Minutes from the August meeting

Commercialisation and privatisation in/of education in the context of Covid-19:

  • While the report did point out positives and negatives of EdTech but is this is a discussion of something which has already gone by? Concerns around the marketisation of education can feel like an uphill battle even now, in the present, so talking about it in terms of the future may even seem entirely futile. It is important to assess if we are romanticising public education’s past too (such as how well it actually worked for issues like social mobility) which this document does elucidate. It remains important, if we are to continue being critical of EdTech, that we have a vision or at least an idea of where we would like things to go. This is a point that recurs regularly in these meetings.
  • Concerns around socialisation and individualisation are raised by the report. The persistent narrative is that technology is individualising (and personalising) for individual learners. This is in contrast to the more socialised physical classroom. This is despite software for interaction being ‘social media’ based technology. So there is a tension between how this technology is presented and perceived.
  • The concept of personalisation and personalised learning has long existed in education (and has been held up as a positive) which makes personalised EdTech immediately very appealing for educational institutions. Does this mean that EdTech doesn’t change much in the paradigm of education? If there has always been a tension between educational goals (e.g. improving the ‘group’ while solidifying the power of elites), is this anything new?
  • The issue of funding was raised. The report did a very good job of outlining how funding partnerships and coalitions have come together around EdTech, particularly during the pandemic. It makes clear how supranational bodies and private companies dominate the funding systems. This dominance of funding by private/semi-private bodies does not mean we should just concede ground to their desires though, under the idea that we need them. This is particularly true as it often feels no that improving education systems for the public good is a hopeless goal due to the dominance of corporate and supranational interests. While it is important not to romanticise the idea of education in the past, it is important to recognise that in the past there was a notion that education systems could continue to improve and be for the public good. Rather, currently it feels the pandemic has only highlighted the problems with agenda setting in secondary and tertiary education. There was a feeling that those who were involved at the ground level (who want to try and shape education to be beneficial on a socialised scale) did not share the same aims as those at decision making levels (who may have preferences for individualised EdTech learning). The raising of funding by the report was therefore very important. 
  • One of the problems with the focus on funding is that it gives huge numbers that are so big as to be difficult to understand in practicality. It is very difficult to know what hundreds of millions of dollars means for a child in a classroom in Geelong, for example. When we look at Neil Selwyn’s work, for example, we see how (in EdTech) nothing ever actually works like it should (or how it is promised to work). There are no smooth, high tech processes in the day-to-day of schooling. Setting up a seminar in zoom is more akin to a teacher wheeling a CRT TV into a classroom than a high-tech future. This makes the report slightly difficult to use in practice. It is interesting (and important) to know how funding is structured but this does not give an idea of what is happening in everyday classrooms.
  • The software itself is not usually designed for teachers and doesn’t even consult teachers on the design process. This means that teachers often have to work around design issues and impracticalities. As a result, EdTech often creates more work for teachers (rather than streamlining work) which is not recognised. There is a complete lack of interoperability between software which creates the same problem. Even for programs which have interoperability (such as Teams) it often automatically shares content you have created (e.g. a recording of a meeting) which may be unethical and undesirable. The difficulties in this software creates problems for parents too. Parents may not understand the quirks of the software and the UX is not designed for them. During pandemic, in which parents are having to interact more with schooling software, this has become a bigger issue. This also (for both students and parents) acts as a form of invisible labour.
  • This raises the issue of what the benefits of having ‘a market’ for EdTech actually are. If interoperability is an issue, why not let Google just handle everything? One issue is that not every school has the same needs and that a one size fits all approach just doesn’t really work. However, it is worth considering if this is just buying into solutionism. Are we suggesting that there will always be a better iteration down the road so we should always engage with the market? When the point of a globalised market is to ‘destabilize’, this may not be a good thing. We may actually just be falling into Chun’s (2019) ‘habit as a means of control’.
  • The report takes a top down perspective on EdTech, which means it lacks a bottom up perspective. This makes it difficult to see how it applies in practice. However, raising issues like agenda setting and ownership of data remains important. It raises ethical issues around the invisible labour mentioned and the extraction of data from individuals. There appears to be no accountability for unethical behaviours currently. 
  • The suggestion of public resources was therefore raised. However, the only Australian example seemed to be the Ultranet which was widely regarded (in the meeting at least) as a failure. Singapore’s Student Learning Space as a part of their Smart Nation government campaign was raised as well. It promised Matrix like results but has ended up mostly being a platform for sharing resources. So public options don’t seem great either. This leads to the fundamental question of why we even try at all with EdTech?
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