The Anthropology and Sociology of Educational Technology

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By Sheena Abboud, Martin Armstrong, Lynnette Earle & Donna Forward


The following is a wiki that the four of us have put together to reflect on our theme, "The Anthropology and Sociology of Educational Technology. Our presentation is based on readings by Buechley et al., Mohahan, Nowotny and Petrina. We invite all of you to collaborate your views on these articles and to participate in our interactivities.

Focus Questions

In the discussion section of this wiki, click on the author of choice and begin a discussion on ONE or TWO of the questions we have listed below that resonate with you.

Buechley, L., Eisenberg, M., Catchen, J., Crockett, A. (2008). The LilyPad Arduino: Using Computational Textiles to Investigate Engagement, Aesthetics, and Diversity in Computer Science Education

  1. The LilyPad kit is used in workshops to engage students in computing science. According to Buechley, Eisenberg, Catchen & Crockett (2008), “ease of use” is central in the design of the LilyPad kits. Reflecting on the K-12 educational journey, evaluate how “ease of use” is connected to cultural acceptance of education technology within the public school system.
  2. Analyze the importance of feedback from users of the LilyPad in relation to product design.

Monahan, T. (2005) Technology and Cultures

  1. Reflect on your own school and the relationship you have with your administrator(s). Explain your situation and how you work with administration when dealing with technology issues and equipment purchases.
  2. How involved are the IT specialists in your district with the technology decisions you make at your school? How much power in your decision making do they have? Explain.
  3. Who ultimately decides which district wide software programs will be used and which sites (Facebook for example) should be blocked?
  4. The following is written on a plaque in a U.S. IT room. “It’s not my job; I’ll be glad to take the responsibility”. Describe briefly what these words represent to you.
  5. If funding for IT specialists runs out, what kinds of scenarios could you envision in your school and district?
  6. In your own words, tell what the term technological culture means to you.
  7. The insertion of technology specialists into all organizational levels of public education represents a destabilization of traditional power relations between administrators and teachers”. Share your views on this.

Nowotny, H. (2006) The Quest for Innovation and Cultures of Technology

  1. Illustrate why you think that the quest for innovation at the beginning of the 21st century has become such an obsession.
  2. Society in the 20th century had its share of cruel destruction and barbarity. Scientific and technical progress did not prevent this from happening. How do you think new technological innovations in the future will improve moral standards and behaviours of people in society?
  3. Why is innovation important to the concepts of Culture, Technology and Society?
  4. Does technology change culture or does culture change technology? What do you think?

Petrina, S. (2009). What is Culture? How We Learn (Technology Across the Lifespan)

  1. Culture = Colere in Latin – to cultivate, to dwell, to take care and to tend and preserve. If this is the original meaning of culture, what aspects of your life would you list here?
  2. By cultivating the mind, the Greeks suggest that people are “fit to take care of things in the world”. What do you think your mind needs to develop in order to do this?
  3. Name some rituals, activities, traditions and material artifacts that define your own culture.
  4. List some things you need to avoid when dealing with other cultures in order to not offend anyone.
  5. Educators interpret culture as “multiculturalism and ways they celebrate, tolerate, interact and treat diversity and difference”. What do you do in your classes to commemorate different cultures?

Key Terms


Central to the study of anthropology, is understanding culture. Culture “encompassing all human phenomena that are not purely results of human genetics” (Culture, 2012). Inherent in the study of culture is the distinction between the material culture, represented by manufactured artifacts and invisible forces such as language and language. (Culture, 2012). In an American-centric anthropological study, culture is defined two ways:

  • The evolved human capacity to classify and represent experiences with symbols, and to act imaginatively and creatively; and
  • the distinct ways that people living in different parts of the world classified and represented their experiences, and acted creatively (Culture 2012).

Anthropology is the academic study of humanity that examines the characteristic of the “human experience, from physiology and the evolutionary origins to the social and cultural organization of human societies as well as individual and collective forms of human experience” (Anthropology, 2012). Central to anthropology, is how social relations are organized, human behaviour, physical traits, variations between groups and how the past influences the social organization and culture (Anthropology, 2012).


"Sociology is the scientific study of society. It is a social science (a term with which it is sometimes synonymous) which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity".

