For the March meeting, the first of the new year, we got straight back into things with a journal article and a book chapter. These were Knox et al’s (2020) Machine Behaviourism: Future Visions of ‘Learnification’ and ‘Datafication’ Across Humans and Digital Technologies and chapter five from Koopman’s (2019) How We Became Our Data. These readings spoke to both aspects of the reading group, with Knox et al dealing with (speculative) implementation of digital devices in educational settings, while Koopman dealt with the underlying principles which structure our data.
Much of the time was spent discussing the Knox et al article. This began with the question of just how applicable the paper’s claims actually are to a contemporary educational setting. The speculative element of the paper is certainly important (and it is a valid orientation to take) but we did not feel it was always explicit and so, at times, the paper felt a bit at odds with lived teaching experiences. This is not to say the article was not helpful; rather, simply that the orientation of the paper is important. Knox et al highlight the paradox of supposedly automated forms of teaching and learning: the additional labour that these technologies create for teachers. This includes teachers feeding machine learning technologies initially through data, then being required to read and interpret the data which is output by technology. This is not necessarily new; managerialism in schooling has existed before big data and machine learning but it does offer ever more efficient and marketised means of such managerialism for teachers.
Koopman was decided less entrenched in the educational space, primarily dealing with a Habermasian conception of deliberative democracy in an age of (big) data. Koopman highlights that the data we work with (and are subject to) are not raw data at any time; they are always cleaned and sorted into existing categories, often created in an ad hoc manner with no long-term considerations. Thus, any conceptions of democracy in our connected age cannot simply look to communication alone; it must also look at how this communication is facilitated and the content of this communication. If we are to have a truly inclusive form of democracy online, it appears unlikely that this can be done without some sort of concern for (and likely moderation of) content. Without such a concern, communication cannot happen freely (put simply, some will be excluded due to an unwelcoming online environment), which is at the heart of the deliberative democracy model.