The death of the educative subject? The limits of criticality under datafication

This article, written with Luci Pangrazio, argues that amidst ongoing technological and social change, there are implications for critical education that result from a data-driven model of digital governance. We argue that traditional notions of critique which rely upon the deconstruction and analysis of texts are increasingly redundant in the age of datafication, where the production of information is automated and hidden. We then explain the concept of the ‘educative subject’ within the liberal education tradition, with specific focus on the role of critique and reflexivity in their becoming.We explore how the logics and practices of datafication and automation pose unprecedented challenges to the educative subject, examining three features in particular: the creation of data subjects; the rise of correlationalism; and the move from representation to operationalisation. We conclude by outlining a research agenda to address the existential challenges posed by data education.

The article can be found here.

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Tracing the enduring effects of community arts programs (TEECAPs)

I am just beginning a new three year project funded by the Wallace Foundation in the US.

The key aim of this study is to explore the long-term effects of participating in out-of-school (OST) arts education programs serving young people from marginalized communities. The project will delve into the life experiences of people who have participated in OST arts programs to determine how they perceive their participation affected their lives over the long-term. We will examine the potential shaping force of OST programs on identity formation and its influences on lifecourse trajectories that might derive from participation in non-formal arts education. By doing so, we will also shed light on the capacity of creative communities of practice and OST programs, in particular, to impact the life experiences of marginalized youth.

The rationale for the project is that although Education policy set by federal, state, and local agencies throughout the U.S. Australia and the UK promotes the value and need for creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, yet opportunities for rich learning experiences that promote agency and a sense of belonging in relation to normative institutions are subject to racial and class divisions. Research that examines the ways in which a broad range of life-shaping capacities develop outside formal school settings can provide insight into the influence OST programs have, increasing recognition of their value and the possibilities for enhancing, expanding, and committing funding to OST arts education. 

The initiative will theorize and capture potential long-term outcomes of OST arts programs and then use the findings and implications to influence ongoing and future design, implementation, and evaluation of OST arts programs. This approach will challenge deficit or remedial discourses by reevaluating the educational status of the developmental processes and supportive personal relationships that many staff in this sector value as consequential outcomes, but which are rarely documented as such. The focus on capturing perceived impact over the long-term will be an ambitious and original contribution to the sector.

This project will first, derive narrative accounts of long-term impact from people who attended after-school arts -based programs at least 10 years ago. These accounts will be analyzed thematically and conceptually, and the findings reviewed and validated by three categories of stakeholders: the participants in the study themselves, program-based practitioners, and other stakeholders, including our technical advisory group. In the second phase, findings from these accounts and their subsequent validation will then be used for practical application. It is expected that program leaders, policy makers, researchers and funders will be able to use these findings in the support, design, implementation, improvement, and extension of programs to further test and refine strategies for long-term impacts of considerable social import. A potential third phase (not currently funded) could expand these strategies at scale through research-practice partnerships based on our findings.

I will be working with colleagues from the University of California, Irvine, the University of Kentucky and Parsons School of design, new school New York. This project builds on previous publications examining out-of-school learning and the project YouthSites, (a history of the political economy of after-school learning organisations in London, Vancouver and Toronto).

I will write more here project unfolds

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I was recently interviewed ( in English) for the Spanish-language blog/YouTube channel about some of the long-term implications of the pandemic for how we might think about teaching and learning, schools and education systems. The YouTube interview can be found here.

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Platform Pedagogies –Toward a Research Agenda

In a short “call to action” Luci Pangrazio and I argue that Platforms have become integral to young people’s social and educational lives despite bringing new risks. We explore how a theory of pedagogy can shed new and useful light on interactions on platforms focusing on digital activity in terms of a teaching and learning relationship.

We propose the concept of “platform pedagogies” to protect algorithmic rights and encourage investigation in:

  • how the structure of digital platforms “teach” or train forms of engagement and participation;
  • the literacies individuals draw on as they learn to use digital platforms;
  • what young users know about the ways digital platforms datafy them;
  • how digital platforms reconfigure the relations between the school and home and the nature of teachers’ work;
  • the theory of learning that underpins “educational” platforms.

The piece can be found here.

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Towards platform pedagogies: why thinking about digital platforms as pedagogic devices might be useful

This article has just been published in Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. It is available here.

It argues that in a context where current forms of governance and polity across many societies are engaging with ‘platformisation’, the paper argues that the utility and consequences of using a theory of pedagogy can provide a different way to explain how digital technology might ‘determine’ subjectivity. The paper describes the key process of how platforms work when considered as a ‘pedagogic device’: paying particular attention to how users ‘learn’ or are ‘subjected’ to norms and behaviours. I outline three key dimensions of pedagogicisation, textualisation, templatisation and trainability arguing that digital platforms suggest an eternal process of school enrolment – a classroom we can never leave, a form of certification to which we aspire. To rework Plantin, J. C., Lagoze, C., Edwards, P., & Sandvig, C. [(2018). Infrastructure studies meet platform studies in the age of Google and Facebook. New Media and Society, 20(1), 293–310.] formulation, it articulates a platformisation of pedagogy as much as a pedagogicisation of platforms thus concluding how the process of platformisation itself is part of a wider inscription into forms of pedagogic authority.

