Gjermund Eikili is the CEO of PedIT AS who are developing the learning- and communication tool PedIT for schools and companies. Gjermund is educated as a teacher and specialist within ICT and online learning. He has worked within the distance education and e-learning since 1997   

Picture 5

Berlin keys

More than just “plugging in” old learning processes.


 Already in 1998, the Dane Steen Larsen was writing critically about teachers’ use of ICT in the classroom. The same thing was happening all over, from local primary schools to the noblest universities: teaching methods that had been passed down for generations were now plugged into the wall, but remained otherwise unchanged. ICT was used to distribute content, the same way a book would be handed out in a classroom. It is a telling fact that, during my own studies – studies of the pedagogical use of ICT in education – PDF was the most commonly used file format.

Utilizing technology doesn’t, in and of itself, lead to a change in learning processes. A hyperbolic focus on ICT and software skills often hides a lack of competency with ICT-pedagogical methods.

There may be many reasons for this, and – for now – we’ll leave out the ones relating to criticising the competence of our loyal teachers.

Norsk Nettskole has embraced Bruno Latour’s thoughts on technology as an extension of human arms (Latour 1992), which inspires goal-oriented use of technology in education. Latour uses the genius invention of a German locksmith as an example. The locksmith’s goal was to keep a door locked; to ensure that whoever unlocked the door to get in or out would always remember to lock it from the other side. This was the client’s “program”. The locksmith had an idea for a key that would remain stuck in the door as long as the door was unlocked.

Below, you will see this key – the Berlin key – which can be used to unlock a door from either side, but is then stuck until it is pushed all the way through the keyhole. From the other side of the door, you can then lock the door behind you, upon which the key is released. The shape of the key ensures the program.Berliner key


In this example, technology is shaped by a person with a goal – a program. The purpose of technology is to serve people by guiding them through the program. This is how technology should work in education but, too often, we end up serving the technology, instead. This happens when we don’t have the skills or knowledge to shape technological Berlin keys to ensure the success of our program. If we use technology correctly, it can not only distribute information, but also guide and encourage the learning process itself.

We will choose an example from Norsk Nettskole. When we were developing a digital discussion room in the learning platform PedIT, we were inspired by Latour’s thoughts (Stokken, R. and Eikli, G. 2010 ).

In a traditional classroom, the teacher reigns supreme in terms of who gets the floor during discussions. The eager student, the “know-it-all”, can be kept in check to ensure that all the right answers don’t come right at the start. If the know-it-all gets free reign, there is little room for processing and pondering in the others.

This eager student is a real pain in online courses. The other students will too often be presented with the eager students’ comprehensive answers before their own reflection process has begun.

We used Latour’s Berlin key to shape our discussion room. We delegated to technology the task of steering the process as follows:

  • New posts in the discussion can be hidden until a set date. Everyone then has time to make and present their own opinion regardless of other students’ responses.
  • The teacher can review everything before it is released to the students, ensuring that unwanted entries can be removed.
  • When the posts are released for the students to review, everyone can comment on each other’s entries. This begins the social learning process and challenges individual views.
  • If the teacher so wishes, comments on comments will be allowed, ensuring better dialogue.
  • The body language of the classroom can, to a certain extent, be recreated through emoticons, making communication richer and clearer.

Here, you’ll see that the tool has settings that govern the activity, and the technology performs and executes the steering of a discussion in the manner of an experienced teacher.

As a model for thought, this enriches our conscious choices of tools and technology for web-supported learning. If we go on the hunt for Berlin keys in our own use of technology, our focus moves away from the tool itself over to the method and learning process. The locksmith probably had to ponder for a while before he made his ingenious key. In the same way, the level of pedagogical reflection must be higher when the execution of a teacher’s “program” is delegated to technology, to make sure we find the right solution.

Latour, B. (1992). Where are the Missing Masses? Sociology of a Door. Retrieved 08/12/2010 from http://www.bruno-latour.fr/articles/article/050.html


Stokken, R., & Eikli, G. (2010). Learning of each other--online: on the division of labour between technology and supervisors. Stud Health Technol Inform, 160(Pt 1), 595-599.




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