Technology Learning Environments as Nonhumans: about delegating.

Our last telic session was very interesting and clarifying. Not only did we have two great presentations on this Bruno Latour paper, we also had to brainstorm in little groups on different items. One discussion was about this image, and how it relates to the Latour paper.

Interesting to me was how Danny en co. looked at this picture from the ‘delegating’ point of view. What do humans delegate to the nonhumans in this picture.We delegate force to the cranes. Without the cranes, putting together the iron framework would be very hard or even impossible. This delegating to nonhumans was an important idea in the Latour paper. An idea that I didn’t take up in my previous reflection on the Latour paper.

What is this ‘delegating’ all about?

How a door-closer relates to Technology Learning Environments.

Strange reading assignment for #telic1 this time. The paper is called ‘Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of a Door-Closer’. The author is Jim Johnson but that actually is a pseudonym for Bruno Latour. Latour is a French sociologist of science and anthropologist, and is best known for withdrawing from the subjective/objective division1. The reason for this pseudonym was his opinion that no American sociologist is willing to read things that are not American.

To illustrate the sometimes rather strange language constructions (to me), I cite a paragraph from the paper:

For the umpteenth time I have screamed to Robin, “don’t sit on the middle of the rear seat: if I brake too hard, you’re dead.” In an auto shop further along the freeway I come across a device made for tired-and-angry-parents-driving-cars-with-kids-between-two-and-five (that is too old for a baby seat and not old enough for a seat belt) and-from-small-families (that is without other persons to hold them safely) and-having-cars-with-two-separated-front-seats-and-headrests.’

This sentence illustrates the metaphoric style of the author. He uses the example of a new type of child car seat to illustrate how we constantly invent technologies to cope with growing complexities in our society. Complexities, by the way, that we create ourselves and are not necessarily of major importance. Do we use/invent technologies because of the lack of discipline of humans? If we would all have the discipline of driving carefully, we would not need car seats, we would not need to brake too hard? This idea of being undisciplined and therefore in need of new technologies is very present in the paper. People need to be disciplined to close the door behind them. But since people are unreliable, we might find a better solution in disciplining one person or a technology to close the door after all the others.2

The example of the car seat also illustrates the main purpose of the author: drawing our attention to the work of Nonhumans (technologies) in social situations and that there is actually no division between the technology and us operating the technology (Bruno Latour is best known for withdrawing from the subjective/objective division).

Some other blogposts were very useful in unpuzzling this metaphor of the door-closer, and the purpose of it in our road to master technology enhanced learning environments. I share them here:

Read this article as a summary of the paper:

So, what are my conclusions after having mixed this paper with my instincts, with other readings, and with the content of our current Technology Enhanced Learning module?

Three ideas:

When using technologies in teaching environments, the teacher is very much related to the technology. There is no division between the technology and the teacher. We must be aware of how we ‘delegate’3 fundamental elements of good teaching to technologies. When we are undisciplined in certain areas, we cannot rely on the technology to solve our own lack of discipline. Take ‘effective communication’ for instance. Effective communication starts or ends with competences of the teacher. In our school we use GooglePlus as ad-valvas for our students. It is not due to the technology that we communicate ineffectively, but sometimes the technology is seen an easy scapegoat?

Teachers facilitate as hinges for effective learning. A hinge is a very small but effective technology that allows a door to be easily opened and closed. It seems a very minor invention, but it has a great impact on the use of the door. The hinges are important to bridge ‘in’ and ‘outside’ the house. The teacher and how he uses technology seems to be very small in the complex environment of educational systems and structures, but this has major impact on the effect of learning.

The technology is invented, designed by people who assign different scenarios and roles to the technology. We must be aware of these scenarios in-scribed to the technology by those who create them. Most likely other people (teachers) will come up with different scenarios and roles of their own.4 Which can be great. People like manipulating powerful technologies5. An example in my school: we have a culture of professional development of teachers in small design teams. This happens quite organically, which is a problem when an external ‘inspector’ is asking us how we encourage professional development. The balance of actually doing (professional development) and putting it in paper (words, words, words) is a constant tension in education. We now use to visualise our initiatives in teams that lead to professional development. We assigned a different role to pearltrees from our own needs. We needed a very user-friendly, quick way of curating professional development activities that emphasize the relations between people and roles. We use six roles (Lunenberg, Dengerink, Korthagen, 2013) as a basis for the professional development in the pearltrees. I’m quite sure that the people who invented this great tool pearltrees did not have teacher professional development tool in mind.

The pearltree (in Dutch):


Knowledge, morality … are not properties of humans but of humans accompanied by their retinue (effect) of delegated characters. Since each of those delegates ties together part of our social world, it means that studying social relations without nonhumans is impossible (Latour, 1988a). There is no division between the teacher and the technology he uses.

1. Bruno Latour on Wikipedia


3. to delegate: from de- "from, away" (see de-) + legare "send with a commission"

4. Madeleine Akrich

5. Empowered learners – Manipulation Gee paper