September 2, 2018

Instructional Design: An Opportunity for Integrity and Inclusion for ALL

This is a the first of many papers being written for my Digital Media and Learning class this Fall:

Links to papers read online:

ethics of care - pluralism
by hello-magpie on DeviantArt

Synthesis and analysis:

Before beginning my first synthesis paper, I wanted to understand “synthesis” fully, since it’s a term that I have not been asked to perform very much [directly albeit] in my previous coursework. I found a great example and guidance after searching “blooms synthesis” as I wanted to know what our tested Bloom’s Taxonomy would define synthesis as:
As the page linked above defines, my articles/creations to follow will adhere to the following learning objective verbs and expressions:

Putting together ideas into a new or unique
product or plan.

Guiding questions for synthesis level:
What changes would you make to solve _______?
How would you improve _______?
Can you propose and alternative _______?
What way would you design _______?
Suppose you could _______. What would you do ________?
Can you construct a model that would change _______?
Can you think of an original way for _______?
Can you predict the outcome if _______?

This week, we were asked to read in order and synthesize 4 articles:
K. Marx, The Machine Versus the Worker
L. Winner, Do Artifacts Have Politics?
B. Pfaffenberger, Technological Dramas
L. Lessig, Code 2.0, Ch. 7

Our instructor promised us that it really wasn’t that much reading.

Karl Marx is a name I have heard many times, but before reading the assigned article, I really couldn’t remember his major stances on the worker and the machine-industrial complex. The reading assigned was only two pages in length, but was substantial in the new perspective brought to me attention. His major points in this reading are:
  • p. 156 “The instrument of labour strikes down the labourer. This direct antagonism between the two comes out most strongly, whenever newly introduced machinery competes with handicrafts or manufactures, handed down from former times.“
  • He states that “machinery not only acts as a competitor…” but that the capital generated “is the most powerful weapon for repressing strikes” (p.156).
  • On page 157, he gives the example of Nasmyth, the inventor of the steam hammer: he testifies that “Thanks to these new mechanical combinations, I have reduced the number of grown-up men from 1,500 to 750. The result was a considerable increase in my profits.” Mechanical innovation and replacement of human workers was seen as a solution to long standing strikes in many industries.

Prior to reading Langdon Winner’s article “Do Artifacts have Politics?,” I had no experience with the author, but I did have an idea of the article content: since most products or innovations are created for someone, or a specific audience or consumer type, I can infer that the affordances generated will favor that group, and that favoritism in design can be called ‘politics.’ After reading the selection, the following are the main points presented:
  • He states that “At issue is the claim that the machines, structures, and systems of modern material culture can be accurately judged by their contributions… but also for the ways in which they embody specific forms of power and authority” (p. 19). My thought in reaction to this claim of embodying power and authority is: ‘is this an intentional assertion of power/authority?’, but then I think it wouldn’t matter whether the answer was yes or no, rather that we must have designers with the highest ethical standards for all people so that the assertion of power and authority through innovations is a positive contribution intended to help the greatest amount of people, making considerations for as many learner types as possible and for known accessibility concerns. I am then reminded that sometimes good products come out of ill intentioned designs, such as nuclear power that grew out of military applications or maybe medicines developed through unethical methods that end up saving thousands of others.

Moving on to the next article “Technological Dramas”, I can speculate that the idea of artifact features having politics will be expanded upon by Bryan Pfaffenberger. Main points of this reading include:
  • Confirming my earlier thoughts about designers and how their personal values affect the social and political considerations and outcomes in a design, Pfaffenberger states that “The demonstration that technology is socially shaped (MacKenzie and Wacjman 1985) or socially constructed (Pinch and Bijker 1987) is a major achievement of science and technology studies (STS).... To account fully for a technical design, one must examine the technical culture, social values, aesthetic ethos, and political agendas of the designers” (p.282).
  • He goes on to assert that “Technical innovation provides an opportunity to embed political values in technological production process and artifacts, which then diffuse throughout society…” (p. 283).
  • Pfaffenberger then makes several claims that I personally questioned as I read them. I questioned the sources quoted for support of his idea, and I questioned the methods used to determine the thinking of the designers or managers described in the studies. He mentions “Noble (1986) shows how managers hoped that numerically designed machine tools would deskill lathe operators and transfer process control from the shop floor to management. Barker and Downing (1985) show how networked word-processing technology has been used to erode the work autonomy of typists by monitoring the number of times per hour that a typist presses a key” (p. 284). How do you ‘show how a manager hoped’ for something? Why does having a measure by which to compare yourself to others while typing at work ‘erode work autonomy’? Is this really what the managers or designers were thinking when designing these tools - thinking of controlling their workers? I do not think so. I would imagine that most inventors and good managers in business are creative, kind people looking to better the populations, the work conditions, and the precision and quality of products.

I decided to move onto the next article, because I did not have the time to locate and verify each of the sources that I found a little biased that were used to support Pfeffenberger’s argument.

Lessig’s open source text “Code 2.0” was published in 2006 and appears to be a very straight forward, comprehensive, and foundational text to understanding power in our digital world, despite being over ten years old now. We were asked to read chapter seven.
  • This author details how our lives are regulated by first naming us “as a dot” and then analogizing how we (quite sarcastically as “a pathetic dot”) are controlled in behavior by social norms (p. 122), that “the market is also a constraint,” laws, and architecture (p. 123).
  • I found the multiple historical examples of design choices to control or direct people fascinating, especially the French Revolution (p. 127) and the later building of wider streets; because I have been there and can visualize this constraint fully and how it later affected history during Napoleon's rule.
  • I appreciated Lessing’s inclusion of three major socially excluded classes: “discrimination against the disabled,” “drugs” (p. 131), and “abortion” (p. 132). Heavily socially stigmatized, these populations can give back to the world in innumerable ways, yet we seek to disinclude them or ostracize them for their actions. Unfortunately there are many other populations and stigmatized groups that can bring a lot to the world. I think of refugees and immigrants, people of gender or identity minority, people of religious minority or misunderstood groups; an endless list could be created entitled ‘you are different because ______, but you can still participate in and create fully’. I think this is what the creators of the internet intended (that unknowingly started humankind into all this digital social mess ;-) ).

In closing, I will attempt to provide a brief synthesis and closing to conclude this week’s reading assignment. I think that digital media and the internet has the unique power to make the world a more equal place for all. I think this is how it was intended when it was envisioned and built, but I think a handful of people’s greed and business interests seek to build on the majority’s good intentions and desire for inclusion for all people. Two ways that I think could encourage this positive ethic and intention in designers and developers is to 1. apply the principle of ‘care ethic’ in all design ventures and 2. Encourage broad adoption of a code of ethics for designers, similar to the oath a doctor would take prior to service with patients (but obviously a little less focused on life and death, but rather access and value in intentions).

I am particularly interested in adapting the physicians Hippocratic oath into a guiding document for designers and inventors., so I wanted to share it here for your consideration too. The current medically-focused oath reads as:

“I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
  • I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
  • I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
  • I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.
  • I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery.
  • I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
  • I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
  • I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
  • I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
  • If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.
—Written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, and used in many medical schools today.”

We have great powers as designers to shape the experiences in our world to elevate all of humankind for higher purposes, or to harm and control. We have power in the way we design things and to which attributes we craft. We can also be the gatekeepers and choose not break our own values just for monetary gain or otherwise negative purpose. May we all design with integrity and care.

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