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Educational Futures across Generations

Around May last year, I worked with Ola Erstad from the University of Oslo and Pariece Nelligan at Deakin to establish a website called Educational Futures Across Generations. The aim of the project was to bring together various perspectives on the future of education and how the pandemic has and continues to impact education and learning. Scholars from across the globe were invited to submit video responses for up to three questions. The consensus from the submissions so far is that education and learning systems need to adjust to meet significant social and cultural change, especially:

  • how teachers and students access and use technology;
  • in response to the disruption to face-to-face teaching
  • the decline in civic responsibility of schools
  • the everyday commonplace of virtual communities and digital learning.

The website is still evolving with new contributions, and the community of video statements is intended to expand so as to include new stakeholder groups such as teachers and principals in different countries. This project contributes to UNESCO’s Futures Initiative and seeks to broaden and deepen understandings and conversations about the future of education in both a global and local context. An interim repost reflecting on the process and its messages can be found here.

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Digital Rights, Digital Citizenship and Digital Literacy: What’s the Difference?

Thesis the tile of a new essay by Luci Pangrazio and myself published here. We argue that using digital media is complicated. Invasions of privacy, increasing dataveillance, digital-by-default commercial and civic transactions and the erosion of the democratic sphere are just some of the complex issues in modern societies. Existential questions associated with digital life challenge the individual to come to terms with who they are, as well as their social interactions and realities. In this article, we identify three contemporary normative responses to these complex issues –digital citizenship, digital rights and digital literacy. These three terms capture epistemological and ontological frames that theorise and enact (both in policy and everyday social interactions) how individuals learn to live in digitally mediated societies. The article explores the effectiveness of each in addressing the philosophical, ethical and practical issues raised by datafication, and the limitations of human agency as an overarching goal within these responses. We examine how each response addresses challenges in policy, everyday social life and political rhetoric, tracing the fluctuating uses of these terms and their address to different stakeholders. The article concludes with a series of conceptual and practical ‘action points’ that might optimise these responses to the benefit of the individual and society.

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Critical literacy, schooling, and social justice: a review of Allan Luke’s collected essays (2018)

I have just published a review article in the Journal of Curriculum Studies here. I consider Allan Luke’s collected essays republished by Routledge in 2018 as Critical literacy, schooling, and social justice: The selected works of Allan Luke in the wider context of ways that Literacy works to enforce control by elites, the maintenance of high culture, racial stratification, national identity and social injustice through education. I engage with some of the book’s key concerns, investigating: scholarship advancing the politics and practice of language and literacy education; debates around the transformation of schooling for social justice; implications of changes to the political economy of the contem-porary communications order; and finally how the book challenges us to consider the purposes and practices of academic scholarship for critical education. As a collection the book challenges all readers to consider how best to contribute original radical theory to the study of Education.

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Is the re-contextualization of digital writing inevitable, escapable or desirable?

My own contribution to the date on digital writing can be found here. I suggest that Digital writing is constantly in tension with the way that school recontextualizes forms of resistance and vernacular knowledge in order to sustain control and power relations across society. Yet the social practices of digital writing are diverse, wide-ranging and constantly challenge forms of authorized knowledge across a wide variety of different social domains. I consider definitions of digital writing (what is counted as such, by whom and in whose interests?) with the aim of disentangling vernacular and formal ‘digital writing’ literacies. The discourse of other arts fields (film and photography especially) raise questions about the logocentrism of print. Such discussion of variation in forms of expressivity and communication challenges and redefines what counts as writing in a conventional sense. I argue that the balance between school control over what counts as writing is under constant stress and is central to the politics of literacy.

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Reconceptualizing the teaching and learning of Digital Writing

In August 2019 myself and Jessica Zacher Pandya held a seminar held at Deakin University in Melbourne. We invited a range of scholars to bring their different perspectives about digital writing to an open-ended discussion in which we explored some of the important challenges facing the teaching and practice of writing in the 21st century.

The results of the seminar are now available in a series of essays in a special issue of Theory into Practice where we have taken an interdisciplinary and international approach to ‘digital writing.’ There is no single or simple definition of this term that is widely accepted. We used it to encompass all forms of communication, expression and creativity taking place through, on or with digital technologies and digital platforms. It may include traditional forms of ‘writing,’ that is the use of alphabetic text, but it may also include hybrid forms that mix text with image, emoji, sound and music. It may mean the use of recognizable genres and media forms, advertisements, short films, essays or presentations, but may equally involve the production and circulation of these forms to a wide range of readers or viewers online or through direct one-to-one communication. By definition it might include different kinds of writing activities in the production of a particular artefact, such as the use of storyboards, script and directions in the making of a film. Finished products might encompass modes, voices, images and sounds that blend, mutate and continue to evolve. In the issue, authors from Australia, the UK, the US, Singapore, and Chile conceptualize all forms of meaning making, including selfies, being active on social media, contributing to blogs or forums, texting, extended filmmaking, animation, and complex design as what we are calling digital writing.

One particular area of focus in this issue is on the development, or progressions, of writing in curriculum and policy. A concept of digital writing (that is, the capacity to communicate across media rather than simply in print) ought to be amenable to being mapped along lines similar to those we already use to describe stages of print-writing development.The authors represented in this issue suggest, that principles of progression and development can thus be approached from looking at: individual learners’ growth; communication with and across peers and communities; and study of curriculum rubric and assessment measures

We also asked authors to make sense of the interrelationship of meta-literacy writing principles (narrative, editing, composition) across different media forms and, conversely, to make sense of the interrelationship of artistic traditions and forms through the lens of learning to write . Thirdly we asked authors to address policy and practice implications of the changing writing landscape for teachers and teacher education. These are always evolving, and the current health and economic crises will only pressure national curriculum and examination boards to reflect on and perhaps change writing standards in shifting times.

The joint introduction to the issue is available here.

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