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Toward a critical instructional technology: Instrumental rationality, objectification, and psychologism

by Gur, Bekir S, PhD

Abstract (Summary)
Using a multiple-paper format, this dissertation includes three papers. By providing critiques of instrumental rationality, objectification, and psychologism in instructional technology, this study aims to provide a tentative formulation of a critical instructional technology that is sensitive to power and ethics. The first article starts by presenting a theoretical discussion of instrumental rationality in instructional technology (IT). Then, it focuses on how the instrumental view became dominant in the field. The article explores the notion of the designer/technologist as a specific intellectual. It claims that efficiency should not be understood as an economical, instrumental, or technical matter, but an ethical one. It then focuses on potential pathways for advancing the field of educational technology in terms of systems design and userdesign. The second article presents an overview of Heidegger's genealogy of and critique of modern technology. It then presents a phenomenological discussion on the importance of body (or embodiment) in learning. Some of the political/economical problems regarding mandating teachers to teach a predesigned course of instruction are investigated. It concludes that instructional designers' meaningful technological interventions need to be aligned with approaches to the professional development of teachers-not with the objectification in which the subjectivities, bodies, and faces of teachers and students become irrelevant. The third article presents a brief genealogy of IT in relation to the influence of psychology. Moreover, it provides a critical and hermeneutical framework for psychology. Then, it discusses some problems of psychologism, focusing on positivism, metaphysics, cultural ecology, and power. IT professionals are encouraged to engage reflectively with the power relations and ethical issues in which they are involved. The article points out a need for looking at psychology more comprehensively (e.g., critical and hermeneutical psychology).
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Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:David A. Wiley

School:Utah State University

School Location:USA - Utah

Source Type:Doctoral Dissertation

Keywords:instructional technology, critical theory

ISBN:

Date of Publication:08/01/2007

Document Text (Pages 1-10)

TOWARD A CRITICAL INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNOLOGY: INSTRUMENTAL
RATIONALITY, OBJECTIFICATION, AND PSYCHOLOGISM

by

Bekir S. Gur

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree
of
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
in
Instructional Technology

Approved:
________________________________
Dr. David A. Wiley
Major Professor
________________________________
Dr. Barry Franklin
Committee Member

_____________________________________
Dr. Sherry Marx
Committee Member
_____________________________________
Dr. Deepak Subramony
Committee Member

______________________________
Dr. Byron R. Burnham
Committee Member

Dean of Graduate Studies

UTAH STATE UNIVERSITY
Logan, Utah

2007


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ii

Copyright © Bekir S. Gur 2007

All rights reserved.


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iii

ABSTRACT

Toward a Critical Instructional Technology: Instrumental

Rationality, Objectification, and Psychologism

by

Bekir S. Gur, Doctor of Philosophy

Utah State University, 2007

Major Professor: Dr. David A. Wiley
Department: Instructional Technology

Using a multiple-paper format, this dissertation includes three papers. By
providing critiques of instrumental rationality, objectification, and psychologism in
instructional technology, this study aims to provide a tentative formulation of a critical
instructional technology that is sensitive to power and ethics.
The first article starts by presenting a theoretical discussion of instrumental
rationality in instructional technology (IT). Then, it focuses on how the instrumental view
became dominant in the field. The article explores the notion of the designer/technologist
as a specific intellectual. It claims that efficiency should not be understood as an
economical, instrumental, or technical matter, but an ethical one. It then focuses on
potential pathways for advancing the field of educational technology in terms of systems
design and userdesign.


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iv
The second article presents an overview of Heidegger’s genealogy of and critique
of modern technology. It then presents a phenomenological discussion on the importance
of body (or embodiment) in learning. Some of the political/economical problems
regarding mandating teachers to teach a predesigned course of instruction are
investigated. It concludes that instructional designers’ meaningful technological
interventions need to be aligned with approaches to the professional development of
teachers—not with the objectification in which the subjectivities, bodies, and faces of
teachers and students become irrelevant.
The third article presents a brief genealogy of IT in relation to the influence of
psychology. Moreover, it provides a critical and hermeneutical framework for
psychology. Then, it discusses some problems of psychologism, focusing on positivism,
metaphysics, cultural ecology, and power. IT professionals are encouraged to engage
reflectively with the power relations and ethical issues in which they are involved. The
article points out a need for looking at psychology more comprehensively (e.g., critical
and hermeneutical psychology).
(147 pages)


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v

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to especially thank Dr. David A. Wiley for his generous support,
guidance, and encouragements during the last four years. My appreciations go to Dr.
Barry Franklin and Dr. Sherry Marx, who have carefully read the early versions of the
articles and provided valuable insights and suggestions to improve them. I also appreciate
Dr. Byron R. Burnham, who provided many critical suggestions. I also thank Dr. Deepak
Subramony for serving on my committee.
I give special thanks to Murat Ozoglu and Gulfidan Can for their friendship in the
entire process.
Finally, my heartfelt gratitude goes to my family for their unconditional support.
Bekir S. Gur


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CONTENTS
vi

ABSTRACT……………………………………………………….……………………. iii
Page

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ...............................................................................................v
CHAPTER
I. INTRODUCTION..............................................................................................1
The Significance of the Problem..................................................................4
Specific Questions of the Study...................................................................5
The Method.................................................................................................5
Conclusion ..................................................................................................8
References ..................................................................................................8
II. INSTRUMENTAL RATIONALITY IN INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNOLOGY:

EFFICIENCY AND ETHICS .........................................................................12

Instrumental Rationality in Instructional Technology ................................14

