Transforming institutions in the Knowledge Society: a matter of e-Awareness

Every now and then we hear about new technologies, Information and Communication Technologies or the latest gadget revolutionizing or deeply transforming institutions as we know them. Laptops will transform Education and Twitter will revolutionize democracies (and non-democracies too).

I may well be that some of these technologies or tools end up capsizing our worlds, but it is usually not so. Indeed, revolutions or transformations are a matter of attitudes, which many times can be driven by aptitudes.

Welzel, Inglehart & Klingemann describe in The theory of human development: A cross-cultural analysis three stages towards full human development:

We can consider the “objective choice” as having the appropriate resources and tools to achieve a material level of development. Or, better said, the material tier to achieve full development. New technologies, Information and Communication Technologies or the latest gadget totally fit in this category. And they might be necessary conditions, but surely not sufficient ones.

The second tier focuses in the subjective choice, that is, in wanting or being personally able to foster developmental change. Having a civic centre in your neighbourhood is to the objective choice what having the will to participate in community activities is to subjective choice. Of course, the subjective choice is strongly related with education and culture.

In a knowledge society, education strongly correlates with digital literacy, understood in a very broad and comprehensive manner. In From laptops to competences: bridging the digital divide in higher education I presented the following scheme to a comprehensive approach to digital literacy (and which I later put into practice in Analyzing digital literacy with a single simple tweet):

On the other hand — and as it was described in Personal Learning Environments as conscious learning strategies — we can consider four stages in the cycle of technology adoption:

Briefly put:

  • Appropriation: you learn how to use the technology (e.g. you learn to write in MS Word).
  • Adaptation: you substitute your old technology for the new one, but you still do the exactly same things (e.g. you get rid of you typewriter and use MS Word instead).
  • Improvement: your technology allows you to perform some new tasks, or the old ones in a more efficient way (e.g. you use the track changes and commenting feature of MS Word to let others collaborate with your original document)
  • Transformation: the way things worked changes radically because of technology (e.g. you use a wiki to create a collaborative document, shared online and edited in real time with videoconference support).

If we put side to side the Cycle of Technology Adoption with the comprehensive model of digital skills, we end up with quite a handy comparison:

Chance or not, the way the comparison is built shows how appropriation requires technological literacy and a little bit of informational literacy. That is, to lean how to use a specific ICT tool it does not suffice with knowing how to operate it, but also knowing its relationship with information. I know the comparison could be built in many other ways and these “conclusions” vary quite a lot, but what is shown is interesting to say the least. In this very same train of thought, adoption (getting rid of old technology) implies full informational skills plus some media literacy. When it comes to improvement, it cannot be done without taking into account that digital presence (digital identity, digital personna, etc.) is a crucial part of this new communicational landscape that a Knowledge Society is.

But we began talking about transformation of institutions by means of technology.

It should surprise anyone that transformation requires e-awareness, that is, the competence to be aware, acknowledge and understand how the world — as a whole and as your own microcosmos — is changing and will keep on changing because of the impact of Information and Communication Technologies. Without this understanding, it is almost impossible to transform anything. Without the a comprehensive awareness of the impact of ICTs it is very unlikely that one can transform anything at all (least a institution such as Education or Democracy) by means of ICTs.

Of course, there is always room for chance and luck. But the next time that it is stated that “technology X will transform Democracy” or that “the device Y will transform Education”, a necessary question should follow: does the general usage of this technology or device aligns with a full awareness of the impact of ICTs in the field? does the fosterer of such technology or device has full awareness of the impact of ICTs in the field?

Most of the times, the answers will be “no” and, thus, the specific technology or device will not be transformative. Don’t get me wrong: improvement is just great.