Neil Selwyn Raises Thoughtful Questions About Digital Technology in Education

I (Clare) have found Neil Selwyn’s writing about digital technology very helpful. In my Neil Selwyngraduate course we watched a talk by Selwyn (at Monash university). My students and I discussed his perspective on the place of digital technology and the consensus was – his perspective is valuable and educators need to consider the questions he raises. His stance is so sensible and balanced because he asks us to consider issues around digital technology that are often not part of the conversation. The video is about 1 hour and it is so worth the time. Here is the link:

Below are some of the notes I made from the video. As you can see he is asking us to think carefully and deeply about technology (and he is a real techie!) I know you will never think of technology in the same way after watching his talk.

  •  We should not get carried away by digital technology because there are wider societal issues
  • Digital technology in higher education is very messy
  • Way we talk about digital technology is overly simplistic – the talk has been hijacked by other groups. Those in higher education need to be part of the conversation
  • place of digital technology is not inevitable – we have choices, need to activate our choices
  •  need to be critical and not just welcome digital technology as inevitable
  • what are the dominant arguments – need to understand the assumptions –


  1. Living in an information age
  2. Death of the institution is inevitable
  3. Crisis in Higher Education – HE fundamentally broken
  4. Period of Inevitable change for institutions

– RHETORIC IS CRISIS TONE – easy to get carried away by rhetoric

  • Need to be less extreme – neither hyper optimistic or hyper critical
  • Lots of change has been superficial – don’t believe the hype
  • digital technology talked about in radical ways
  • Selwyn wants us to think more carefully – why do we talk about digital technology in such extreme terms?
  • Term – disruption – heard again and again
  • What is actually being disrupted?
  • Blame is put on educators – deserve to be disrupted
  • Way digital technology is talked about – whole bunch of values attached to the talk and these things
  • Way we actually use digital technology is mundane and prosaic
  • So what has actually changed?
  • Complaints about universities – “googleized” environment –
  • Bleed of your professional life into your personal life – realities of technology –  intensification of work – not the smart office
  • Survey of professors – tend to use ppt and Moodles mainly
  • How does digital technology enhance teaching and learning?
  • So why do we buy into the myth that digital technology will change everything?
  • Commercialization of education – Silicon Valley mentality – think entrepreneurial – education is broken need Silicon Valley to fix it
  • Profound distrust of educators – need outsiders to fix education
  • Cannot see technologies as neutral — What values are missing?
  • Education is communal – Education is about human contact – something about being in the presence of the teacher and with fellow students
  • What is going on when doing virtual learning? What values are there or not there? Do online courses force artificial discussion?
  • Does ppt dumb down teaching?
  • Working conditions – over 1,000 unread mailboxes – cc: everyone – bringing work home e.g., check emails on Sunday – work seeps into our life
  • Digital bill of rights – set up on-line learning differently – issues of privacy, use of data …
  • Issue of trust – not talked about in elearning
  • Online learning should be about innovation, creativity …. Passion, curiosity – not heard about in elearning
  • Could we teach without ppt?– Ppt designed for business – bullet points – students want bullet points – how does that change learning?
  • Instead of dumping content into virtual learning get students to create own reading lists
  • Have digital technology match our own pedagogy
  • Would it be possible to switch off email for the weekend?
  • Think about digital technology as questions not answers – what are we gaining? What are we losing? What are the second order effects? What is the real problem we are trying to address through use of DT? What are the values underlying DT? Whose values are being promoted?


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