Learning to love the micro: the discursive construction of 'educational' computing in the UK, 1979-89

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The notion of the computer as an inherently 'educational' machine has been a powerful influence on both the conceptualisation and consumption of information technology in the UK over the past 20 years. Most recently, a belief in the teaching and learning capabilities of the computer underpinned much of New Labour's policy agenda during their first term of office, most notably in the form of the £1.6 billion 'National Grid for Learning' initiative. Yet all too often, the high-profile social shaping of computing as 'educational' has been more grounded in rhetoric than in reality, with the 'hype' of the educational computer noticeably at odds with the actual impact of computing technologies in schools and at home. From this background, the present paper explores how the computer became to be so strongly 'configured' as educational during its integration into mainstream British society and culture. In so doing, the paper examines the various actors and routes of transmitting information that were involved in the construction of the computer as an educational machine and, as a result, goes on to consider the underlying motivations behind this process. In asking these questions, the paper focuses on the period 1979-89 as marking the birth of mainstream educational computing in the UK, and therefore identifies and discusses the prevailing influences of the incumbent Conservative government, the burgeoning home computer industry as well as the print and broadcast media as powerful actors in the formative discursive shaping of 'educational' computing. Having mapped out these shaping forces, the paper concludes by considering the implications of the on-going trend towards the educational mythologising of information technology in British society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-443
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology of Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2002
Externally publishedYes

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