This is the second of three planned posts. What wasn’t planned was the two and a half year gap (!) between the first post (https://tpg.me.uk/2014/11/11/megatech-and-minitech-part-1/) and this one. In the very unlikely event that you have been waiting with bated breath for this follow-up, I can only apologise.
For this post I’m going to examine SPONGE, a system I created to help with my research (and “The Smaller Thing” referred to in the first post), through the lens of MegaTech and MiniTech. I was planning to deal with IMS Learning Design (“The Big Thing”) first but, given that it was the unsettling experience of SPONGE that resulted in MegaTech and MiniTech, this seems like the more appropriate place to start.
Seeing as it’s been a while… a quick (and potentially dirty) recap of the three elements that will decide whether SPONGE is viewed as MiniTech (with generally positive connotations) or MegaTech (with largely negative implications) from the viewpoint of a particular user or type of user.
- If use of the technology would involve repositioning the user, is this repositioning acceptable to that user? Especially, does it break any deeply engrained rituals within the situation? See van Langenhove & Harré (1999) for an introduction to Positioning Theory and Johnson et al (2011) for a discussion in relation to educational technology.
- Does the technology serve an obvious purpose and is it intuitive to use? Yes: MiniTech. No: MegaTech. See Heidegger (1978) regarding readiness-to-hand and the different modes of unreadiness.
- Finally, does the technology solves a specific problem for the user and benefit them directly (MiniTech)? Or does it attempt more systemic change where the user might not directly benefit (MegaTech)? Inspiration taken from piecemeal and Utopian social engineering (Popper, 1966).
My perspective on SPONGE
I designed SPONGE as a stripped-down platform containing the fewest features possible to do what it needed to do in the simplest way possible. It’s purpose, to allow teachers at a particular school to deploy collaborative online tools in their lessons in as intuitive way as possible. Initial feedback from the teachers was promising: not only did they understand what the system did and how to use it, but they had also identified a range of potential use cases.
From my perspective SPONGE looked like MiniTech. It was just a set of tools which teachers could use with pupils as and when they saw fit (no obvious positioning going on). It also served an obvious purpose and seemed intuitive (ready-to-hand). It also solved a particular problem of how to make the collaborative tools accessible in a face-to-face setting (piecemeal engineering).
Teachers’ perspective on SPONGE
But, despite the positive signs, none of the teachers ever used SPONGE. Not once. What was the problem? The teachers, it turned out, were worried about the potential for SPONGE to have a negative impact in the classroom. For example, would Harry delete or deface Nina’s work in the collaborative text editor? Or would David use the system as another medium to insult Paul’s mum and start a fight? In this case, from the perspective of the teachers, SPONGE had some of the qualities of MegaTech. Specifically, the system could undermine the teachers’ control of their classroom and their ability to mediate interactions between pupils. This has most relevance to the Positioning Theory aspect of MegaTech, where use of SPONGE could break the ritual of the classroom (the teacher’s control) and reposition the teacher as having less authority in and influence over the classroom. In spite of the readiness-to-hand exhibited by SPONGE and the piecemeal approach taken in its design, the teachers rejected the system because of its potential negative impact on the classroom dynamic and the teacher-pupil and pupil-pupil relationships.
Heidegger, M., 1978. Being and Time, Wiley-Blackwell.
Johnson, M., Griffiths, D. & Wang, M., 2011. Positioning Theory, Roles and the Design and Implementation of Learning Technology. Journal of Universal Computer Science, 17(9), pp.1329–1346. Available at: http://www.jucs.org/jucs_17_9/positioning_theory_roles_and.
Van Langenhove, L. & Harré, R., 1999. Introducing Positioning Theory. In L. van Langenhove & R. Harré, eds. Positioning Theory. Blackwell Publishers Ltd, pp. 14–31.
Popper, K.R., 1966. The open society and its enemies, Vol.1, The spell of Plato 5th ed. (r., Routledge and Kegan Paul.