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date: 21 November 2017

Education and the Essence of Technology

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

Martin Heidegger’s conceptualization of Gestell—the essence of technology—is a useful notion that can help educational researchers to “frame” and understand the role of digital technologies within the context of education and schooling. As C. A. Bowers argues in The Cultural Dimensions of Educational Computing (1988), “Heidegger’s thinking about technology, . . . his way of approaching the question of what constitutes the ‘essence of technology’ in relation to human existence was to be more useful [for researchers] in developing a vocabulary for revealing how our relationships are framed . . . by the essential nature of technology” (p. 31). Likewise, as Norm Friesen states in The Place of the Classroom and the Space of the Screen (2011), Heidegger “insisted that [the essence of] technology frames our experience and understanding in particular ways . . . [Heidegger names this] totality in which it is manifested by using the German word Gestell” (pp. 11–12).

As such, an understanding of Gestell—the essence of technology—is foundational, and is essential in unpacking the interface between education and technology. For what is at stake is not the use of technological equipment in classrooms per se, rather it is the very way in which Gestell “frames” the way in which we encounter educational situations by amplifying instrumental thinking at the expense of more relational forms of thinking. Here Heidegger calls for a new form of thinking: Gelassenheit, a way of thinking outside the domain of techno-discourse. Can one fully break free of Gestell? Can educators actually stand outside the dominant discourse of technology, especially as schools integrate curricula with digital technologies? An in-depth understanding of the dynamic power of the essence of technology is necessary in order to address these and other related concerns.