Educational Technology

"Educational technology is the pedagogical practice that facilitates learning and improving performance through the development, managing and using appropriate technological processes and resources." (Richey, 2008). The use of education technology, such as “software and hardware, as well as Internet applications, such as wiki's and blogs, and activities” (Education Technology, 2012) , but not an inclusive list, that aid in enhancing student learning.


Buechley, et al.

This video provides an glimpse into the use of LilyPad kits and how they are used in the classroom (Buechley, 2010).


Human interaction with technology is increasing, expanding computer usage from a desktop or laptop to using adaptive and/or intelligent handheld devices in wide range of professional and leisure actives (Buechley, Eisenberg, Catchen & Crockett, 2008). According to , Buechley, Eisenberg, Catchen & Crockett (2008), societal trends indicate that technology was already integrated into cultures prior to the rise of intelligent technologies and the social media age. Fundamental in the acceptance of technology as a contextual part of society is “ease of use” as it will appeal to wider cultural spectrum (Buechley et al., 2008, p 424). Buechley et al., (2008) focus in this paper is to examine where the LilyPad can be used in education by ad, hosting workshops using LilyPad kits to construct and program own e-textile and have the students in the workshop provide feedback for the product’s improvement.

Ease of Use and Aesthetic Incorporated into the Design

Buechley et al., (2008), points out that “LilyPad Arduino is a system for experimenting with embedded computation that allows users to build their own soft wearables by sewing fabric-mounted microcontroller, sensor and actuator modules together with conductive thread.” The design of the product utilizes intelligent designed technology that facilitates the experimentation with robotics (Buechley et al., 2008, p 424). The intelligent design in LilyPad incorporates small circuit boards that are heat resistant (Buechley et al., 2008, p 424). However atheistic, sew-ability and ease of use are the main focus of this interactive product (Buechley et al., 2008, p 424). The study of culture, especially fashion trends and student interests in fields of science are central in the promotion and success of LilyPad as an instructional tool to engage students in computing science. Instrumental in product design is its “ease of use” in the hardware and software components, which adds to integration and acceptance by students and instructors. The LilyPad utilizes a simplistic open face software design making it a user friendly product (Buechley et al., 2008, p 426). Further enhancing the user friendliness of LilyPad, Arduino uses Web 2.0 interactive social media technology to bring together the users of the product to create a learning community.

Constructivist Approach in the Case Studies

Arduino used a constructivist approach in product assessment, where the teacher acts as a coach and technical adviser to the students, age 10-14. This was conducted at a summer science program where students paid to attend (Buechley et al., 2008, p 427).Central to the constructivist approach is that student where encouraged to play and use on their own experiences to construct artifacts that where appealing to them. Students designed and tested interactive fashion in their own cultural contexts utilizing LilyPad construction kits. The weakness in this approach is that students paid to participate in the summer science programs. Paid students and the small workshop sizes do not represent whether the product can be utilized effectively in a public school system.

How It Was Evaluated

Central to the case study conducted in the LilyPad workshops was the evaluation of user feedback. Although, earlier studies focused on learning outcomes, the case studies in this evaluation focused on student “interest and motivation for the session” (Buechley et al., 2008, p 427). Arduino used a comprehensive survey that asked about student interests, previous experiences with programming, electronics, art and sewing, experiences using the product, and whether they would be interested in future workshop in electronic, fashion, programming and/or computer science (Buechley et al., 2008, p 427). Buechley et al., (2008) indicated that the two most important themes of the study were student engagement and aesthetics/diversity. Building upon a recent study that: Students who, as eighth graders, expected to earn degrees in science or engineering were almost 3.5 times as likely to earn degrees in the physical sciences and engineering than students who did not express an intention of majoring in the sciences in eighth-grade (Buechley et al., 2008, p 427).


Students with or without previous experiences with electronics, programming, art, craft and sewing were engaged in the workshop primarily because they were able to take ownership of the product produced. Also, student feedback indicated future interest in perusing further workshops similar in design to the LilyPad. The survey provides an insight into the importance of studying youth culture and how to intergrade social experiences into education technology as a means to motivate and engage students. However, the survey provided an important insight that not all students are interested or engaged in this type on interactive technology.

