Conference PaperPDF Available

Informal modes of technology learning and its gender implications

Authors:

Abstract

Technology and education are multiple intertwined. On one hand, technology has its place in education, for instance in computer-based courses. On the other hand, education has its place in technology; didactics of engineering education could be taken as one example. However, beside these two arenas, where the role of pedagogy as well as the role of technology are made explicit and comprehensible, there are further elements of technology and education, which pervade our everyday’s’ lives, and although they are not as explicit, they have influencing effects. Therefore, the distinction of informal and formal as well as intentional and incidental learning is crucial (Dohmen 2001). Additionally, the genderedness of technological knowledge is important as well, I will explain in this paper how the concept of ‘gender knowledge’ (Wetterer 2005, 2007, 2008) can be used in the context of technology learning.
Proceedings of the 9
th
Annual IAS-STS Conference “Critical Issues in Science and Technology Studies”
3
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– 4
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May 2010, Graz, Austria
222
Informal modes of technology learning and its gender implications
Anita Thaler, IFZ
Schlögelgasse 2, 8010 Graz, Austria
Abstract
Technology and education are multiple intertwined. On one hand, technology has its place in
education, for instance in computer-based courses. On the other hand, education has its
place in technology; didactics of engineering education could be taken as one example.
However, beside these two arenas, where the role of pedagogy as well as the role of
technology are made explicit and comprehensible, there are further elements of technology
and education, which pervade our everyday’s’ lives, and although they are not as explicit,
they have influencing effects. Therefore, the distinction of informal and formal as well as
intentional and incidental learning is crucial (Dohmen 2001). Additionally, the genderedness
of technological knowledge is important as well, I will explain in this paper how the concept of
‘gender knowledge’ (Wetterer 2005, 2007, 2008) can be used in the context of technology
learning.
1. Introduction
Technology had effects on everyday’s lives before technology became „pervasive“,
„embedded“ and „ambient“, and since technology became more and more indispensable in
households, jobs and in communication, pedagogical needs and educational research
questions are emerging (cf. Bammè 2007). Where do we learn to deal with everyday’s
technology? Where do we learn to decide for one and against another technology or for one
and against another technological product? Where do we learn what we need to join in a
conversation, to co-decide and criticize? The search for these learning places is closely
connected to the question of learning modes. So, how do we learn? And lastly the question
arises: What will be learned in all those different learning places? This is an epistemological
as well as a normative question. What kind of technology knowledge will be learned at
different places? Is it gendered, and how? And what should be learned, what should be
included in technology education, what should technological competence contain? What
must we as humans of a technological civilisation know to live a good and self-determined
life?
In this paper I will take a first step and give a short overview of useful concepts to understand
informal technology and gender learning processes. This is especially relevant for the
context of the 9
th
IAS STS conference as my paper serves as a theoretical framework for the
session “Learning gender, learning technology”.
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2. Learning modes
Learning is not only understood as consciously cognitive processing, but moreover as
unconsciously psychological and emotional processing as well. That comprises holistic,
conscious and unconscious, intentional and incidental, theoretical and practical
processing of all forms of stimuli, impressions, information, encounters, experiences,
threats, demands, symbolic presentations, virtual environments etc. which approach
human beings and will be perceived by them.“ (Dohmen 2001, p. 11, translation Anita
Thaler)
With this broad definition of learning Günther Dohmen (2001) describes all sorts of learning;
most of all informal learning modes. Intentional and incidental learning are explicitly named
and the later one is in turn closely connected to the term of ‘implicit perception’ (Bettina
Lemke, 2003). Implicit perception is in psycho-analytical terms called ‘unconscious
perception’ and means that although someone’s attention is not focused on an activity it can
leave neuronal traces. Thus, implicit perception can be seen as the neuronal basis for
incidental learning of so called ‘tacit knowledge’ (Michael Polanyi 1966/1985). Tacit
knowledge on the other hand is known as ‘implicit knowledge’ as well. It means “that we
know more than we can tell.” (Polanyi 1966/1985, S. 14, translation Anita Thaler) For
instance when we operate computers many tasks are implicit, we do not have to think about
each step we do. And the point is, we learned many of these steps not intentionally, but
moreover casually.
