Teaching with “Non-Technological” Technologies

The technological revolution in higher education is regularly promised but, like flying cars and jetpacks, seems to be always just on the verge of arriving. MOOCs and DOCCs, flipped or virtual classrooms, screencasting, and e-learning dominate the current landscape but in previous decades typewriters, projectors, educational television, and CD-ROMs brought with them renewed promises of a pedagogical paradigm shift.

Often this revolution is portrayed in terms of technological interventions, additions, and disruptions in what is taken to be a non-technological space. But hasn’t teaching always been technological? Were not abacuses, writing slates, ink pots, and blackboards technologies with their own particular scripts for scholastic action? Are not both books and e-books technological aides?

In truth, technologies have always been a part of teaching but we seem to spend much less effort reflecting on the influence of these outmoded methods than the potential impacts of Udacity [1] or Minerva University [2, 3]. The purpose of this session is not to assess whether or not revolutions in teaching tracked technological innovations, nor to embrace or thwart new revolutions. Instead, we will explore the contention that anachronistic technologies offer particular values that cannot or should not be superseded by hi-tech solutions. We will look at the pedagogic values of lo-fi technologies, slow technologies, and ‘non-technological’ technologies. What does the ‘low tech’ classroom offer an educator and a student?

If you would like to participate in this session, email me at gs.ud1521323062e.sun1521323062@rrek1521323062.cire1521323062.


[1] edition.cnn.com/2012/07/05/opinion/bennett-udacity-education/index.html

[2] www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/09/the-future-of-college/375071

[3] www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/04/05/minerva-project-plans-different-kind-online-education


2 Responses to Teaching with “Non-Technological” Technologies

  1. Hi Eric!

    Like you, I am keen to reflect on the materiality of the classroom and of teaching. The picture above reminds me of a chapter by Michael Barany and Donald MacKenzie on chalk, blackboards and other low-tech materials in the production of ideas for mathematics research. (mitpress.universitypressscholarship.com/view/10.7551/mitpress/9780262525381.001.0001/upso-9780262525381-chapter-6) – if anyone wants a pdf copy of it I can easily send it to you.

    The blackboard’s pedagogical history dates back to the turn of the 19th century. In Barany and MacKenzie’s ethnographic study on mathematical research practices, blackboards in use are described as “big and available”, “slow and loud” as well as “ostentatious” (p.114). These “topical surfaces of potential inscription,” they write, “presage the seminar’s rhythm, its steady alternation of marking, talking, moving, and erasing.” (p.113-4)

    Evocative for thinking about the whiteboards that line the walls of many ‘modern’ classrooms?

    I could imagine a discussion about classroom whiteboards and the way we enact teaching and learning through their use. E.g. who has access to the board(s) and when, how are tables and chairs positioned relative to the board(s), etc. What are ‘standard’ practices invited or assumed by the setup? What alternatives might we think of?

  2. Hi Catelijne,

    Thank you for your comments. I was also thinking of Christian Greiffenhagen, who visited Tembusu earlier this year. His ethnography of doctoral students in mathematics showed the prominence of the blackboard which student and supervisor were always reaching for and returning to. See here, e.g.


    In a kind of nominal skeumorphism some of us use the Blackboard app more often than the physical thing. How do students today, who might have only seen them in photographs, think about blackboards and their value?

    Your questions are very helpful in thinking about how we could discuss this value in constrast to whiteboards. I’d be keen to include that discussion.

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