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CALICon 2002 Fri. Keynote: Socially Responsible Educational Technology

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Published on May 27, 2011

From the 2002 CALI Conference for Law School Computing

Prof. David Nobel, York University, Toronto, Ontario.

An excerpt from his book "Digital Diploma Mills"...

"All discussion of distance education these days invariably turns into a discussion of technology, an endless meditation on the wonders of computer-mediated instruction. Identified with a revolution in technology, distance education has thereby assumed the aura of innovation and the appearance of a revolution itself, a bold departure from tradition, a signal step toward a preordained and radically transformed higher educational future. In the face of such a seemingly inexorable technology-driven destiny and the seductive enchantment of technological transcendence, skeptics are silenced and all questions are begged. But we pay a price for this technological fetishism, which so dominates and delimits discussion. For it prevents us from perceiving the more fundamental significance of today's drive for distance education, which, at bottom, is not really about technology, nor is it anything new. We have been here before.

In essence, the current mania for distance education is about the commodification of higher education, of which computer technology is merely the latest medium, and it is, in reality, more a rerun than a revolution, bearing striking resemblance to a past today's enthusiasts barely know about or care to acknowledge, an earlier episode in the commodification of higher education known as correspondence instruction or, more quaintly, home study. Then as now, distance education has always been not so much technology-driven as profit-driven, whatever the mode of delivery. The common denominator linking the two episodes is not technology but the pursuit of profit in the guise and name of higher education. A careful examination of the earlier, pre-computer, episode in distance education enables us to place the current mania not only in historical perspective but also in its proper political-economic context. The chief aim here is to try to shift our attention from technology to political economy, and from fantasies about the future to the far more sobering lessons of the past."

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