Aden Van Noppen challenges those involved in the design and development of digital technology to work towards the aim of ‘creating technology worthy of the human spirit’. They argue that digital technologies have now become established as “portals through which we live, love, learn, grieve, and connect with our communities” (p.309). In this sense, the act of developing digital technology needs to be seen as a spiritual act. As such, technology designers have a responsibility to ensure that their actions and products treat the well-being of humanity with due attention and care.
So what might a humane EdTech look like? This would be technology that attends to what Van Noppen terms the “most intimate and complex parts of the human experience”. In terms of the human experience of education and being educated, then, there are many different ‘parts’ to consider. For example, humane EdTech would include technologies that are sensitive toward the vulnerabilities of learning (as well as the vulnerabilities of teaching) – such as the anxiety and discomfort of ‘not-knowing’, or the shame of being seen to publicly fail. On the flipside are feelings of wonder and the joy of discovery, as well as the complex feelings when one begins to feel a connection to something larger than oneself. At the same time, a humane EdTech might also include technologies that are sensitive toward the boredom, frustration, indignation and anger that can arise from institutional coercion.
In short, education is an emotional and spiritual process which is profoundly linked with issues of individual and collective well-being. Unfortunately, these are not qualities or conditions that are often talked about in terms of EdTech. As Van Noppen (2021, p.309) puts it, these are challenges “that computer science degrees do not prepare people for, few business models optimize for, and algorithms cannot easily solve”. Far too few of the technologies that come to play dominant roles within schools and universities could be said to treat humanity with care rather than negligence.
Critical studies of EdTech are underpinned by the belief that different approaches to how we make use of technology are possible. Part of ‘thinking otherwise’ about education technology therefore involves imagining what a humane EdTech might look like … and then working out what is required to get there. In a practical sense, how might we instil humane values and compassion into EdTech procurement strategies, business models, design briefs and developer sensibilities? In a more abstract sense, how we might better align prevailing public and professional expectations of education technology with matters of humanity and well-being?
Van Noppen, A. (2021). Creating technology worthy of the human spirit. Journal of Social Computing2(4):309−322