A spectrum of surveillance: Charting functions of epistemic inequality across EdTech platforms in the post-COVID-19 era
Covid-19 and the public health policies emerging in response have laid bare a multiplicity of issues related to educational access and knowledge equity on a global scale. Among these, the quick shift to online and hybrid education models led teachers to adapt a plethora of digital platforms to deliver content and sponsor interactions). Such platforms range from institutionally sanctioned (and subscribed) Learning Management Systems (LMSs) to software provided by organizations beyond the institution and can pose a threat to student data and privacy. Data surveillance in educational contexts is not a new issue, nor is it only a strictly digital problem. However, the current milieu of constant and continuing public health crises has led to more frequent, uncritical, and hurried adoption of learning technologies. This article challenges professionals in higher education specifically to take a more critical look at the various EdTech platforms they are, have, and will adopt in the post-COVID-19 era, and the spectrum of surveillance such platforms enact. Through a review of common entities such as LMSs, Google Workspace for Education, and Zoom video conferencing software, this article demonstrates how these technologies place both teachers and students in a relationship to data and learning characterised by “epistemic inequality” or “unequal access to learning imposed by private commercial mechanisms''. By taking a closer look at the problematic surveillance functioning across EdTech, this article makes a case for Commons-based Peer Production communities as equitable, open educational alternatives that have resisted market-based neoliberalism and surveillance capitalism.
The Covid-19 pandemic led to dramatic increases in Edtech adoption at all levels of education. Such adoption was often hurried and uncritical, furthermore.
Both traditional Edtech such as Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and more recent educational and communication platforms introduced by “big tech” actors such as Zoom and Google sponsor unethical surveillance and datafication of students, leading to dehumanizing educational models. However, such surveillance exists on a spectrum and LMSs are much less exploitative than “big tech” projects.
Educators at all levels, but especially postsecondary, should practice criticality when adopting and using Edtech, and offer students opportunities to better understand issues related to surveillance, privacy, and data extraction.
Educators should consider engaging students in more ethical models of digital and non-digital education platforms and projects, such as those offered by Commons-based Peer Production (CBPP) projects like Wikipedia.
Vetter, M. A., & McDowell, Z. J. (2023). A spectrum of surveillance: Charting functions of epistemic inequality across EdTech platforms in the post-COVID-19 era. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 20(2). https://doi.org/10.53761/1.20.02.02