Is Technology Good For Education?

Not my question, but the question of Professor Neil Selwyn in a book my daughter recommeded me to read: Is Technology Good for Education? – and a timely recommendation, since we’ve been asked  in our current module to read his paper on Digital  Downsides: Exploring University Students’ Negative Engagements with Digital Technology.

The book presents an alternative view to the ubiquitous hype digital technologies and their value in education. I can’t really critique it, insofar as I agree with pretty much all the alternative views – but I will try here to give a brief résumé of the elements of the book, from both sides of the ed tech fence.

Neil covers five areas in five chapters, followed by a summary chapter of how we can usefully move on. The five areas are:

  • Digital technology and Educational change
  • Making education more democratic
  • Making education more personalised
  • Making education more calculable
  • Making education more commercial

I will deal with the first of these in this blog post.

Digital technology and educational change

Much has been made of how digital technology is changing the face of teaching. It’s usually seen as a change for good, with computer terminology used to describe it “Education 3.0” or “rebooting education”. Occasionally it is seen as a change for the worst in that students are losing literacy and research skills because of the prevalence of texting and Google. However, Selwyn maintains that in fact:

There has been [[…]] little rigorous evidence produced over the past forty years of technology leading to the sustained improvement of teaching and learning.

He makes the point that in the past we expected huge educational transformations to occur after the advent of, for example, television and video. But they didn’t.

[…]one of the great conundrums of  educational technology over the past forty years has been its relative lack of impact.

In a face to face situation ,while we might have moved from blackboard and chalk to interactive touchy feely smartboard, teaching is still very similar to how it was generations ago. And similarly online.

He then contends that this talk of transformational, disruptive innovation in education by technology has as its roots in commerce. (How many schools have paid out for classfuls of iPads in the belief that they would make learning so much more effective only to have them gathering dust?)

The presence of corporate interests and commerical values in education is not necessarily a bad thing.Yet history suggests that business ideals, market values and the pursuit of profit often do not translate smoothly into education.


Selwyn, N. (2016). Is technology good for education?. 1st ed. Cambridge

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