Aesthetics and Diversity

Buechley et al., (2008) point out that that the divorcing of aesthetics from engineering contributes to its lack of diversity.” This suggests a symbiotic relationship between the pleasing nature of the final product and the wide spectrum of cross-curriculum interest of student that are engaged in its educational application. Student ownership of their creative vision in producing the fashion accessory in the workshop was central to engagement. Cultural patterns in education from previous studies indicated that women were less motivated to pursue a degree in computer science than man (Buechley et al., 2008, p 431). These cultural trends are an important ingredient in the design of the LilyPad as it appeals to a diverse student population taking into account gender and social cultural experiences. Buechley et al., (2008) points out that the design of the product is important to make it inclusive in a classroom where the student population is diverse.

Future Uses

LilyPad design takes into account trends in popular culture to market the product as an educational tool. Buechley et al., (2008), postulates that the use of LilyPad kits will be expanded because of growing trends in “human computer interaction.” This provides an insight into the importance of studying culture in gaining an understanding of meeting the needs of diverse and ever changing student demographic through the use of interactive technology.

Product Success

Flowchart indicates that product success in education is linked to the study of culture.

Untitled drawing (1)pic.jpg


Technological Cultures in Globalization, Technological Change, and Public Education by Torin Monahan

Credit: Geek Hero by Salvatore Iovene 2008
Shift in Power

In his chapter Technological Cultures, Monahan (2005) describes the control that male administrators historically had over the goings-on in typically female run classrooms. The ever-growing presence of educational technologies that administrators were implementing in these classrooms was a way of “[colonizing] classroom activities” (Monahan, 2005 p.74). It was not until the early adoption of the Internet into the classrooms of technologically savvy teachers, many of who were women, that a shift in power had begun.

As more teachers were incorporating technology into their practice, the need for infrastructure, support, and policies grew. Meanwhile, funds were being allocated for technological infrastructures, thus creating the need for overseers of associated projects. From here, Information Technology or IT positions were created. As the responsibilities of these IT specialists grew more and more complex, so does their influence on the pedagogical practices of teachers and decisions made my administrators.

Technological Cultures
IT Specialist Positions

IT Specialist Positions L.A.Unified School District.png Larger mind map can be found here.


The Quest for Innovation and Cultures of Technology By Helga Nowotny


A) The argument: Innovation seeks to negotiate a future that has become more fragile and even more inherently uncertain.

B) Compared to: A historical perspective and the rise of the concept of technology in the 19th century A societal void is filled by the concept of innovation

C) Feature of the quest: Cultures of technology “opens new avenues for exploring how technology works, including the meanings we attach to newly emerging technology and innovations.”


The future is uncertain. Today’s understanding of the future is much more different than it has been in the past due to a number of factors. The fear of the people is no longer one big catastrophe but the “various kinds of risks, of different proportions and subject to varying perceptions” (Nowotny, p. 3). The current state of the present, with the multitude of consumers and voters, changes how the future is predicted in comparison to the past. Nowotny states that “our public belief is that innovation enables us to negotiate the future” because it “embraces the uncertainties inherent in the future” (2006, p. 4). Innovation means social change.

Technology became important in the 19th century. It was during the 19th century, when the railroad was extended in the U.S., when there were advances in science and the mechanical arts, and when electrical and chemical industries grew, that technology became visible. It was during this time that technology had been paired with higher learning with the naming of MIT in 1862. During this time, before the arrival of this new word – technology – there was something missing. “What was needed was a concept that would not merely signify a means to achieving progress, but that would signify the progress that had been achieved and … continued to do so” (Nowotny, p. 8).

Since this void of vocabulary had been filled with this new word of technology, another void needed to be filled. After the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, this great concept of technology and progress rendered itself unable to recover because of major blows in endured. Nowotny states that “technology has revealed itself to an assistant to humanity is acts of the most horrible destruction and brutality” (P. 8). She continues by explaining that technology does not prevent that which the human race does and that society must understand that there are consequences for various technological advances, which are here to stay and develop. The advances in technology that humans have discovered have changed the way in which society lives.

