it’s tempting straight away to see a whole range of educational platforms and apps as condensed forms of surveillance capitalism (though we might just as easily invoke ‘platform capitalism’). The classroom behaviour monitoring app ClassDojo, for example, is a paradigmatic example of a successful Silicon Valley edtech business, with vast collections of student behavioural data that it is monetizing by selling premium features for use at home and offering behaviour reports to subscribing parents. With its emphasis on positive behavioural reinforcement through reward points, it represents a marriage of Silicon Valley design with Skinner’s aspiration to create ‘technologies of behaviour’. ClassDojo amply illustrates the combination of behavioural data extraction, behaviourist psychology and monetization strategies that underpin surveillance capitalism as Zuboff presents it.
Zuboff then goes beyond human-machine confluences in the workplace to consider the instrumentation and orchestration of other types of human behaviour. Drawing parallels with the behaviourism of Skinner, she argues that digitally-enforced forms of ‘behavioral modification’ can operate ‘just beyond the threshold of human awareness to induce, reward, goad, punish, and reinforce behaviour consistent with “correct policies”’, where ‘corporate objectives define the “policies” toward which confluent behaviour harmoniously streams’ (413). Under conditions of surveillance capitalism, Skinner’s behaviourism and Pentland’s social physics spill out of the lab into homes, workplaces, and all the public and private space of everyday life–ultimately turning the world into a gigantic data science lab for social and behavioural experimentation, tuning and engineering.
For surveillance capitalists human learning is inferior to machine learning, and urgently needs to be improved by gathering together humans and machines into symbiotic systems of behavioural control and management.
With the advance of AI-based technologies into schools and universities, policy researchers may need to start interrogating the policies encoded in the software as well as the policies inscribed in government texts. These new programmable policies potentially have a much more direct influence on ‘correct’ behaviours and maximum outcomes by instrumenting and orchestrating activities, tasks and behaviours in educational institutions.
Much like the demise of the innovation on the web and within the blogosphere as the result of the commodification of social media by silo corporations like Facebook, Twitter, and others around 2006, the technology space in education has become too addicted to corporate products and services. Many of these services cover some broad functionality, but they have generally either slowed down or quit innovating, quit competing with each other, are often charging exorbitant prices, and frequently doing unethical things with the data they receive from their users. The major difference between the two spaces is that Big Social Media is doing it on a much bigger scale and making a lot more money and creating greater damage as a result.
Instead, let me make some recommendations to thought leaders in the space for more humanistic and holistic remedy. Follow the general philosophies and principles of the IndieWeb movement. Dump (or at least gradually move away from) your corporately built LMS and start building one of your own. Ideally, open source what you build so that others can improve it and build upon it. In the end, you, your classes, your departments, and your institutions will be all the stronger for it. You can have more direct control over your own data (and that of your students, which deserves to be treated more ethically). You can build smaller independent pieces that are interchangeable and inter-operable. The small pieces may also allow new unpredictable functionalities when put together. You can build to make better user interfaces, better functionality, and get what you’d like to have instead of just what you’re given.
the technology space in education has become too addicted to corporate products and services.
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First, we recognized almost at once that hooks wouldn’t make an LMS, that the very structure of the LMS, the assumptions upon which it is based, the pedagogies it has baked into it, the way that it reinforces patriarchal, capitalist values would never be worth a critical feminist remodel. Erected as it is from the concrete and girders of a predominantly white male educational psychology, the LMS would essentially need to be razed and the ground laid with new pasture before a space more viable, more critical, more feminist, more liberative could be grown in its place.