Hardware, Software, and "Peopleware": Educational Technology and Embedded Struggles in U.S. High Schools

Randall Lynn

Advisor: Amy L Best, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Members: Kelly Schrum, James Witte, Hugh Gusterson

Commerce Building II, Conference Room
April 04, 2016, 12:30 PM to 09:30 AM


This ethnographic study seeks to better understand the bounded and restricted engagement with educational technologies which prevails in many U.S. high schools, despite the widespread expectation since the 1980s that digital technologies will transform or revolutionize educational processes. I conducted over 60 hours of interviews, focus groups, and observations with administrators, educational technology specialists, teachers, students, parents, and entrepreneurs affiliated with two suburban high schools in a major midwestern city: a public high school serving a mostly low-income, racially diverse student population, and an elite but financially struggling college preparatory academy attempting to stay afloat through a unique partnership with an educational technology startup company. 

Using these data, I explore the tangled, contentious relations comprising “the educational technology complex:” the field of adult stakeholders both internal and external to the school, alternately collaborating and competing with one another to shape the uses of educational technology in schools to adhere to their own visions of what education should be. At least as important as any of the many biological, psychological, and pedagogical factors educators and students invoked to explain how and why technologies were used in their schools, I argue, are the broader political, economic, and social processes culminating in—and manifesting through—this field of adult stakeholders. I show how the implementation of educational technologies is a product of mutually constitutive processes of work, ideology, and technology, and I consider the implications of this study for researchers, policymakers, and educational practitioners.