There has been a shift of regime which can “be summarized as a shift from exotechnologies to endotechnologies” (p. 10). Exotechnologies are artifacts that enable large distances to be crossed (cars, ships, airplanes, etc.), the concept of mass production, the construction of vast infrastructures, the growing, transporting, and conserving of food and other products, as well as the ability to live comfortably no matter the climate in which one lives. Endotechnologies are those such as bio/nano/info-technologies that have scaled our world down to matter itself. With endotechnologies, the aging process can be controlled, genes can be controlled, and time can be controlled. The union of such sciences has raised questions of what it means to be human and what is natural or cultural.

Technology today as we know it has caused the future to be more uncertain that our ancestors predicted, and with new knowledge, brings more uncertainty. But, as Nowotny points out, we have to move forward and the concept of innovation is the answer to how. Innovation is change, the transformation of culture. Nowotny alludes that “the culture of an organization is said to be pivotal to understanding how a particular organization adapts to ongoing changes” (p. 15). To further the definition of culture, it is about social relations. When coupling technology with culture, one must understand that Cultures of Technology are about the arrangements and shared meanings that a society holds and that it is self-evident and highly demanding. Therefore, in order to fulfill the quest for innovation and cultures of technology, the interrelations between culture, technology and society, must be understood while accepting that the future is uncertain.


What is Culture? (2009)


A) Definition of the word culture

B) Different interpretations of the meaning of culture

C) 4 components of Culture


The word “culture” is viewed slightly differently by different nationalities but the original, latin meaning is to cultivate, dwell, take care, tend and preserve. The word also originally meant “agriculture”and means a relationship between culture and nature. The Greeks felt that culture had to do with cultivating the mind in order that people would be prepared to take care of everything in the world. Culture also means developing intellectual and moral faculties and at the same time, having excellent taste acquired by training the intellect and aesthetic aspects of life. The 4 main components of culture are: 1) A group 2) An environment 3) Artifacts 4) Traditions. All of these components are present in activities and rituals performed by the group. Clifford Goertz looks at culture as symbols or components that represent meanings for: • Attitudes • Behaviors • Beliefs • Practices • Cultural customs • Interactions • Myths • Rituals • Material Constructions Culture is the interconnection of meanings of these components which are linked together in a type of web.


Buechley, et al.

Use this link to access Google Draw. Google Drawing Your mission is to use this Graffiti Wall to create a quote that represents your understanding of culture and/or educational technology. Be creative.


Share your thoughts on the role of IT specialists in your district in this VoiceThread. You can comment using either voice or text.


Interrelationships.PNG Using Google Drawing, in POINT FORM, please state what you believe the interrelationships between Culture, Technology and Society are.


View the following three videos about "What is culture?" Compare the different angles that each producer took to portray the meaning of culture. Briefly summarize your views in a short paragraph and share them with the rest of the class in the discussion section at the top of this wiki page under Petrina.


  • Koschmann, T. (Ed.). (1996b). CSCL: Theory and practice of an emerging paradigm. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. In (Ed.).
  • Lipponen, L. (2002). Exploring foundations for computer-supported collaborative learning. Proceedings of the Computer-supported Collaborative Learning Conference 2002, Boulder, CO: Jan 7-11, 72-81. Retrieved November 2006 from
  • McMullin, B. (2005) Putting the learning back into learning technology. In S. Moore, G. O’Neill, & B. McMullin (Eds.), Emerging issues in the practice of university learning and teaching (pp. 67-76). Dublin: AISHE. Retrieved November 2006 from
  • Mindmeister - Mind-mapping tool
  • VoiceThread


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Lowenthal, P. R., & Wilson, B. G. (2010). Labels do matter! A critique of AECT’s redefinition of the field. TechTrends, 54(1), 38-46. doi:10.1007/s11528-009-0362-y

Monahan, T. (2005). Technological cultures. In Globalization, technological change and public education (pp. 73-92). New York: Routledge.

Nowotny, H. (2006). Introduction. In The quest for innovation and cultures of technology (pp. 1-23). New York: Berghahn.

Petrina, S. (2009). What is culture? Vancouver, BC: Tech no-Printing Press

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Richey, R.C. (2008). Reflections on the 2008 AECT Definitions of the Field. TechTrends. 52(1) 24-25

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