Course Description and Expectations

Critical Approaches to Educational Technology

Thursdays, 4:15 – 6:15 PM, Room 5383
Prof. Luke Waltzer |
Office Hours: Thursday, 2-3pm, or by appointment
Slack space: (see group library)
Email the Class: 

Course Overview

As schools at all levels integrate digital tools into teaching, learning, and administration, educational technology is an increasingly important and contested field. Too frequently educators adopt tools without sufficient concern for their impacts on students, faculty, and staff. Rhetoric in the field tends towards the techno-utopian, fueled by venture capital that’s more hungry for lucrative user data than it is interested in finding better ways to support students. These trends have been forming for well over a generation, and were accelerated during the COVID 19 pandemic.

Ideally, college and university faculty, staff, administrators, students, and parents will be critically engaged with developments in educational technology so that they can meaningfully advocate for the ethical deployment of tools. In this course, we will examine the history and current state of educational technology at various levels of schooling, gaining a deeper understanding of how ed tech tools are conceived of and sold, procured and deployed, and rationalized and resisted. Students will gain hands-on experience with the skills and ways of making and working that educational technologists must possess if they wish to approach their work critically. We will pursue this project by drawing upon connections with the digital humanities, and by applying lessons learned in the specific contexts in which we work or aspire to work.

Several areas of inquiry that intersect with the digital humanities have also impacted trends in educational technology, including software studies, writing pedagogy, instructional design, and critical university studies. As with the digital humanities, some-—but hardly all—educational technology practitioners critically engage with the political and economic contexts of their work, such as Silicon Valley economic imperatives, the dramatically changing landscape of social media, and trends in marketing and digital storytelling. Among digital humanities scholars working in university contexts, a commitment to open tools often translates to an affinity for open pedagogy, a sensitivity to student data policies, and a willingness to resist the command and control culture prevalent in many IT departments.

There is much to be gained, then, by exploring the connections between these two fields. This course will make those connections explicit while also considering how to extend them to contexts beyond the university by asking the following questions, among others: what do critical approaches to educational technology look like in K-12 settings, where different rules, restrictions, and demands are placed upon faculty, staff, and curricula? How does educational technology foster or stymie opportunities for learners in diverse settings? What are the tools, methods, and literacies that educational technologists must have at their disposal to raise and explore these questions?

Ultimately, participants in this class will build their capacity to advocate for approaches to educational technology that are purposeful and ethical, and applicable across a variety of contexts.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course students will be better able to…

  • evaluate educational technology tools from both a pedagogical and ethical perspective;
  • explain how software tools work to users at a variety of levels of experience;
  • identify how, when, and why digital tools are necessary to pursue specific pedagogical goals;
  • articulate points of connection and departure between the digital humanities and educational technology; 
  • analyze the relationship between capital, data, technology, and schooling; 
  • critically assess how educational technology has been integrated into their desired field of work.

Requirements and Structure

This course is split into two parts. In the first, we will build a foundation for critical reflection upon educational technology through a range of readings: history, polemics and manifestos, institutional reports, contemporary reporting, scholarship, and more. We will read generously, both with and against texts, looking in each text for arguments with which we agree and those with which we do not. At the end of the first unit, students will produce an 8-10 paper putting readings across weeks into dialogue with one another. Additional short writing assignments will also be given.

In the second part of the course, we will focus the critical lenses that we have developed thus far on three specific “cases” within the field of educational technology. Each case will be explored across two class meetings: during the first we will discuss the details of the case and place it into context, and in the second we will collaborate to imagine a critical intervention into the conversation (such as a position paper, a teaching resource, etc). I have specific ideas for these cases, but want to get to know you all a bit before finalizing them.

For the final paper/project, which will be of comparable length to the mid-term paper, students will have the choice to develop case studies of their own, to further develop the interventions we’ve imagined in the second half of the course, or to propose another approach that puts the ideas and thinking of the semester to work.

Responsibilities and Grading

It is the student’s responsibility to attend class regularly, having completed assigned reading and other tasks, prepared to contribute to our discussion. If students or the professor feel ill, or have a known close and extended exposure to COVID, they are expected to remain at home.

In this course, grades will not interfere with the work and growth we aspire to do together. Students are expected to be motivated and committed to the work; there’s no reason to be here if that’s not so. Students who fulfill their responsibilities and complete all assigned work for this class will be given an A. Students who do not complete the midterm paper or the final paper/projet will be given Incompletes until they do, at which point, they will be given an A. Students who miss more than four class meetings, or do not contribute to discussion when they attend, will be asked to meet with the professor to discuss what grade they feel they’ve earned.

The professor understands that life happens to all of us, and will extend grace and flexibility to students throughout the semester, within his capacity. It is the professor’s responsibility to provide clear and timely guidance throughout the semester, and constructive qualitative feedback for all work. It is also his responsibility to foster an inclusive environment that is conducive to learning.

It is our shared responsibility to treat each other with respect and generosity.


It is Graduate Center and CUNY policy to provide appropriate accommodations to students with disabilities. Any student with a disability who may need accommodations in this class is advised to speak directly to the manager of Student Disability Services, located in Student Affairs, room 7301, or call 212-817-7400 as early in the semester as possible. All discussions will remain confidential.

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