Prescriptions, Attachments, Emotions

People approach objects of technology from different perspectives and learned prescriptions. We have certain ways of organizing our thoughts about what technology can and should be used for. Some of this perspective is learned, some ingrained with use and others implied by design.


To understand this better we can look at non-technological objects. For example, imagine you had a ceramic plant pot and a cup both about the same size and colour. We could just as easily put a small potted plant in a coffee cup and drink our coffee out of the small ceramic pot. The only real difference between the two items sometimes is a handle and a ridge around the top of the pot (some coffee cups don’t have handles and some plant pots don’t have ridges). That said, we would likely never reverse the use of these, because in our mind we’ve prescribed a certain meaning and use to each object both by association and through use. In adding the handle the designer has further reinforced this perception. No one has told us that we can’t use one for the other but we rarely do. Form, shape, and features contribute to this whether we consciously recognize it or not. The same can be said about features included or excluded in programs. I learned to look at software differently after my industrial design studies revealed the prescriptive use of objects, object form and function.


Interestingly, we find the objects of design evocative when something is conspicuously left out because its uses are open to interpretation and this is alluring. I think the same might be said for an object of technology that has multiple possible applications and functions, yet we approach these with caution, perhaps because we’re afraid of its vast possibility or lack of prescription. There is more freedom and also more room for error—a fine line. That said, I think its important to ensure that technologies teachers use are not overly prescriptive, unless we are expecting a prescriptive result. In a way, many programs and applications are behaviorist, asking us to conform to certain patterns of use. With this view, it is easier to see that the design of PowerPoint in comparison to other programs is quite limited and asks us to shorten our language to bullet points, to generalize, and to put things in a linear sequence (See Tufte, 2003). Software such as this have a rather limited use in education unless the aim is to simplify, generalize and logically sequence. If this is not the explicit aim, expecting a different result is a gamble at best even for the most disciplined or creative.


I believe one of the big challenges of education technology is to look for each technology’s prescriptive aspects. We perhaps need to ask: “are these positive in a particular application or will they detract from it?” In regards to the question: is it enough to teach the use technologies? No, I think not. I think that responsible educators in the future will also have the monumental task of teaching people how to think about technologies and our relationships with them.

Image source: Rosa Menkman (2014). A Glitch Timond. From Flicker under CC by 2.0 license.

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