Technological Artefacts for Learning

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Technologies as Artefacts and Beyond

Instead of being perceived as pure hardware and software in terms of their technical characters, it is suggested that technologies should be understood in social context. For instance, in his book Education and technology : key issues and debates (2011), Neil Selwyn suggests the following (p8):

"This idea of technologies being more than just machines or material artefacts is made clearer if we think of a present-day technology such as the internet. Most people would agree that the internet is more than just the copper wires, fibre-optic cables, wireless connections, keyboards, processors and monitors that constitute the material networks of computers that support the internet. Indeed, when people talk about the internet they are usually referring to the activities that they engage in online, the cultures that can be said to surround these social activities, and the knowledge that results from these activities. As such, it is far more useful to describe the internet in terms of its social ‘content’ rather than its technical forms (Wessels 2010)
One of the most straightforward ways of conceptualizing the social and the technical aspects of technology is offered by Lievrouw and Livingstone’s (2002) description of three distinct – but interconnected – aspects of what ‘technology’ is:
  • artefacts and devices: that is, the technology itself and how it is designed and made;
  • activities and practices: that is, what people do with technologies (including issues of human interaction, organizing, identity, cultural practices);
  • context: that is, social arrangements and organizational forms that surround the use of technologies (including institutions, social structures and cultures)."

Technologies as Artefacts and Beyond for Learning

From universities to primary schools, nowadays all educational institutions are trying their best to include Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in both the curriculum and the classroom routine. Both educational technologies and the most common digital technologies are believed to be effective tools for learning enhancement. However, it seems to be extremely difficult to actually make good use of the existing technologies (e.g. social media, google, or even Powerpoint and YouTube). While teachers and students enjoy the convenient networking function brought by Facebook in their daily life, applying it in the classroom scenario somehow distracts the group instead of bringing everyone together. In fact, even a common task such as “complete a presentation in Powerpoint based on information in your textbook and online” could lead to unsatisfactory outcomes since many students would just present whatever they find on Google in an awkward format. There are so many things should be improved but from time to time both teachers and students might not even be able to tell why things go wrong.

Such a frustration could be partly caused by our limited digital literacies. Just like using a digital camera does not make one automatically a professional photographer, living in a digital world and using apps everyday while its convenient do not mean we can control technologies freely to achieve a specific target. In the case of education, we might recognize a technology as a potential learning tool but have little idea about what differences would it bring to learning and what are the possible challenges and side effects it could bring to the class. In other words, we simply look at it as an artefact without read it more cautiously and critically in its social context.

For instance, despite its popularity Facebook is not necessarily an ideal tool for classroom learning due to its design that facilitates instant long-distance communication rather than face-to-face interaction. Also it is not necessarily a popular choice for teacher-student collaboration due to the feeling of role conflicts root in our culture. However, Facebook itself can be one of the most interesting learning subjects in the world because it has changed the way we communicate so the voice of individuals are empowered dramatically. After thinking about the above, one might think twice before choosing to use Facebook to form a group to discuss English Literature (although it is important to note that sometimes it works). Instead, maybe it could be used as a learning subject in English Literature to see how language patters are changed from offline to online, and how people like Humans of New York use daily stories and semi-informal tones to establish a network that is powerful enough to help a school to raise 1 million USD in a few months.

It is clear that in order to make a technology learning-friendly we should first understand it in terms of artefact, activities and context. However, since there are countless technologies in the world and it is impossible for each of us to understand them all by our own efforts, better there is a platform for sharing. The followings are some examples and hopefully there would be more to come.

Examples of Technological Artefacts for Learning


  • Selwyn, N. (2011). Education and technology : key issues and debates, Chapter 1. London ; New York : Continuum International Pub. Group