Technology and the Self

What are computers doing to our students and schools?

Published: 29 April 2013

Technology has become an indissoluble part of the modern education setting and it continues to enrich the lives of countless students and teachers across the globe. Technology is no longer marginalised and it has become a vital component in the delivery of education services for schools, large and small. As we continue to connect with the technology around us we are witnessing a growing reciprocal relationship between ourselves and the expanding number of networked devices and services that we all use and take for granted in our everyday lives. If technology is playing such a vital role in shaping who we are, what does it mean for schools when it comes to adopting and using technology?

Look beyond what a computer can do for us and ask yourself what using it does to us

The work of the Anthropologist Michael Brian Schiffer is not automatically associated with education technology, but his ground breaking work on the relationship between human behaviour and artifacts is unique; and one which can provide insight into how education technology can influence positive behavioural change in teachers and students alike. His work shows us that the relationship between learners and the technology that surrounds them should not be underestimated and he goes onto to explain how technology responds to (and affects) virtually all human behaviour. [1]


The work of Prof. Sherry Turkle extends the theme by stating that we need to move away from the commonly held view that computers are just tools that can be used to support teaching and learning (e.g to enable teachers to present information to the class, to support the creation and distribution of learning materials, to record attendance and grades; and for students to respond to set tasks and assignments given by their teachers) to a position were we are asking about what computers and networked devices and services are doing to us. [2] Marc Prensky continues this line of thought when he cites a statement made by a high school student. "You think of technology as a tool. We think of it as a foundation; it underlies everything we do." [3] Students think about technology in ways that sets them apart from the adults around them. The introduction of networked devices and services in our schools has amplified and sharpended the debate and interplay between the individual identity of students and the educational institutions that serve them.

The adjacent video is from the Big Thinkers series and it showcases the work of Prof. Sherry Turkle. [4]

In many schools there is all too often a growing divide between teachers and the student body when it comes to the use and understanding of networked devices and services. Teachers are seen as passive consumers of web based services, whilst a growing band of students are active producers of content and active participants in the social web. A minority of students have gone further and they are beginning to define, control and master the devices and services around them. The gap between the first group of students and their teachers is large but one that can be bridged over time; but the gap between the second group of students and their teachers and even with their peers is widening. Advocacy groups such as, Code Club and the Raspberry Pi Foundation have recognised the need for the education sector to address these shortfalls. They state that schools need to do more if they are going to bridge the divide between their students and themselves.

The technology gap between students and teachers is widening

The advent of web 3.0 services and post PC devices within the education sector has brought the norms, practices and technologies of the legacy internet era into sharp relief and exposed how inadequate they have been in shaping positive change in schools across the globe. ‘If we are going to have a serious chance of changing lives, we will need another level of innovation. Not just technological innovation – we need system innovation’. [5] The level of innovation that is needed here will require all schools to question their commonly held assumptions about how technology can be used to support teaching and learning, and how technology can act as the foundation which underpins everything that schools do in this age of ubiquitous computing. [1]

The digital landscape is still in its infancy, so this makes it difficult to discern the long term effects of technological change on our students, schools and the education sector. The period of observation thus far is a small one; but we have already oberserved how technological change has profoundly shaped and influenced how we teach and learn and how schools manage the delivery of education services to their local communities. Examples include the use of networked devices and services; the creation, distribution and consumption of online learning materials; the formulation of new delivery models and the creation of a broader and richer curriclum that meets the needs of students and the world outside the school gates.

Schools will need to alter their perspective on technology

Schools will need to alter their perspective on technology. As highlighted earlier, students refer to technology as if it was part of them. Technology makes them feel more whole. Some would suggest that technology makes them into better people. The use of networked devices and services has empowered students and they have magnified every child's ability and potential. One particular area of interest is the role that ubiquitous computing plays in enabling learners to have greater self-determination and a more active and participatory role within the education setting and the part it plays in democratising education. Schools will be required to think more broadly about the approach that they take when devising new programmes of study for their students. Teachers will need to ask how they can make best use of the technology around them to shape and influence their students; and with particular regard to how they perceive themselves, their relationship with others around them, how they shape their way of thinking and how they come to solve everyday tasks and problems around them. The efficacy of technology to democratise, customise, adapt and transform education will be one of the primary conditions for achieving the kinds of educational outcomes needed to build a thriving digital knowledge economy. [6]

What effect is technology having on our minds, our pysche and upon the human spirit?

If the education sector is to benefit from the use of networked devices and services, schools will need to think more broadly about the effect that technology is having on our minds, our pysche and upon the human spirit; and they will need to apply practical measures to realise the potential benefits of using technology to support teaching and learning. Schools will need to address how they can devise and manage a ubiquitious computing model and what needs to be in place in order to offer a broader and richer digital curriculum that excites, enriches and empowers the lives of their students and the communiites that they serve.



  1. Technology and Behavioural Change:
  2. Prof. Sherry Turkle, The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit -
  3. ASCD - Marc Prensky article:
  4. Big Thinkers - Prof. Sherry Turkle:
  5. Michael Kinsley - A Conversation with Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and other economic leaders, 2009
  6. Digital Advantage: