
are—at least to some degree—inseparable from commercial interests.
This is most obviously the case in the USA, where the promotion of
television as an educational medium was a key part of the attempt to
encourage parents to invest in television sets, and hence to build up the
audience for advertisers (Melody 1973). The history in the UK, given its
much stronger emphasis on public service objectives, is rather different;
but here, too, the provision of educational programming has helped to
secure the legitimacy of what is in part an enormously profitable
commercial industry.
Third, it is important to note the reasons why earlier experiments in
educational technology failed to deliver on their promises. Not the least
important of these was indifference—or, indeed, active resistance—on
the part of teachers. This was, it should be emphasised, not simply a
form of conservatism, or merely a failure to keep up with the times. It
was partly a result of the technological emphasis of the reformers, and
their failure to provide training and support that would help to embed
these new media more centrally in the curriculum and in teachers’ practice.
But it was also a result of teachers’ awkward insistence on their own
professionalism, and an accompanying reluctance to allow the curriculum
to be dictated from outside, by television companies or by the publishers
of these new educational media.
As we shall indicate, these issues are still very much at stake in the
enthusiastic promotion of ICTs for education, both in schools and in the
home. The relationship between ‘education’ and ‘entertainment’, the role
of commercial companies and the resistance to change are all important
factors in the contemporary situation. Yet in several respects the balance
of forces has now changed; and in this sense, we are witnessing more
than just another recurrence of a familiar pattern of educational change.
Before proceeding to our empirical analysis, then, we need to sketch in
the bigger picture.
Tony Blair’s now-familiar response to an interviewer’s question in 1997
about his three main priorities in the coming general election can be
taken as an index of what has become a growing preoccupation within
contemporary British culture. The quality of education is not just a
recurrent theme in political debate, but also a focus of intense anxiety
for many parents.
There are several reasons for this new emphasis on education. In an
era in which state welfare provision is increasingly seen to be problematic,
education remains one of the more obviously legitimate areas for
government intervention. Educational initiatives may be affordable and
visible in a way that attempts to address longer-term issues such as poverty
and social exclusion are not. Education has also been one of the key
areas in which central government has sought to control the autonomy
of local government, and thereby to centralise power.
More broadly—and despite the evidence of decades of sociological
research—education is still seen in meritocratic terms. It offers the promise
of upward mobility in a time during which inequalities of income have in
fact continued to grow. In the international arena, education is charged
with producing a well-trained workforce, and thereby with advancing
our competitive position as a nation. And in much more local terms, it is
increasingly seen to be responsible for the moral regulation of children—
for keeping idle hands busy, and thereby preventing the possibility of
delinquency and crime. Both pragmatically and philosophically, therefore,
education appears to provide solutions to many of the problems of
contemporary society.
The current preoccupation with education is most obviously manifested
in the emphasis on ‘standards’ that New Labour has inherited from the
Conservatives. National testing and the publication of league tables of
schools’ examination results have generated a culture of competition and
anxiety, both among children and among parents. The Government’s
renewed emphasis on homework—for example, in the form of homework
clubs—reflects an educational ‘work ethic’ that is not expected to let up
once children walk out of the classroom door. At the time of writing
(early in 2000), the Government is proposing to lengthen the school day
by 1.5 hours: children are to work an 8-hour day, as compared with the
average 5.5 hours of their European peers.
In this context, learning and leisure have become increasingly difficult
to separate. For adults, ‘lifelong learning’ and the growing emphasis on
qualifications and educational credentials are turning both the workplace
and the home into new sites for education (Edwards 1997). Meanwhile,
leisure providers—sports centres, museums, youth clubs, community arts
projects—are also increasingly charged with educational responsibilities,
and required to justify themselves in these terms. The Government’s
controversial Millennium Dome in London is perhaps the most emblematic
example of this penetration by education into the sphere of leisure. In the
process, the boundaries between education and entertainment—between
‘learning’ and ‘fun’—have become increasingly problematic.
Many of the developments identified above are driven by—or at least
inextricably connected with—the work of commercial corporations. Private
companies have increasingly taken over areas of leisure and cultural
provision that were previously the responsibility of national or local
government; and many public organisations have reorganised themselves
on commercial principles. In the process, the boundaries between the public
and the private have become ever more blurred—a tendency that is now
actively promoted by a government whose solution to most social problems
lies in the development of ‘public-private partnerships’.
This growing colonisation of the public sphere by commercial forces
is a function of the global expansion of capitalism in the post-war era,
particularly following the demise of the USSR. Right across the developed
world, ‘the State’ has effectively retreated, leaving the provision and
management of many key services to the market. Deregulation, both
nationally and in terms of international trade, has been seen as essential
to economic growth and prosperity; and nation-states themselves are
increasingly unable, or unwilling, to control the activities of global
As public services have fallen into decline, government involvement no
longer possesses the legitimacy it held in earlier decades. State-provided
welfare is increasingly regarded not as an entitlement for all but merely as
a ‘safety net’ for those most at risk; while many cultural institutions such
as museums and public libraries have either been forced into decline or
required to levy charges which themselves result in falling attendance, and
of course, one of New Labour’s earliest demonstrations of its commitment
to education was its introduction of tuition fees for university students.
These developments impact on schools in several ways. Most obviously,
we are now seeing a gradual privatisation of schooling—a trend that is
much further advanced in the USA (Bridges and McLaughlin 1994;
Buckingham 1997; Kenway and Fitzclarence 2000). This is most
spectacularly the case in the growing number of schools and local authorities
whose management has been handed over to commercial companies; yet
it is also apparent in other government initiatives such as Education Action
Zones and specialist schools, which are required to attract commercial
sponsorship. Meanwhile, the devolution of school funding from local
authorities to individual schools—the so-called Local Management of
Schools—means that schools are now much more independent consumers
of commercial goods and services than in the past.
In this situation, private corporations large and small have become
increasingly interested in the education market. As we will show, this
development is most apparent in the area of ICTs, where Microsoft, Apple,
ICL and others compete to be seen as sponsors of the latest educational
initiatives. Yet even in more traditional areas, such as book publishing,
there is intense competition to corner the market: the publisher
Heinemann, for example, enjoys a monopoly on providing resources for
one of the main English syllabuses, while other publishers are competing
to make textbook deals with examination boards (which are, of course,
profitable private companies in their own right).
Meanwhile, companies with interests in very different areas, such as
supermarkets, are increasingly keen to promote themselves as sponsors
of education. Tesco’s highly successful ‘Computers in Schools’ scheme,
for example, is a key aspect of its promotional strategy in what has become
a highly competitive sector of retailing; while Rupert Murdoch’s News
International has a parallel ‘Books in Schools’ scheme in association with
Walkers, makers of potato crisps. These initiatives reflect the general
ascendancy of ‘promotional culture’ (Wernick 1991); and, in this context,
education has a strong ‘feel-good factor’ that renders it particularly
valuable as a means of defining and promoting a given brand. Here,
again, resources from the private sphere—in this case, the parents who
actually shop at Tesco and buy their Walkers’ crisps—are increasingly
being used to supplement shortfalls in public provision.

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