Platform Pedagogies: a research initiative

In recent years, the concept of a platform has gained traction as a way of explaining new kinds of economic, social and civic structure. Originally used to describe a specific interface or website, the idea of a platform has come to stand for the ways that digital services and online participation operate through an integrated array of back-end services and analytics as well as a series of user-facing affordances and interactions across devices/screens that are platform agnostic. 

The platform thus brings together how an individual at a micro level might, for example, make a purchase, communicate with others, post an opinion, utilise a service and so on, with the socio-technical infrastructure which allows the state and commercial entities that run such platforms to monitor (surveil), harvest, and monetise the aggregated value of such data-driven interactions. Devices and technologies are now uncoupled from proprietary platforms allowing for the platform itself to derive power and authority across a series of markets.

Whilst most of the literature focuses on the emergence of transnational platforms mainly based in the US (Google/Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook et cetera), scholarship has also examined the rise of China’s social credit system or indeed the ways that platforms are now monopolising hitherto discrete market sectors (like Pearsons in Education or Steam/Valve in gaming).

This research initiative investigates the pedagogic dimension of these platforms thus drawing on older theoretical traditions that use pedagogy as a way of describing and explaining the relationships between individual and society, agency and structure. 

We want to explore what it means to conceive:

  • of the relationship between people and their platforms as a pedagogic relationship, 
    • and how such conceptualisations might advance study of platforms in general. 

And, additionally, using the term pedagogy in its more specifically educational sense:

  • to explore the relationship between learning, schooling and education systems as they are now moving into and across emerging platforms, 
    • thus, advancing scholarship about the uses of platforms in Education.

At the moment the initiative asks 4 kinds of questions.

  1. What kind of conceptual framing is most useful to make sense of “a platform”?

Interface studies, software studies, platform studies, political economy, design and user experience are all distinct academic traditions that lay claim to explaining platforms as a new “field”. We have brought together readings and scholars with expertise in data, health, education, cultural studies and gaming as a way of bringing different and competing theoretical perspectives to bear on the platform as an analytic phenomenon.

  • Do platforms have a pedagogy? or What is the pedagogic relationship between people (often constructed as users or clients or citizens) and specific platforms?

In what ways do platforms frame and offer ways of being and behaving that amounts to a form of teaching for users/participants? How are behavioural norms enacted and regulated and how do new and experienced users learn what kinds of participation and performance gain approval/disapproval? How do people take experiences from one platform to construct “progressions” when they move to others and how do forms of expertise and experience get valued and rewarded? Finally, questions about pedagogicization also ask about normative regulation/transgressions and they also ask how subjects learn about and come to terms with the power relations implicit in any kind of pedagogic relationship.

  • Do the new platforms now present in schools change the practices of education and the relationship between social actors in the school system?

Platforms in a relatively closed institution like the school system have the capacity to knit together new circuits of communication, knowledge-sharing, surveillance and care. At the same time, data from these new relationships are now available to actors outside the education system creating questions about privacy and rights. Platforms bring together parents, teachers, students and administrators in a new kind of pedagogic relationship. Questions about the way these platforms establish regimes of power, authority, and participation, and how such regimes are normativized and legitimated are part of the uncertainty and interest surrounding the growth of platforms in this arena.

  • What is the pedagogy of educational platforms?

Many open education and online learning platforms especially those expanding at scale and speed in higher education offer particular kinds of pedagogic framing. Yet, both learners and teachers on these platforms might bring with them experiences of, and interest in, other kinds of alternative teaching and learning relationships, especially where those are derived from progressive traditions including forms of relational pedagogy, work-shopping and/or drama in education/learning in role practices. In what ways do the new platforms of higher education homogenise the ecological variety of vernacular and alternative learning traditions? How can such practices be incorporated, and re-made across the new platforms?

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