Thus, we do not only learn – sometimes (or often) – informally (not in organised classrooms,
courses etc.), but moreover we learn – sometimes (maybe often as well) – incidentally.
3. Learning technology
Technology learning can either be seen as a process of learning technological skills or it can
be discussed as a comprehensive concept of ‘technological competence’ (Oskar Negt, 1968,
1998, 1999, 2008). In this paper the second perspective is preferred, where technological
competence is defined closely connected to other competences (identity and equality
competences, ecological, historical and economical competences) as a basis which every
human being should handle (ibid.). This comprehensive concept describes an emancipatory
understanding of education, which enable human beings to live a self-determined live.
Thus Oskar Negt says about technological competence, that it is not only technological
qualifications in the sense of skills, but moreover a knowledge about societal consequences
of technologies” and he understands technology as a societal project (Negt 1998, S.35,
translation Anita Thaler).
Now the question is: Can technological competence be learned informally? Karen E. Watkins
Proceedings of the 9
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Annual IAS-STS Conference “Critical Issues in Science and Technology Studies”
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and Victoria J. Marsick (1992) gave a useful distinction for two different types of informal
learning. They say there is a learning type “action with reflection”, that means intentional,
informal learning and another learning type „action without reflection“, which is incidental,
informal learning. That means that the main difference is not whether somebody learns
something formally in school or in an e-learning course, or informally at home or at the job,
but it is important if somebody is learning intentionally (“I want to learn something!”) or
incidentally (e.g. learning while computer gaming). My deduction is that if technological
competence needs reflection about societal impacts etc. then this reflected technological
competence can be learned informally, but very probably not incidentally.
4. Gender knowledge
As technology is a ‘gendered arena’ (cf. Wajcman 1991, Mellström 1995, Faulkner 2000a,
2000b, Wächter 2003, Thaler 2006, Paulitz 2007), it is important to look at gender
implications of technology learning processes.
The concept of ‚gender knowledge’ (Döllig 2005, Wetterer 2005, 2007, 2008) tries to explain
why, although we think we already reached gender equality, still so many inequalities exist.
Angelika Wetter (2008) says that only on a semantic level people tend to think we already
reached gender equality, but in reality practises of gender hierarchies and gender
segregation still exist. She talks about a „latent and incorporated knowledge“ – which we
could also call implicit knowledge – where „traditional gender positions“ are conserved,
whereas on a rhetoric level a gender equality discourse is prevalent (Wetterer 2008, p. 85).
But how is that fact important for technology learning?
5. Learning technology and learning gender
The present paper explained so far that technological knowledge and skills can be acquired
formally and informally, and that learning can happen either intentionally or incidentally.
Another interesting point is that gender can be learned incidentally parallel to all technology
learning processes. That means whenever technology is learned, gender knowledge can be
casually acquired as well.
One case of incidental gender learning parallel to formal and intentional technology learning
(e.g. engineering education at universities) is well-known as ‘hidden curriculum’ (Zinnecker
1975), a phenomenon which is not only applicable to technology learning. It describes the
fact that additionally to designed subjects other matters can be learned, for instance which
behaviour is positively appraised by teachers; and some of these additional matters are
related to gender. The crucial point is that gender knowledge has not to be made explicit
neither for teachers nor for learners, as hidden as the curriculum is happens the learning.
Another case is less obvious and not much discussed until now. It is the case of incidental
Proceedings of the 9
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gender learning while technology is learned incidentally as well. That means both,
technology and gender knowledge, are learned incidentally. This comprises for instance
learning in spare time with media like watching movies, writing and reading weblogs, reading
magazines and books or playing computer games. In previous research it could be shown
that for instance youth media, like magazines and soap operas, show a lot of technology
images (cf. Thaler 2009, Thaler & Dahmen 2009, Thaler et al. 2009). But although there are
on a quantitative level as many females as males connected to technological topics and
items, on a qualitative level there are gender differences visible, which underline the
masculine connotation of technology (ibid.).
