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Keynote presentations

Neil Selwyn



The more things change, the more they stay the same … while things are definitely changing: making sense of sixty years of education, technology and change (1989-2049)

This talk will set the tone of the conference by reflecting on the tricky relationship between technological development and educational change. One of the long-standing paradoxes in educational technology has been the persistent gap between the rhetoric and reality of technological change. This has led to an increased digital dis-satisfaction amongst practitioners, policymakers and academics. It is now common to bemoan that while digital technologies are often promoted as significantly changing education, they seem to be making little substantive impact on the core processes and structures of schooling. This has led to memorable critiques along the lines of 'Computer Meets Classroom, Classroom Wins' and what has been termed as a perennial cycle of 'Hype, Hope and Disappointment'.

While there continues to be some truth to these analyses, this talk argues that it would be wrong to assume that education remains completely unaltered in the face of ongoing implementation of digital technologies. Instead,  the talk contends that many different aspects of education *are* being substantially (re)shaped by digital technologies ... but not always in the ways that we might expect and/or desire. This is illustrated by considering three distinct phases of 'Ed-Tech' - what might be roughly distinguished as the past, present and near-future of digital technology use in schools. Taking these different examples as guide, what lessons can be learned from the past in order to make sense of the next 10 years of digital (non)disruption?


Neil’s research and teaching focuses on the place of digital media in everyday life, and the sociology of technology (non)use in educational settings. He has written extensively on a number of issues, including digital exclusion, education technology policymaking and the student experience of technology-based learning. At this conference, Selwyn is going to talk about the disruptive imperative which he in Education and Technology: Keys Issues and Debates (Bloomsbury 2017) states is a “extreme rhetoric that would appeal only to radical minority” that has now gained momentum and “begun to pass into mainstream popular and political debates about the likely future of education.”

Discourses of digital ‘disruption’in education: A critical analysis. Fifth International Roundtable on Discourse Analysis, City University, Hong Kong, May 23-25 2013

Christo Sims



Given that technologically centered approaches to education reform routinely fall short of reformers’ stated aims, often dramatically so, how is it that enthusiasm for new rounds of educational disruption faithfully recurs? Moreover, what do these cycles of techno-idealism manage to accomplish even as reformers are largely unable to make good on their benevolent aims? This talk addresses these questions by drawing on an ethnographic case study of a recent attempt to reinvent schooling for the digital age. Through an analysis of the nuanced interactions amongst funding agencies, policymakers, experts, the media, and the intended beneficiaries of reform―in this case, students and their parents―I argue that “failed” cycles of educational disruption are nevertheless quite effective at refixing the status quo, in large part because they offer ample opportunities for different people to experience and affirm their political indignations and hopes but in structurally unthreatening ways.


Sims work at the intersection of anthropology, science and technology studies, and design, and my scholarship focuses on relations between technoscience, idealism,  morality, and politics. In his talk, Sims is going to talk about his latest book Disruptive Fixation: School Reform and the Pitfalls of Techno-Idealism (Princeton 2017). In this he explores the processes by which optimism for the philanthropic possibilities of new media technologies is repeatedly regenerated even though actual interventions routinely fall short of hoped-for outcomes. The book also examines what this resilient techno-idealism manages to accomplish even as a given project or movement is largely unable to realize the good intentions of those involved.