Value-neutrality and Efficiency...........................................................17
Ethics ..................................................................................................20
Problem-based Learning......................................................................22
How We Have Come Here ........................................................................23
Specific Intellectual and Efficiency as an Ethical Construct.......................30
Potential Pathways ....................................................................................32

Systems Design ...................................................................................33
Userdesign ..........................................................................................34
Conclusion ................................................................................................37
References ................................................................................................39
III. INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN, TECHNOLOGY AND OBJECTIFICATION...51
Outline of the Paper ..................................................................................55
Metaphysics ..............................................................................................57
Phenomenology.........................................................................................61
Political Economy.....................................................................................63


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Deskilling............................................................................................64
Reification...........................................................................................66
Proletarianization ................................................................................68
Instructional Design Implications..............................................................70
Conclusion ................................................................................................76
References ................................................................................................77
IV. PSYCHOLOGISM AND INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNOLOGY......................86
Psychology as the “Savior” of Instructional Technology ...........................89
Critical and Hermeneutical Psychology.....................................................98
Psychologism in Instructional Technology ..............................................102

Positivism, Control, and Prescription.................................................102
Metaphysics ......................................................................................108
Cultural Ecology ...............................................................................110
Power................................................................................................111
Conclusion ..............................................................................................113
References ..............................................................................................116
V. CONCLUSION...............................................................................................131
Suggestions for Further Research ............................................................136
References ..............................................................................................136
VITA………… ...........................................................................................................139

vii


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CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION

While there are strong critical traditions in both education and technology studies,
critical tradition in the field of instructional technology (IT) inquiring political and ethical
issues has consisted of a small number of works by few theorists (e.g., Apple, 1991;
Bowers, 1988; Carter, 1999; Hlynka & Belland, 1991; Koetting, 1979; Nichols & Allen-
Brown, 1996; Noble, 1998; Nunan, 1983; Streibel, 1993; Voithofer & Foley, 2002;
Wilson, 2005; Yeaman, Koetting, & Nichols, 1994). By providing critiques of
instrumental rationality, objectification, and psychologism in instructional technology,
this study aims to provide a tentative formulation of a critical instructional technology
that is sensitive to power and ethics.
Broadly defined, instrumental rationality is the objective form of action that treats
everything (nature or people) simply as a means to an end; the aim of instrumental
rationality is to find the most efficient way to reach certain ends and not focus on the
value of the end. Embedded in this rationality is the notion of science/technology as a
value-neutral activity. In its broad usage, objectification refers to the way in which one
treats everything (including human beings) as an object, raw material, or resource to be
manipulated and (re)used. Along with this broad sense, I use it to refer to the way of
teaching that is characterized by delivery and packaging of learning, in which process
teaching is reduced to the transmission of information and courses are transformed into
courseware. Psychologization/psychologism refers to the way in which psychological
issues become centralized in theoretical discussions of instructional design and
technology (IDT) and thus critical (including political, philosophic, and societal) issues


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have been evacuated from theoretical discussions of IDT. Critical instructional
2

technology is herein defined as a form of IT that is sensitive to issues of power and ethics.
Using a multiple-paper format, this dissertation includes three papers:
1. Instrumental Rationality in Instructional Technology: Efficiency and Ethics. The
article starts by presenting a theoretical discussion of instrumental rationality in IT. Then,
it focuses on how the instrumental view became dominant in the field. In this dominant
view, instructional technologists are considered engineers aiming to maximize
efficiency—understood mostly within economical terms—and maximizing efficiency is
considered to be value-neutral. Finally, the article argues that instructional designers
should not be conceptualized as mere technical persons, and explores the notion of the
designer/technologist as what Foucault (1980) called a specific intellectual who deals
with ethical-political issues surrounding design. It claims that efficiency should not be
understood as an economical, instrumental, or technical matter, but an ethical and
political matter. It then focuses on potential pathways for advancing the field of
educational technology in terms of systems design and userdesign.
2. Instructional Design, Technology and Objectification. Instructional designers have not
paid attention to the metaphysics that has provided the basis for their basic
understandings and practices. Metaphysically and historically, we need to pay attention to
“how have things come to be this way and what are the alternatives?” In this direction,
the article presents an overview of Heidegger’s genealogy of and critique of modern
technology. It then presents a phenomenological discussion on the importance of body
(or embodiment) in learning. It also focuses on the consequences of “packaged
education” on the profession of teaching, particularly how teachers are deskilled through


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the separation of conception (design) from execution (implementation). Some of the
3

political/economical problems regarding mandating teachers to teach a predesigned
course of instruction are investigated. It also presents the instructional design
implications of the previous discussions. The source of the problem of objectification of
teaching/learning is metaphysical in the sense that the intelligibility (being) of educative
knowledge is equated with ready-to-use packages and thus education is reduced to the
delivery of information. Thus, the learning relationship between the teacher and the
student is reduced to one of coercion. Objectification increases bureaucratic control over
teaching process and deskills teachers; teachers are proletarianized. Instructional
designers should create resources and structures in which a care relationship and dialogue
between students and teachers can take place. Instructional designers’ meaningful
technological interventions need to be aligned with approaches to the professional
development of teachers—not with the objectification in which the subjectivities, bodies,
and faces of teachers and students become irrelevant.
3. Psychologism and Instructional Technology. The article presents a brief genealogy of
IT in relation to the influence of psychology. It also provides a critical and hermeneutical
framework for psychology. It then discusses some problems of psychologism focusing on
positivism, metaphysics, cultural ecology, and power. IT professionals are encouraged to
engage reflectively with the power-relations and ethical issues in which they are
involved. The narrow psychologism in IT produces a kind of systematic blindness
regarding cultural, political, and other issues. The article points out a need for looking at
psychology more comprehensively (e.g., critical and hermeneutical psychology).

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