At the April meeting, we discussed a chapter from Mascheroni & Siibak’s (2021) Datafied Childhoods: Data Practices and Imaginaries in Children’s Lives, and Grandinetti’s (2022) article ‘Zoom and the platformization of higher education’. These readings were chosen as examples of how contemporary issues of digital childhoods are being addressed in academic literature. As a result, one of the main questions addressed during this session was: is literature being written to fulfil an idea of what an academic writing on digital childhoods should look like, rather than having any real impact.
The Grandinetti article, for example, was felt to lack much user perspective, instead repackaging what are now fairly standard critiques of digital technologies with some examples of Zoom, drawn from media reporting. It acts as a political economy derived critique of the platform but it does not necessarily tell us much about the lived experience of platform use. The article acts as a fine point of reference in showing some conceptual issues around technology used in educational institutions then but seems to lack any way of actually pushing this discussion forward. The question then remains: what do we actually do about these critiques?
It was felt amongst the group that the Mascheroni & Siibak chapter fared somewhat better in this regard. Through the chapter’s use of a specific experience of education technologies, the chapter was able to feel more grounded; specifically, Mascheroni & Siibak use the example of the UK’s use of an algorithm for A-level grading in the summer of 2020. While this critique felt more grounded, it nonetheless led to some more questions around the intent of the research: are we critiquing how technologies (potentially) change the experience of education or are we critiquing the ongoing commodification of education through sub-par technologies?
Both can be addressed, of course, but they are often presented as inherently intertwined. This intertwining poses an issue when examining the A-level algorithm as the technology itself did not change the experience of education so much as make more evident the existing, entrenched inequities within the British education system. In this regard, it no longer feels sufficient to simply say the technology itself was unfit for purpose; rather, it could be seen as too fit for purpose in showing the existing system of educational capital more clearly than ever.
The secondary issue, of poor or even unnecessary technology being sold to schools and parents, does remain. We often see technologies which are solutions looking for an issue, consuming the limited economic resources afforded within school budgets. In this regard, highlighting the seemingly ever-growing spending on educational technologies in pursuit of ever more measurable outcomes remains important. It is important, largely, when it can be used to point to the importance of teachers and their need for economic support; as well as pointing to the impacts of endless measurement on students and their parents. These act as points upon which we can build an alternative educational imaginary based in the practical, lived experience of school staff, students, and parents. While both the article and book chapter do point towards this, the conflation of this issue with that of educational technology’s changing of schooling (or not, as may be the case) at times leaves ambiguity around what a solution could look like and the fundamental problem being addressed in the first place.