Educational technology is strangely situated at many institutions (usually somewhere vaguely between academics and IT), which further frustrates necessary conversations across the teaching/technology divide. And, quite often, for-profit ed-tech companies take advantage of this situation through predatory marketing tactics — pitching their tools to the most powerful, least knowledgeable folks at an institution. The majority of ed-tech is driven by the bureaucratic traditions of education more than the pedagogical ones.
In “Teaching as Possibility: A Light in Dark Times,” Maxine Greene writes, “It is obvious enough that arguments for the values and possibilities of teaching acts (no matter how enlightened) within the presently existing system cannot be expressed through poetry, even as it is clear that the notion of ‘teaching as possibility’ cannot simply be asserted and left to do persuasive work.” What Greene describes is a conundrum. For her, the space of the imagination, the habitus of poetry, is necessary to the work of education. But how do we reconcile the philosophies of John Dewey with the fact of the learning management system? How does the work of Maria Montessori sit without combusting alongside the increasingly aggressive marketing of remote and algorithmic proctoring tools? How do bell hook’s words about self-actualization in the classroom not wither in a world of key-stroke monitoring and plagiarism-detection software? And how can we honestly approach Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own with students if we’re complicit in the monetization of their educational data by for-profit companies?
These crises aren’t existential, nor are my examples purely hypothetical. The technological tools we’ve widely adopted for education are increasingly out of step with what we say education is for. There’s a serious problem in education if we assume dishonesty on the part of students while failing to acknowledge that for-profit tech companies like Turnitin or ProctorU might care about their bottom line more than they care about students.