December 2021 – End of year reflections

Our December meeting was a decidedly more casual meeting than the norm; meeting in person to discuss (briefly) the previously 12 months but also to catch up with each other in person again. Below are a few notes on the previous year and our hopes for the upcoming year.

The theme for last year’s reading group ended up being the digital imaginary, trying to think about new ways of approaching platforms and not become entirely defined (or confined) by existing technical codes. This is, as always, easier said than done. It was recognised at the very beginning of this year that, in seeking this new digital imaginary, we may at times have forgotten about the pedagogical and (sometimes) even the practical.

As a result, we had decided to make a turn, reorient our approach. We made an active effort to ensure at least some of the reading was specifically around schooling (or, at the very least, about learning in some capacity) and to try and connect our meetings to real-world and real-time activities. I think this is reflected fairly clearly in the publication dates for much of the reading over the past year, which largely comes from 2020 or 2021. Some of them even managed to be about the pandemic, as it was happening. Admittedly, we had looked at Williamson and Hogan in the previous year but we remained fairly on top of new publications around COVID as well. This included a continued dedication to non-normative viewpoints, seen in COVID From The Margins and (in non-pandemic related reading) Bridges’ (2021) article on ‘unbecoming the good data subject’. So while we did make a concerted effort to become perhaps more grounded in practice than theory, we did a good job of not leaving our established theoretical tentpoles behind; we did not throw the baby out with the bathwater. In this sense, I think we have had made a positive move forward with the group, refining what we read and (perhaps more importantly) why we are reading it.

Extending this even further, we actually branched out into other forms of media this year too, non-academic forms even. I am, of course, talking about Coded Bias. It may not have been to everyone’s taste but this does not mean it was not worthwhile. Rather, on the contrary, it perhaps served to highlight the chasm we have to overcome if we are to make our own concerns, understandings, and works as a group more accessible to non-academics, teachers, students, parents, and developers. Ultimately, I do think we all want to reach these groups and I would hope that this group acts as a space to get us all a bit closer to this reach, through consistently talking about what any of this reading means in practice. This is why, in part, I think it would be a positive move for the group to produce some more varied content as well; namely, easily consumable video content on our discussions which is accessible at all levels.

Additionally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the new members from this year. This has been a great boon for the group, to have so many new contributors from different perspectives. I hope that, going forward, we can all work on the viewpoint and agenda for the coming year. I am sure any new ideas would be welcomed and any points of focus embraced. It would be great to see the reading group continue to grow in some capacity or another and input from everyone would surely aid in this; just as it is important to know how we can engage with non-academics, it is important to know what engages with other academics too. This is particularly important in the face of overlap with some other groups, both here in Australia and internationally. All of this is great, of course, but it also acts as an imperative to ensure the reading group has its own direction and own point of view, giving it a distinct identity from other, similar groups.

I think all of these points (from a contemporary focus, to a non-normative positioning, to engagement with non-academics, and a distinct identity) met in our recent response to the Australian government’s Privacy Bill. Together, we wrote a response to the Bill which I think reflected these values quite well, taking on issues around privacy for everyone but keeping a focus on how young people would be impacted (or were used a catalyst for the bill in the first place). Sharing this information with other groups proved beneficial also, as we were both able to see how our approaches differed but harmonised. So in this sense, I think the overlap between groups works symbiotically with the reading group because we have had such a consistent approach due to a framework laid out at the beginning of the reading group So, again, hopefully we can establish an agenda for next year that stays true to this framework but pushes it even further into a new direction.

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