Sian Bayne’s article [‘What’s the matter with ‘technology-enhanced learning’?’ Learning Media and Technology 40(1), pp.5-20] reads for me in ways she might well not expect. My context is theological education, the training of church ministers to think about the whole of life theologically. Specifically, I’m a biblical scholar and teacher and, as part of the whole-of-life remit for my students, I want to help them learn how to read and relate with technology theologically. A non-theological understanding of technology would be deficient for their learning contexts and training outcomes.
This leads me to read Bayne’s article through different eyes, and I want to unpack some initial thoughts here. I realise this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is very much my context, and I’m feeling my way into it. I’d value feedback on this from others, and these theologically-charged comments might well be a sustained way that I use to reflect on some of the set readings over the span of the course. Also, I’d like to feel towards the feasibility of a possible dissertation topic on this topic, and would value dialogue with that in mind, too.
Bayne says (p.7) “The language we use to define a field is always performative – it brings it into focus and into being in a particular way, and this focus of and mode of being is always ideologically inflected.” I very much agree, and this for me captures why I need to think about technology theologically in order to be able to teach about technology theologically.
Bayne (p.9), quoting Hamilton and Friesen (2013: 3) is concerned that we reach for “a fuller understanding of technologies as social objects.” Within a theologically-charged understanding of technologies, this moves beyond homo faber (bouncing here off Miller 2011, another set reading), into homo adorans, that is, that we become what we love, what we worship, that ‘things’ can make us, and we give our desires and allegiance to them.
Here, I think I’m reading Bayne at a slant, but a highly stimulating one for my context, and for developing a digital culture within it, appropriate to it. Bayne (p.9) reacts against “the alluring and efficient neatness of its [TEL’s] division of the social and the technological… the redaction of… complex entanglements” to either harnessing technology or it transforming education. I think a theologically-charged reading would do likewise. This also parallels Bayne (p.10), quoting Hamilton and Frisen (2013: 16) asks what about where technologies “fail in relation to our expectations of education.” Thinking about technology theologically, in sacral-social instantiations, will include this negative question too.
If I summarise and paraphrase Bayne, rather than quoting or citing her, I’m reading her world as a complex one, where humans are not at the centre, nor where they are separate from their surroundings, nor are they constituted apart from wider relations of varying kinds. The kind of world she is reacting against strikes me as being that of western secular modernism, an individualism bleached of anything beyond the secular. Certainly her quotation from Simon 2003: 3-4) on p.12 sets up her position against that of the Enlightenment. It’s not then that I’m arguing that her alternative is a biblical worldview – far from it – but I think her critique opens up suggestive possibilities for such a worldview (if that is something one wants to pursue – and I do).
Bayne (p.12) sees critical posthumanism as attempting to negotiate what Braun (2004: 1352) sees as a “devastating absence” are the core of previous Enlightenment project(ion)s of what it means to be human. In a future post, I’d like to explore a different navigation of this absence, wherein the ascended Jesus represents an alternative approach to reading both the human and technology. I’m not going to develop that here, but it spins off other work
I’ve written on the ascended Jesus, using critical spatial theory. The transhumanist vision of how “to remove human limitations” (p.13) is not the only option for addressing such limitations. In short, if I can coin a term, an educative negotiation of technology (and the technological negotiation of education) in my theologically-charged context invites a christohumanism.
Like Bayne (p.14) this will not assume that enhancement is always a good. That would start to render it a god. That would be, along with Bayne, “both normative and highly problematic.”
A christohumanism will also need a wider ontological framing to locate it. Alongside Hayles (1999: 5), cited by Bayne (p.15), this too needs to “recognise human ‘finitude'”. It will do so within a created order where – with Bayne – the human is seen “neither as dominating technology nor as being dominated by it”, but where both the human and education are “being performed through a coming together of the human and non-human, the material and the discursive.”
The radical distinction is that I doubt Bayne ever anticipates a biblical ontology, with plenty of non-human subjects and agents: God, false gods, angels, principalities and powers, demons, spirits, heavenly creatures…. If such a world could be granted a moment of consideration, at least for my context, then it’s very different from the human-centred, humans-as-somehow-separate-from-their-context humanism that Bayne reacts against. I’m not painting this ontology in any detail here, but simply saying that my context requires it, and am asking whether educational studies would or could allow discursive space for it.
There’s a lot more I’d like to say and develop on this. A dissertation topic, perhaps. Perhaps, too, I need to develop some of the sketches in subsequent postings and comments. To that end, please react and respond, I’d be grateful to hear what others think.