Refocus the Focus: A Reflection on Weller’s History of Ed Tech (1994 – 2001)

One of my former (and beloved!) principals, Mr. M, always used the phrase ‘refocus the focus’ when working with our middle school staff as a reminder to remember our purpose and make decisions based on what was best for our students. Weller compared his discussion of the history of educational technology (ed tech) to the evolution of art history. It reminded me of my principal’s advice and emphasized the importance of refocusing the focus from the study of the technology itself to the study of the role played by technology in education. 

I found Weller’s examination of wikis, and specifically Wikipedia, to be particularly compelling. He asserted that “the disdain Wikipedia is held in by much of the traditional media is mainly because of the struggle to understand how such a process does not produce nonsense” (p. 40) and the blossoming critical feminist in me wondered if part of this disdain arose from the entrenched misogynistic and patriarchal norms and traditions that so many powerful institutions hold dear. A quick skim through print textbooks in most classrooms, and most notably social studies classrooms, results in the alarming realization that students are likely using resources that are inaccurate, outdated, and do not reflect current values and worldviews. Are we not doing students an incredible disservice to use outdated, and possibly offensive, resources and limit them from accessing the collective intelligence that is readily available on the networked web? 

In Weller’s discussion of the emergence of the web, I was struck by his statement that “the Internet acts like a living organism, driven by these social values, and in this both the potential for good and ill was established” (p. 17). This certainly points to the changing, yet still important, role of the teacher and I agree with Weller’s statement that constructivism’s increased learner agency “needs careful support and scaffolding to work effectively” (p. 34). The emergence of e-learning and the rise of constructivist learning theory challenged the traditional model of education. As ed tech continues to play an increasingly central role in education and determines pedagogical change, it will be interesting to see when and where remnants of the traditional, industrial model of education emerge. As Weller states “the implementation of technology makes people evaluate what is core in education itself; which had hitherto been implicit” (p. 24), and I hope we can all heed Mr. M’s advice to refocus the focus and examine the role of technology through the lens of what is in the best interests of students. 


Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. Athabasca University Press.

7 thoughts to “Refocus the Focus: A Reflection on Weller’s History of Ed Tech (1994 – 2001)”

  1. Thank you for these thoughts, Amber. You ask a really important question: “Are we not doing students an incredible disservice to use outdated, and possibly offensive, resources and limit them from accessing the collective intelligence that is readily available on the networked web?”

    My question is the following: Is the networked web not similarly informed by entrenched misogynistic, patriarchal, racist, anglo-centric, etc etc norms and traditions? You quote Weller who says: ” “the Internet acts like a living organism, driven by these social values, and in this both the potential for good *and ill* was established.” I’m using * to highlight. In other words, if our designs (in this case, the Internet, but perhaps more specifically for our purposes, our designs of digital learning environments) reflect our broader society, are we simply ending up with designs that reflect our broader biases?

    1. Thank you for your reply. You make an excellent point! Certainly, the web as a living organism that reflects social values has the potential to perpetuate entrenched norms and traditions. However, I would argue that it is also more likely that the web, and environments created online, can adapt to change more easily given their open, collaborative, and networked capabilities. In their study of online activism, Earl and Kimport assert that “the Web affords the opportunity to parlay small individual actions that are spread out across time and space into major, collective coordinated actions” (p. 11).

      As an example, in early August, the Alberta government announced that the province would be phasing out Covid testing, tracing, and mandatory isolation of positive cases. Many Albertans were dismayed and used the internet, and Twitter specifically, to come together to voice their concerns. Protests and rallies were organized, digital petitions to government officials were widely shared and signed, and many Albertans contacted their elected representatives via digital means. Within a couple of weeks, government officials reversed course and announced that Covid testing and isolation of positive cases would continue for the time being. In this case, the web and social media gave citizens a space to voice their concerns, organize, and act quickly to affect change. Is the web a place, a forum, a community for those who want a voice but are vulnerable or silenced in more formal spaces and organizations? It seems likely.

      Of course, this brings to mind issues of misinformation and the danger of giving a voice to those who could potentially cause harm to society in general. I confess I took a peek at the later chapters of Weller’s book, and I am looking forward to seeing what he has to say about the darker side of digitization and ed tech. I also wondered if the activism that occurs on the internet results in positive, lasting challenges and changes to established social norms and values. These are questions that I am keen to dig into and explore further.


      Earl, J., & Kimport, K. (2011). Digitally enabled social change: Activism in the internet age. Mit Press.

  2. I love your former principal’s reminder to “refocus the focus”. It is all too easy to bunny-trail in one direction or another, and before we know it, we are making decisions based on favourite ice-cream flavours rather than organizational vision, values, or other underlying core purposes (flippant hyperbole intended!). More seriously, though, I am a wee bit frightened by the speed and ease with which we make decisions these digital days, but that is overshadowed by my excitement about the potential of the “collective intelligence” you have referenced. I am trying to imagine an intersection of honoring wisdom, story, experience, relationships, place, etc. and integrating these age-old principles into the fast-paced terrain of ed-tech. Exciting times, and I sincerely enjoyed your post!

    1. Hi Alisha,
      Thank you for your comments, and I have to admit that I have the same struggles. I am excited about the potential of ed tech, but I shimmy back and forth between “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and “why stick to tradition for tradition’s sake”. What the solution to this conflict is remains to be seen. That being said, after we strip away the bureaucracy and politicization of education and ask ourselves some basic questions about our core beliefs and purpose, I do think that educators overall are keenly aware of what is best for students. I am excited to see what this intersection of wisdom, experience, and ed tech looks like. Exciting times indeed!

  3. Thank you for this Amber. I’m with you and your blossoming critical feminist!

    The thing that struck me about Weller’s information on Wikipedia was the “distinct gender imbalance in contributors to Wikipedia, and as a result the types of topic deemed significant (e.g., Graells-Garrido, Lalmas, & Menczer, 2015; Hill & Shaw, 2013) (Weller, 2020, p. 38) as well as how few errors there were in its “5.5 million” English entries (Weller, 2020, p. 40)! I agree that we are potentially hamstringing our kids by prohibiting the use of Wikipedia. It’s maybe a good opportunity to teach critical thinking, which the pandemic has proven we’re sorely in need of.

    1. Hi Corie,
      I agree, 100%. You hit the nail right on the head! Teaching critical thinking is absolutely essential. I was particularly impacted by the work of Henry Jenkins (2009) in which he argued that students need to be taught new media literacies in order to actively engage in the digital participatory culture of the 21st century. Undoubtedly, educators in K-12 systems and higher ed agree, but of course this would require a massive shift in thinking, culture, and policy, which is not always an easy process in systems governed/influenced by politics, bureaucracy, and/or corporate entities.


      Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. MIT Press.

      1. I had another thought as I research my upcoming travels – this year marks the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death. He instituted the French BAC system and its associated highschool programs that still exist today. They are based largely on an almost unbroken chain of education stretching back to the Roman occupation of what was Gaul (and is now France-ish). The system is far from perfect, like they all are, but focuses much more on critical thought than we do over here. I think that has a valuable place in how children eventually interact with society and I agree with you when you say that we are sorely in need of it.

        When you said that change “would require a massive shift in thinking, culture, and policy”, I absolutely agree and touched on it in this week’s assignment in the concept of “sedimentation”. I wonder what it would take to totally overhaul our systems: thinking, software, delivery. All of it.

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