Steve Walker

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Archive for July 2013

Solutionism in action

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Solutionism in action

Evgeny Morozov has used the term ‘solutionism’ to describe the phenomenon of technologists framing problems in terms that the technology they’re promoting can ‘solve’. These solutions typically operate at the level of the individual, and while appearing to offer individual choice often serve to remove choice in the longer term. In a recent podcast of a talk at the RSA in London he gave the example of New York landlords advertising apartments via Craigslist. They insist on seeing potential tenants’ profiles on a well known social media site, presumably to satisfy themselves that they’re not about to let an apartment to a psychopath or a bankrupt. This has the effect of making it very difficult to exercise the ‘choice’ to remove oneself from the site while trying to find an apartment. There are plenty of other example (for example BT’s removal of payphones on the grounds that almost everyone now has a mobile, making it harder to choose not to have a self-tracking device).

This article by Bill Gates about the potential of ‘personal assistants’ in reducing the internationally high drop-out rates of US college students is a cracking example of solutionism. We can build an app that will nag students to attend lectures or tutorials, but this won’t address issues such as highly wealth-dependent variations in the quality of secondary education, the nature of HE funding or the structure of courses and pedagogy… Gates’ solutionism removes educational attainment from a social or political setting and makes it a technocratic, individualist problem and is a fine example of the style.

Written by Steve

July 21, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Education Uncut Leeds

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Education Uncut LeedsI had planned a short presentation for today’s Education Uncut event in Leeds, but fortunately for the other participants I lost my voice had to bail out.  In any case, the presentation was essentially a series of examples of ‘open-ness’ in learning for a socia purpose that include the use of ICT. These were organised in three areas – open resources (inputs), open methods and ‘voice’ (outputs of social purpose learning). The examples are given below, but they are only that – the intention of the presentation was to sketch out some of the terrain of what is available or possible.


By resources, I mean the kind of things than can be reused and repurposed (usually, but best to check on any restrictions) in designing social-purpose learning events.

OpenLearn – the OU’s repository of open learning resources including this collection of resources under the banner ‘Participation Now: Experiments in Public Action‘. They are resources about/links to examples such as campaigns, petitions and other participation mechanisms.

iTunesU contains a wealth of freely downloadable podcasts that can be used. As many friends know, I can bore for England about how I use some of these as intelligent company when driving. . Some examples include: University of Oxford’s  Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, as well as Social Science Bites and, personal favourite, Philosophy Bites.

IFWEA YouTube channel: a collection of short videos from the International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations primarily about youth and globalisation.


There’s a plethora of methods associated in various ways with ICTs which might be of value in learning for a social purpose, including:

  • hackcamps
  • digital storytelling,
  • participatory video,
  • international study circles,
  • citizen journalism
  • Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). MOOCs have been the subject of much recent debate in higher education recently (see John Daniel’s “Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility“). The approach may also have potential in other contexts.


To be continued…


Written by Steve

July 6, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Posted in education

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