Panel 2 (26th May): What is ‘different’ in digital education governance?
From Claire Sowton
*Please note: captions are still to be reviewed. We anticipate this work being complete by Aug 22*What is ‘different’ in digital education governance? Disentangling Continuities and Dis-Continuities through Critical Theories and Methodologies
This panel understands digital education governance as an emerging and pervasive mode of governing education that co-exists with, refracts and re-mediate established practices and methods for making and intervening on education, its regulation and subjects. Within this frame, the panel intends to contribute to current research on digital education governance in two distinctive ways. First, it presents different theoretical and methodological perspectives, namely genealogy/archaeology, assemblage, and topology to reflect on the distinctive epistemic, technological, ethical and political features of this emerging mode of governing. Second, the panel mobilises critical theories and methodologies to disentangle differences and repetitions in the fabric of digital education governance, in an attempt to historicize its emergence as a mode of governance that stands in a paradoxical relation of continuity and discontinuity with already established modes of governing education. The aim of the panel is to problematise and reshape critical methodologies, providing analytical tools to bring different perspectives on digital governance and its entanglement between digitization and datafication, together with the enactment of automated forms of knowledge production and management.
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, inclusive education has seen a revamp. The pandemic exposed old and new inequities and deepened the digital divide, yet it was also described as an opportunity to rethink inclusive education by international organisations and state governments alike (UN, 2020). However, scholars in the field of digital education governance and inclusion have long problematised the alignment of inclusive principles, technological quick-fixes of old problems, and economic advantages of EdTech companies in advancing solutions in public education (Sancho-Gil et al, 2020, Selwyn, 2017). In this paper, we mobilise education assemblage theory and rhizomatic analysis (Deleuze and Guattari, 2020; Youdell, 2015) to problematise emergency solutions for inclusive digital governance by challenging binary epistemic and ontological divisions of included/excluded, vulnerable/non vulnerable subjects, modern/colonial, local/global (Santos, 2018). Presenting findings from the one-year project DIGITAL in a time of Coronavirus and drawing upon policy analysis and qualitative interviews with teachers, principals, and community leaders from six countries in the Global North and South (Italy, England, Malaysia, Australia, US and Chile), we discuss five analytical concepts to rethink current understandings and practices of inclusion and their relationship with government through digital and non-digital technologies. We problematise dominant (Global North) approaches on digital education governance and inclusion and illustrate how assemblage theory can provide both policy and pedagogical tools to reshape the entanglement of digital technologies, vulnerabilities and exclusion, and challenge narrow and Eurocentric constructions of the digital divide by re-habilitating non-scientific knowledges, local possibilities and expertise and enabling a multiplicity of subjective experiences.
Topological Methodologies for Studying Feedback Loops as Specific Forms of Digital (Self-)Governance
While online learning environments raise questions about how to give feedback to (massive audiences of) students who are generally hidden behind their screens, learning analytics (LA) emerged as a field of applied research that claims to ‘solve’ such issues through dashboards with ‘objective’ data (re)presentations (Tsai, Perrotta, & Gašević, 2020). Specifically, it is argued that LA dashboards support students’ self-regulation as the presented data ‘feed’ independent decision-making (ibid). However, the undergirding big data techniques have also been associated with regimes of regulatory governance that, instead, diminish self-regulation by establishing “[…] a recursive feedback loop which allows dynamic adjustment of both the standard-setting and behaviour modification phases of the regulatory cycle” (Yeung, 2017, p. 122). This recursiveness makes feedback loops different from processes of self-regulation but also from forms of anticipatory or predictive governance, the latter steering away from predefined risks rather than towards cyclically defined standards. Studying feedback loops thus also requires a methodology that accounts for the cyclical nature of the interactions between people and technologies involved in LA. With this paper, we roll out a topological methodology that taps into these intricacies by connecting perspectives from data (processing) policies, educational design teams, teachers and students (see Decuypere, 2021). We will further show how this topological methodology approaches the feedback loop as a single continuous form of (self-)governance, which also helps seeing how it is different from other forms of feedback and governance in online learning environments.
In this presentation, I mobilize a Foucauldian archaeological method (Foucault, 1969) to reflect on the epistemic continuities and discontinuities across established modes of governing education based on data, evidence-driven management and the imperative of improvement (e.g. large-scale and comparative assessments – see Addey et al. 2017) and emerging practices of digital education governance (Williamson, 2017; Landri, 2018). Specifically, through an archaeological gaze (Grimaldi, 2019), I will interrogate both the ontology of digital education governance and its epistemology, discussing what is different in the production of the ‘subjects’ and objects’ of governing practices and what is not. I will also focus on (dis)continuities in how specific governing subjects and objects are recognised and treated and in what authorities are assigned to hold and care for them at times and can decide about them, and according to what criteria. Finally, I will discuss what methods are employed to make distinct types of operations on/with/through them; and in what network of institutions and practices these specific subjects and objects are both enmeshed and defined. I will argue that the epistemic space of digital education governance presents multiple points of transference and articulation with the episteme of modern education governance and notably: a) the ontological definition of the educational (both as subject and object) as a paradoxical figure of knowledge that is knowable and predictable; b) the ethical radicalization of the promise of perfection; and c) the epistemological centrality of the datafication. At the same time, I will emphasize automation and the aspirations towards automated management as a key point of epistemic discontinuity that radically decenters the human as the reflexive subject of educational governance and creates the conditions of possibility for the emergence of digital subjects as radically heterogeneous entities.