Technological Mediation: A Postphenomenology Primer for Instructors, Designers, and More

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

 “Postphenomenology” isn’t just the biggest word at the conference; it’s also one of the most useful tools for understanding the deep and complex web of relationships between instructors, designers, students, content, and technology. If you’ve felt like something’s missing in designing online learning, this just may be it.


Dr. Ryan Straight is currently Assistant Professor of Educational Technology at the University of Arizona where he is also a Faculty Fellow and Honors Professor. He holds a PhD in Instructional Technology from Ohio University, where he also earned his MEd in Cultural Studies in Education and a BS.Ed in Integrated Language Arts. He teaches fully online at the undergraduate and graduate levels in topics like game design and development, human-computer interaction, designing online learning environments, and statistics and data visualization. Dr. Straight also serves as a Social Media Advisor for ISTE and writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education on mobile learning technologies, augmented reality, and social presence in online education. He lives in Tucson with his wife and three dogs.

Extended Abstract

Pacemakers, smart mirrors, microscopes, pencils, iPads, cars, air conditioners, VR headsets, and the LMS. What do these have in common? Postphenomenology!
Wait, come back! Don’t let the word put you off: “postphenomenology,” while obnoxiously long, is one of the great secret weapons in the philosophy of technology toolbelt and one that instructors and instructional designers alike can benefit from wielding. Generally speaking, at its core, postphenomenology is an empirical method of studying how technology mediates, for better or worse, our experience of the world. Our concern, however, is the way technology mediates the online learning experience in particular. For example, how does the experience of online learning change when the hardware changes from laptop to PC to smartphone to tablet to virtual reality headset? How about from live instruction via webcam to spatially recorded events? What about the physical environment the student is in? If the student is wearing headphones or not? What if there are accessibility considerations? All these variables, all these complicating, mediating factors, can be addressed with the application of postphenomenological analysis.
In a variation on the traditional postphenomenological understanding of technological mediation, we will trace the experience through the learner, into the technology, the design of the instruction, to the content, and back again, identifying each of the “enigma points'' at which that mediation occurs and necessarily can divert what is actually being experienced from what and how it was intended. Like designing a user or learning experience, you can’t design the experience, itself, just design for a particular experience.
This is, for many, likely a whole new methodology for thinking about and developing instructional design using the postphenomenological framework. In applying specific concepts like “technic relations,” “transparency,” and “multistability” to the notion of learning through and via technology, it’s possible to shine an exploratory light on the mediating and complicating connections required to—successfully and with fidelity—bring educational content to an online learner. Exploring how these technic relations and mediations work is key, but also understanding when and how they fail can be even more illuminating.
In this session, we will explore what this postphenomenological framework is, what it tells us about how technology mediates learning, and how you can apply this in solving your own instructional dilemmas. You are encouraged to bring a challenge you’re facing and apply the postphenomenological framework to it and, if nothing else, break it down and view it in a new light. You may just walk away with a brand new understanding about your relationship with the world, not to mention with learning.