The consequence of this incidental learning of technology and gender means that both
knowledge types are first of all not reflected implicit knowledge types; and knowledge which
is not reflected shapes in the example of this paper – our thoughts and attitudes about
gender and technology. That could be one explanation why so many stereotypes about
gender in general and about genderedness of technology still exist.
To sum up, the proposition of this paper is that just now, as technology pervades our
everyday lives, a lot of informal learning places for incidental learning technology arise; more
precisely: learning places, where implicit technological knowledge can be learned. Thus, one
the one hand formal learning becomes more important for reflecting that technological and
gender knowledge. And on the other hand informal technology learning should be further
researched; maybe this can explain the persistence of the male connotation of technology?
Proceedings of the 9
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Annual IAS-STS Conference “Critical Issues in Science and Technology Studies”
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This article seeks to open up a new avenue for feminist technology studies - gender-aware research on engineers and engineering practice - on the grounds that engineers are powerful symbols of the equation between masculinity and technology and occupy significant roles in shaping new technologies. Drawing on the disparate evidence available, the author explores four themes. The first asks why the equation between masculinity and technology is so durable when there are such huge mismatches between image and practice. The second examines this mismatch in the detail of engineering knowledge and practice to reveal that fractured and contradictory constructions of masculinity frequently coexist. The third theme addresses the suggestion that women and men might bring different styles to engineering. Finally, the author explores subjective experiences of engineering to argue that engineers' shared pleasures in and identification with technology both define what it means to be an engineer and provide appealing symbols of power that act to compensate for a perceived lack of power or competence in other arenas.
Article
Das Wissen und die Bedeutung nichtbewusster kognitiver Prozesse nimmt mit den wissenschaftlichen Untersuchungsmöglichkeiten der Hirnforschung und Psychologie stetig zu. Daraus ergibt sich die Konsequenz, nichtbewusste Prozesse auch in pädago- gische Situationen einzubeziehen. Da sich bewusste Informationsverarbeitungspro- zesse von nichtbewussten grundsätzlich unterscheiden, kann durch das Beachten bei- der Formen die Effektivität und Zufriedenheit mit Lernprozessen gesteigert werden. Nichtbewusste kognitive Prozesse Unter kognitiven Prozessen werden alle Vorgänge des Erkennens, Wissens und der Informationsverarbeitung verstanden. Dazu gehören Planen, Schlussfolgern, Entschei- den, Fantasieren, Vorstellen, Wahrnehmen, Reflektieren, Denken, Lernen etc. Sie be- einflussen das Verhalten des Menschen mehr als externe Ereignisse. Entscheidend für die Handlungen und Reaktionen eines Menschen ist nicht, was ihm geschieht, son- dern welche Bedeutung er diesen Erlebnissen zuschreibt. Wenn von kognitiven Prozessen die Rede ist, werden damit in der Regel bewusste mentale Vorgänge bezeichnet. Neuere Erkenntnisse der Hirnforschung weisen jedoch darauf hin, dass die kognitiven Prozesse, die bewusst werden, nur einen kleinen Teil des gesamten kognitiven Geschehens ausmachen. Die überwiegende Anzahl der kog- nitiven Prozesse ist dem Bewusstsein nicht zugänglich. Trotzdem beeinflussen sie das Denken und Handeln einer Person nachhaltig. "Man muss völlig umdenken und sich darüber klar werden, dass das Bewusstsein nur einen ganz kleinen Teil unseres Ge- hirns umfasst. Und wenn wir bewusst sind, sind nur begrenzte Teile des so genannten assoziativen Kortex aktiv. Man kann sagen, ungefähr 90 Prozent des Gehirns sind un- bewusst, nämlich das gesamte Gehirn außerhalb des Kortex und ein großer Teil der Großhirnrinde selbst ... Ich erlebe mich selbst als denkend, fühlend, wahrnehmend oder entscheidend, und nehme die 90 Prozent, die mich dazu bringen, nicht wahr" (Roth 2002, S. 44).