Informatics and the Digital Society: Social, Ethical and Cognitive Issues

Stuart Hannabuss (Aberdeen Business School, Aberdeen, UK)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 August 2004




Hannabuss, S. (2004), "Informatics and the Digital Society: Social, Ethical and Cognitive Issues", Library Review, Vol. 53 No. 6, pp. 333-334.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) Open Conference on Social, Ethical and Cognitive Issues of Informatics and ICT, held in July 2002 at the University of Dortmund in Germany (the sub‐title) was clearly a useful opportunity for delegates to share case studies of their experience of information and communication technology (ICT). “Informatics” here draws on computer science, software engineering, and information technology, and “social informatics” incorporates technology, institutions, culture and society.

Key themes in these conference proceedings reflect this brief – the e‐literate society, ICT as a social change agent, e‐learning and collaborative learning, and paradigm shifts in education and professional life. Keynote papers are provided on each, followed by short reports from IFIP working groups, and then a series of papers (on the four themes) consisting mainly of case studies, most of them German (everything in is in the English language) and most of them dealing with the theory and experience of informatics curriculum development and delivery (many with software or Web support).

IFIP was established in 1960 under the auspices of Unesco and is an umbrella organisation for societies working in information processing. Among its aims is to encourage technology transfer to developing nations. The IFIP World Computer Conference is held every two years, and there have so far been three SEC (social, ethical, and cognitive) conferences (this is the third). The IFIP publishing programme includes a series (also from Kluwer) on information processing, with works on semantics in e‐commerce, information technology (IT) discourse, network control, Internet technology, and software architecture. Contributors to SEC III (the work under review) are mainly German and Australian.

Editor van Meert is a professor at the Hogeschool van Utrecht in The Netherlands, and produced the Informatics Curriculum Framework 2000 for Higher Education (Mulder and van Meert, 2000). Editor Munro is reader in the Department of Business and Education at the University of Strathclyde, and is known for his research on ICT and schools. They have done a workman‐like job with what is clearly a very specialised and highly transient work. Van Meerts' own involvement in two informatics curriculum initiatives, the IEEE‐CS/ACM Computing Curriculum 2001 Joint Taskforce and the IFIP/Unesco Informatics Curriculum Framework 2000 provide some of the framework to what is going on; while several papers describe and discuss the generic principles and aspirations of e‐learning innovations, how they are transforming learning and course delivery in schools and universities, touching upon virtual communities.

Theoretical issues appear in the form of discussions of how learners learn, how designed learning creates understanding, how ICT has transformed IT into knowledge management, and how new Boisot‐like social knowledge spaces are created online. Much of this theory feeds through into the business of (e)learning as supported by appropriate software. Many of the case studies describe and review experience so far – in the classroom, in the distributed learning environment in higher education and the “Gymnasium”, the general message being that, whatever administrative challenges setting up such systems creates, the learning outcomes are improved as a result. One (Australian) caveat compares virtual experience with reality and ponders cultural imperialism. Typical of learning support software is the KOLUMBUS prototype at Dortmund. There are some interesting thoughts on modelling – cognitive models as used in learning and models used in learning software, and these thoughts come through in analyses of problem solving (such as algorithmic thinking) and in using multimedia. Two papers focus on special education.

Given the fast‐moving state of the art, the local focus of the case studies, the fluctuation between theory (some of it “mere” theory, like constructivistic reformulations of systems theory) and practice (some more hinted than fully explained), overlaps between categories, the need for clearer arrangement by theme (both the four themes and ethics/society/cognition issues), and the need more fully to follow up and link up ideas like collaborative middleware and authoring tools and metadata (thrown out by Harrison's keynote), and the price, this work ends up being a possible rather than a probable for the academic library shelves, except for those who have already committed themselves to the series. As a contemporary snapshot of what its exponents are doing in the area of informatics, it is revealing, but no one could call it an introduction to its field ‐ more of an insider's idiosyncratic view. Teacher training is scarcely representative of “paradigm shifts in education and professional life”, which gets undersold. One real strength lies in its bibliographies, not long but useful and international, which will point the interested researcher in the right direction.


Mulder, F. and van Meert, T.J. (2000), Informatics Curriculum Framework 2000 for Higher Education, Unesco, Paris.

Related articles