Will computers dehumanize education? A grounded approach to values at risk

Helen Nissenbaum, Decker Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this paper we examine the concern that computers will dehumanize education, one aspect of the general concern over possible threats to social and ethical values resulting from the computerization of schools. Concern over computerization of schools has become a battleground for ideological debates. Our paper does not enter this fray. Rather, we devise an alternative approach, called a grounded analysis, which addresses core concerns of practicing educators and administrators in their own terms. First we examine what people seem to mean when they worry that computers may dehumanize education. We identify four versions of this concern: that children may withdraw from people and society; that the teacher-student relationship may break down; that the teaching of important values may be jeopardized; and that education may become overly standardized. We systematically evaluate each of these concerns. Reaching no simple conclusion, we find that although dehumanization is not an inevitable consequence of using computers in education, it does pose some genuine risks serious enough to justify caution. Importantly, our analysis suggests that the actions of educators and policy makers may significantly raise or lower these risks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-273
Number of pages37
JournalTechnology in Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Business and International Management
  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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