Information Technology and Library Science

Selected Major Issues in Instructional/Communication Technology: An Islamic Perspective

Instructional/Communication Technology has come to mean, in a narrow sense, media hardware or a set of tools enabling human beings to overcome their physical limitations. Etymologically, it means one or more techniques, both concrete and abstract, that help human beings solve problems. By extension, instructional technology (IT) means all tools at our disposal for facilitating learning. Tickton (1971) defines the purpose of IT as making "education more productive and more individual, to give instruction a more scientific base, and to make instruction more powerful, learning more immediate, and access more equal." While the technology itself might be neutral as a medium and as a means of instructional communication, it is the nature of its use, in terms of timely and appropriate messages, that is the key to understanding its consequences. It is this final factor upon which society needs to focus.

The recent combination of computer, video, fiber optics, satellite television, and other state-of-the-art technologies has enabled a small group to control the lives of billions. Instructional technology has also merited its own share of this instantaneous global power. As a result, traditional boundaries between IT and mass media communication have blurred so much that IT sounds like a misnomer.

It has now become a platitude to say that the nation that controlled the sea lanes in the nineteenth century, or that controlled the airways in the twentieth century, controlled the whole world. In the twenty-first century, it appears that whoever controls the airwaves will control the world and whatever is beyond it. Thus the most explosive confluence of hardware techniques has aroused huge vital research questions about the consequences of the psychology, as well as the politics, of power and control over emerging technologies and their myriad uses for humanity.

Appropriate answers call for consideration of basic philosophical views of life, humanity, and the universe. In western IT literature, these have either been ignored completely or subdued by superficial concerns over the design and development process of instruction. On top of this, commercial interests continue to seek for opportunities to sell their wares even in the name of teaching.

In a recent survey of IT literature, the category "society and culture" was voted last but one (Ely 1991). Even in learner-related issues, the neural anatomy of cognition attracted the most attention, to the almost total neglect of the psycho-ethical aspects of human existence. An exception is the assertion by Johnsen and Taylor (1991) that both instruction and IT "are human inventions that spring from human values and human designs. They are value-saturated and operate in the social world quite unlike phenomena in the physical world." Probably in the same vein, Bednar et al. (1991) urge us "to reexamine all of the assumptions of any field and particularly one that purports to improve the human condition."

It is my expectation that this realization will mature, one day, into a viable movement. Why Johnny cannot yet read despite our most sophisticated instructional technologies can only be answered by looking beyond the neural networks of his mind and into the entire Social milieu in which he lives. The problem seems to lie in the very myopic and exclusively economic or occupational skill-oriented goal of western education.

Islam, in contrast to such materialistic ideologies as communism and capitalism, stresses universal value-based character-building education. It tries to build, maintain, and strengthen a healthy societal climate and structure around the learner from the womb, to the lap, through home and school, and to global human society. Early modern (post-Renaissance) education models in the West were influenced by this balanced and all-round development of individual character that Islam has always stressed.

The remainder of this paper seeks to lay the groundwork by identifying some important issues from the broad Islamic view: theoretical assumptions behind the identification and analysis of IT issues and the development of six sets of relevant issues classified under the categories of humanity, message, medium, methods, milieu, and measurement.

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