Letters & Bytes : Sociotechnical Studies of Distance Education
Abstract: This dissertation studies the social aspects of technology in distance education trough the lens of history – in the form of correspondence education – and a possible future – in the form of a project of technical standardization, Learning Objects. The studied cases form a reflexive tool that allows the present of distance education to be seen in perspective.In the case of correspondence education, the dissertation shows how the mundane technologies of correspondence letters, grading-forms, answer-templates and self-tests create a specific mode of organizing distance education that bridges the rift between the two major trends in educational modernity: massification and individualization. This attempt brought with it specific consequences for the organization of correspondence education: educators tried to devise methods for individual instruction, but at the same time they tried to industrialize the production through the mass-production of instructional letters. Hence, particular identities and modes of organizing education and arose. The correspondence education cases are studied through conference proceedings and archive material.The contemporary cases study the heterogeneous construction of technical standards for the exchange of distance education material between computer systems, so-called Learning Objects. Through these cases, the dissertation shows that Learning Objects are closely tied to a dream of economies of scale and a market for distance education material with particular epistemic and technical consequences. Furthermore, the cases show how the attempt to create economies of scale results in an object oriented and modular way of reusing educational material; and how this modularization leads to an objectified mode of handling knowledge with emphasis on atomization of knowledge, as well as the protection of intellectual property rights through DRM-Technology. The contemporary cases are studied through technical standards and text-analysis.
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