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Editors’ Choice: School Work and Surveillance

I was a guest speaker in the MA in Elearning class at Cork Institute of Technology this morning. Thanks very much to Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin for the invitation. Here’s a bit of what I said…

Thank you for inviting me to speak to your class today. This is such a strange and necessary time to talk about education technology, to take a class about education technology, to get a degree in education technology because what, in the past, was so often framed as optional or aspirational is now compulsory — and compulsory under some of the worst possible circumstances. So it’s a strange and necessary time to be a critic of education technology because, while I’ve made folks plenty angry before, now I am under even more pressure to say something, anything nice about ed-tech, to offer reassurance that — over time, by Fall Term surely — the tech will get better.

I can’t. I’m sorry.

It’s also an deeply uncomfortable time to be an American with any sort of subject matter expertise — it has been since well before the 2016 election, but particularly since then. I don’t want to come off today as making broad sweeping statements about all of education everywhere when I’m very much talking about the education system in the US and the education technology industry in the US. So grain of salt and my apologies and all that.

One of the reasons that I am less than sanguine about most education technology is because I don’t consider it this autonomous, context-free entity. Ed-tech is not a tool that exists only in the service of improving teaching and learning, although that’s very much how it gets talked about. There’s much more to think about than the pedagogy too, than whether ed-tech makes that better or worse or about the same just more expensive. Pedagogy doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It has an institutional history; pedagogies have politics. Tools have politics. They have histories. They’re developed and funded and adopted and rejected for a variety of reasons other than “what works.” Even the notion of “what works” should prompt us to ask all sorts of questions about “for whom,” “in what way,” and “why.”

I want to talk to you a bit today about what I think is going to be one of most important trends in education technology in the coming months and years. I can say this with some certainty because it’s been one of the most important trends in education technology for a very long time. And that’s surveillance.


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This content was selected for Digital Humanities Now by Editor-in-Chief Corinne Wilkinson based on nominations by Editors-at-Large: