Some notes towards a co-operative pedagogy of struggle

ONE: neoliberalism as a global pedagogy of dispossession

Neoliberalism is a global pedagogical project aimed at the dispossession of free time, and education is a central institutional means for its realisation. This project aims at reinscribing all of social life inside the market and for the extraction of value. Thus, education is a central institutional means for production and control, that is embedded in the fabric of neoliberalism’s social production, and that amplifies its effects. For Stephen Ball it is important to recognise both the factors that make-up neoliberalism, and the mechanisms through which it is enacted. Ball analyses several factors of neoliberalism (pp. 3-4).

  • The economisation of everyday, social life, in order to realise new opportunities for profit.
  • Reconfiguring governance through an appeal to the entrepreneurial self, with the State as regulator and market-maker.
  • The State acting transnationally in concert with supranational bodies like the IMF, the European Central Bank and the World Bank, imposes the control that a free market desires, and removes impediments to the logic of the market.
  • There are several active waves of neo-liberalism: proto (the intellectual project of Hayek and Friedman); roll-back (of Keynesianism); and roll-out (of new state forms, modes of governance and regulation).
  • The creation and extraction of value is predicated upon mobility and connectivity.
  • The (networked) structures that enable neoliberalism are polymorphic and isomorphic.

According to Ball (pp. 12-13), these factors are carried or spread via transnational advocacy networks or TANS, motivated by shared values steeped in marketization and the private, in order to leverage tacit or active consent through: information politics (the ability to call-up data quickly); symbolic politics (the ability to tell meaningful, common sense stories); leverage politics (the ability to call on powerful actors); and accountability politics (the ability to use the rule of money to bring pressure on political actors). This process connects and reveals networks of co-operation seeking to co-opt education for-profit, from philanthropic groups sponsoring MOOCs in concert with academics, through to activist groups like The Heritage Foundation, which declares: 

Subtly or overtly, each generation passes American exceptionalism to the next, be it through innovations like Henry Ford and his assembly line; or Thomas Edison and the light bulb; or Steve Jobs and the iPhone, iPod and iPad; or through the encouraging words of parents to their children, assuring them that they can grow up to be anything they like if they put their minds to it and work hard.

Revealing this process in a participatory way matters because, as I noted about whether universities care too much about students:

We are witnessing a recalibration and enclosure of the idea of the student, not as a co-operative, associational subject, but as a neoliberal agent, whose future has become indentured. This subject is individuated, enclosed and disciplined through her debts and is enmeshed inside a pedagogy of debt, in order that s/he becomes entrepreneurial in her endeavours and outlook. The idea of education… is of indentured study, where the risk of failure is not borne socially, but is transferred to the individual. Thus, the [UK Coalition Government] seeks to extend New Labour’s choice agenda, driven by metrics, data and money, as the university is restructured as a new public service. In this way the student-as-entrepreneur, and data/analytics about satisfaction, retention, progression etc. are used as mechanisms to discipline academic labour. The relationships between academic and student are recalibrated in the face of the rule of money and the cybernetic techniques that underpin it…

This type of problem-based thinking ignores politics and ideology, and is based around the kind of risk-management and algorithm-based high frequency trading that underpins entrepreneurial activity in the financial markets. It is almost wholly divorced from the realities of the humane relationships that academics seek to develop with their students. The corporatisation of data, underscored by profit, negates our humanity.

There are then, as series of tensions inside the University. The University is a confused space that is being restructured around money, profit, performance management, customer relationship management and so on. It is from inside this new public service that [Michael] Gove declared that he wished students to benefit from “the incredible number of opportunities offered by twenty-first century capitalism.” This is the fantasy of the entrepreneurial student inside the treadmill logic of business-as-usual.

Critical then, is an understanding of how cybernetic techniques abstract our everyday existences as students-teachers so that they are controlled and entrepreneurial. The step-beyond that is to describe how critical pedagogies of co-operation and association might be developed that are public, radical and participatory. Or, as Thorburn argues, we need to find mechanisms for actually existing autonomy.

TWO: the Cybernetic Hypothesis as pedagogic project

For Marx in the Grundrisse, as the general intellect of society was appropriated by capital through the application of science and then congealed inside machinery, techniques and technologies for control became crucial. In particular, a culture was created inside which both the high-speed circulation of commodities could become a normatively good thing, and unproductive time was perceived to be unethical. One outcome of this process was the use of technologies to open-up and monitor labour, including academic scholarship, in order that production processes could be systematised and made more lean or efficient. Thus, the collective Tiqqun argued that:

That is to say, cybernetics is not, as we are supposed to believe, a separate sphere of the production of information and communication, a virtual space superimposed on the real world. No, it is, rather, an autonomous world of apparatuses so blended with the capitalist project that it has become a political project, a gigantic “abstract machine” made of binary machines run by the Empire, a new form of political sovereignty, which must be called an abstract machine that has made itself into a global war machine.

As a result, technology has become increasingly inserted inside hierarchies of control, so that judgements about performance can be exerted instantaneously and systemic risk reduced. The overlaying of technological determinants onto societies that can be connected through these flows of data and networks encourages a universal belief in rationality; that the only path to truth is through big data and learning analytics, rather than co-operative judgement.

Thus, as Joss Winn in his notes on The Cybernetic Hypothesis, states:

Cybernetics as manifest in the Internet, ICT and the ‘new economy’, has definitively supplanted the liberal hypothesis. Cybernetics includes liberalism and at the same time transcends it. The critique of liberalism is no longer worth the effort because liberalism is obsolete, nothing more than a ‘residual justification’ for the crimes of the ‘new model’, that is cybernetics.

The development of technocratic, data-driven structures that manage risk and promote control underpins the cybernetic hypothesis. The emergence of cybernetics focused upon the science of control mechanisms, through which the exchange of information would create stability. This is especially important in maintaining the hegemonic power of transnational finance capital through a system that uses digital technologies like high-frequency algorithms to make decisions at high speed. In legitimating an expanding system of hierarchical control that protects the momentum of an inflationary system, information-work and the use of data-mining or analytics to generalise, monitor and control behaviours is vital.

Education forms a critical new terrain inside which high technology is used for control. This includes developing new services like learning analytics, implementing mechanisms for performance management, and predicting futures as educational spaces become financialised through student loans and bonds. Technology is used to reinforce regimes of biopower that seek the panoptic monitoring, surveillance and measurement of all activity. In this view, cybernetics is ‘not just a technological history but a history of the changing social networks that connected these technologies to the function of the state and its management’ (Miller Medina, 2005, p. 17). Thus, economic and technological interdependence restrict human agency and the possibilities for emancipation because cybernetic rationality demands and reinforces certain digital and material behaviours, practices, attributes and competencies. In turn, this crystallises the power of technocrats, administrators or education corporations for risk management, as well as the identification of entrepreneurial behavours.

The fight against forms of cybernetic control is not one of destroying or refusing high technology, but rather focuses upon using technology and technique to reveal the internal, totalising dynamics of capitalism. From this position, alternatives rooted in self-organisation and a societal complexity based on variety, improbability, and adaptability emerge. For Tiqqun, this forms the negation of the cybernetic hypothesis through a return to what it means to be human. A critical role for educationalists using technology inside-and-against the cybernetic hypothesis is to develop educational opportunities that highlight the development of counter-narratives of commons, co-operation, sharing, and openness, and against the separation and alienation of money, price, quality, and competition. As Tronti (p. 105) argued, at issue is the extent to which the forms of control that pervade human existence inside the social factory can be revealed and alternatives critiqued so that ‘capital itself [] becomes uncovered, at a certain level of its development, as a social power’.

This uncovering of a social power with a desire for order, certitude and totality, has been revealed increasingly as a new governance mentality: the crisis revealed as PRISM; or as mastering the internet; as the State’s securitisation of capitalist social relations; and as the Defence Cyber Protection Partnership, which “is being positioned as a model that other industries can replicate to shore up their security.” This is governmentality through cybernetics in the face of the secular crisis:

the problem that capital faces in managing the antagonism of the working class is that of managing not only a shared (though not necessarily allied or even complementary) resistance but also diverse processes of self-constitution repeatedly escaping its rules and precipitating crisis. Capital accumulation requires that capitalist command (thesis) internalize the hostile self-activities of the working class (antithesis) and convert them into contradictions (synthesis) capable of providing dynamism to what is basically a lifeless set of rules/constraints.

On one level, as Joss Winn argues, “Cybernetics entered into the operation of capitalism with the intention of minimizing uncertainties, incommensurability, the kinds of anticipation problems that can interfere in any commodity transaction. It contributes to consolidating the basis for the installation of capitalism’s mechanisms, to oiling Capital’s abstract machine.” On another, as Tiqqun noted cybernetics and systems thinking enable the State to introduce surveillance and data capture devices in the “construction of a decentralised real-time gridding system. The common intent of these devices is total transparency, an absolute correspondence between the map and the territory, a will to knowledge accumulated to such degree that it becomes a will to power.” This neoliberal will-to-power forms an abstract pedagogic project.

THREE: an abstract pedagogic project.

Werner Bonefeld has argued that in order to understand the operating and organising principles on which capitalism is based, we need to understand the processes through which labour or work inside capitalism is abstracted and the relationship of abstraction with time. Understanding time is critical because it underpins how we analyse the production, circulation and exchange of commodities, and their relationship to value or the production of surplus value. Critiquing this is pedagogically powerful, and sits in antithesis to the pedagogical imperative of neoliberalism to abstract life and surplus value. Social production in capitalism is based on the use of labour-power to produce commodities that can be exchanged in the market and realise value that can be set in motion once more as Capital. Thus, Bonefeld quotes Marx’s work in the Critique (vol. 29, p. 286) that ‘[o]n the one hand, commodities must enter the exchange process as objectified universal labour time, on the other hand, the labour time of individuals becomes objectified universal labour time only as a result of the exchange process’. The reality of this is the deep interconnections between processes of production, circulation and exchange, and time, because capitalist social relations emerge from a tension between those who would invoke time-based efficiencies to raise the rate of surplus value extraction and those fighting for more free-time. Time is money and money is time. Bonefeld states:

If then, capitalism reduces everything to time, an abstract time, divisible into equal, homogeneous, and constant units that move on from unit to unit, dissociated from concrete human circumstances and purposes, then, time really is everything. If ‘time is everything, [then] man is nothing; he is, at the most, time’s carcase’ (Marx, 1976, p. 127). Marx expresses the same idea in Capital arguing that the worker is ‘nothing more then [sic.] personified labour-time’ (1983, p. 233). (Bonefeld, 2010, p. 7).

This process of abstraction is critical and it is reinforced educationally. Abstract labour as it is revealed inside-and-against exchange in the circulation of commodities has a value related to time, and specifically as that time is described socially in the market. Central to this idea of abstraction as against concrete labour is the social character of labour in capitalism. Capitalism consists of private labour, purchased for its ability to become labour-power, which under the direction of the capitalist becomes “directly social in its character… [as] socially determined individual production” (Marx, Grundrisse, p. 83). The process of exchange reveals the value of the commodity and the socially-defined time that went into it. As Bonefeld notes (pp. 10-11), this demands equality between commodities in the market based upon time: “Exchange cannot take place without equality, and equality not without commensurability… What the commodities have therefore in common is human labour in the abstract and this labour comprises a purely social reality.” This social reality is based on labour-time expended, and in the drive for productivity or value-for-money or against idle-time, time subsumes people as individual labourers.

This subsumption is driven by the fact that the measure of value is socially necessary labour-time, which objectifies or abstracts the individual from her self. In the production of commodities this labour-power is abstracted from the labourer, and abstracts her from her labour, her products, her time, and her self. Marx (Capital, Vol. 1) viewed socially necessary labour-time as the source of all value. Rather than being conceived of as units of labour measured in hours or days, it is conceived as the amount of labour time required by a worker (or academic/student) of average productivity (and therefore skill), working with tools (like learning technologies) of the average productive potential, required to produce a given commodity (inside the cybernetic hypothesis this might include immaterial, informational or data-driven commodities). Thus, in the higher education context, more-skilled academics reduce the average time and increase productivity, whilst unskilled academics contribute less social value. The current discourse around the knowledge economy, focused upon generating new, technical skills for jobs that have not yet emerged in the name of economic growth, forms part of this agenda. Abstraction is thus a pedagogic project, enforced through neoliberal politics and the mechanics of cybernetics.

Revealing the relationships between increasingly abstracted labour and reduced socially necessary labour time enables value to be seen as a complex social relation, rather than a material practice. This also reveals the pedagogic principles behind the repetition of technology and its automation of creative tasks that abstract academic work from the staff and students engaged in those practices. This level of abstraction of the academic’s labour-power from the process and reality of capitalist work enables social domination, which is impersonal, increasingly rationalised, and managerially constrained. Technology in the knowledge economy reveals how the autonomy and agency of academics and students as knowledge workers can be marginalised where they have no proprietary knowledge that adds to a university’s relative surplus value. Moreover, techniques and technologies enables capital, in the various forms of higher education, to disperse production organisationally through home-working, outsourcing, MOOCs and privatisation into society, in order to remove academic labour’s collective, social power.

This then refocuses pedagogy on the production of the abstracted, entrepreneurial individual capable of regulating herself against abstracted time, both in the here-and-now of producing commodities, and in the indentured future that demands that fees-as-debts are paid-back. Both the present and the future are claimed for Capital as abstracted labour. It is crucial for the expansion of the system based upon value-in-motion, or the extraction of surplus value, that this abstract version of labour working in an universe of abstracted time, is maintained. This rests on the control exerted over labour’s collective, social power. The discipline of the market demands the discipline of capitalist time, more productive labour-time, and a reduction of free-time. Capturing free-time and alienating it from the individual so that it becomes productive of surplus value in some form (through commodifying new services, analytics, relationship management and so on) is a critical, neoliberal, pedagogic project. A question is then, is it possible to liberate time and sociability from capital? If so, can this be enacted co-operatively? 

FOUR: for a pedagogy of struggle

Liberating time from Capital demands really existing autonomy. It demands struggle. For Tiqqun:

“Autonomy” means that we make the worlds that we are grow. The Empire, armed with cybernetics, insists on autonomy for it alone, as the unitary system of the totality: it is thus forced to annihilate all autonomy whenever it is heterogeneous. We say that autonomy is for everyone and that the fight for autonomy has to be amplified. The present form taken on by the civil war is above all a fight against the monopoly on autonomy. That experimentation will become the “fecund chaos,” communism, the end of the cybernetic hypothesis.”

For Miller Medina (p. 22), attempting to recover the governing principles in Chile from 1964-73, “This history, therefore, is not just a technological history but a history of the changing social networks that connected these technologies to the function of the state and its management.” Moreover, the deployment of technologies throughout the State’s institutions “helped solidify a particular articulation of the state that was supported by new claims to legitimate power” (Miller Medina, p. 96). This is not necessarily the co-option of institutions, technologies and techniques for Capital. The example of Chile under President Allende offers a critical analysis of a different possibility. Miller Medina (p. 252) quotes Allende:

We set out courageously to build our own [cybernetic] system in our own spirit. What you will hear about today is revolutionary – not simply because this is the first time it has been done anywhere in the world. It is revolutionary because we are making a deliberate effort to hand to the people the power that science commands, in a form in which the people can themselves use it.

Yet Miller Medina (p. 333) also demonstrates how co-operative technical and technological practices tend to be co-opted in the name of repression:

After the military coup in 1973 the Pinochet government used computer technology in the service of its political repression, surveillance, and disappearance, policies that were part of Operation Condor. Although we are still uncovering information on Operation Condor and do not know the full extent of this cooperative intelligence network, available documents from U.S. and Latin American archives describe the Condor data bank — modeled after the police network Interpol, without its judicial safeguards — and the encrypted Condortel telex network.

One of the questions for radical academics is how to bring alive the co-operative, participatory histories and traditions that have existed, in order to reveal possible alternatives to the neoliberal pedagogic project. This involves uncovering the mechanisms through which academics and practitioners are empowered to say “no” through networks of solidarity and co-operative practices. These examples might include critiques of the following. 

  • The governance principles that underpin the responses of the Co-operative movement to the crisis, not in order to re-establish business-as-usual, but to demonstrate actually existing co-operative, social production.
  • The transnational nature of the co-operatives movement, and the importance of associational democracy in social production and consumption. How might these associational networks enable organic intellectuals to emerge and new ideas to take root against hegemony?
  • The situated, local importance of community co-operative learning trusts as networks of mutual support, like the Burton Co-operative Learning Trust or the Cornwall schools co-operative. Is it possible to use such co-operatives to challenge, occupy and reinvent ideas of impact, observation, gifted-and-talented, school improvement etc.? How might extended partnerships of young people, providers, educators, academics, businesses, parents, work in peer-support groups and wider networks to refuse to be subject to value-in-motion?
  • The models for mutualism that exist in football governance through industrial and provident societies and community interest companies. How might these act as nodes of solidarity that enable association to reinforce co-operative, social production of free-time away from the market?

At issue is whether actions that demonstrate the solidarity of liberation can form a pedagogic project that forms a lived social critique of capitalism, in order to offer an alternative vision for society. In educational terms this then questions whether there are other co-operative governing principles for universities or for higher education at the level of society. This demands that we ask what education is, before we ask what it is for, and it that we see education as a process of becoming that refuses socially-necessary labour time and abstracted labour. It also demands that we liberate free time, and this takes courage in the face of the discipline of the State and the market enacted cybernetically through analytics, big data, biometrics, drones, and attenuated ideas of privacy.

One part of this approach to liberation is to think about mechanisms that disrupt the circuits and production of capital as a social system. These may include renewing Ball’s neoliberal factors co-operatively.

  • The sociability of everyday life, in order to realise new opportunities for co-operation and against value.
  • Reconfiguring governance through an appeal to the co-operating self, with the public and the mutual at its heart.
  • Co-operatives acting transnationally in association and mutuality, to define alternative value-forms that are against the logic of the market.
  • To consider several active waves of co-operation: proto (revealing the intellectual project of the socio-cultural histories of co-operatives); roll-back (of neoliberalism); and roll-out (of new co-operative forms, modes of governance and regulation).
  • The creation and extraction of co-operation is predicated upon mutualism and association rather than individuated mobility and connectivity.
  • The mutual structures that enable co-operation are polymorphic and isomorphic.

In this process we might reduce abstraction and witness new forms of sociability based upon co-operating, rather than having our time and labour co-opted. A different way of connecting our fragmentary natures beyond the market may enable humanity to be made concrete and celebrated. A refusal of abstraction and individuation entails a refusal of the cybernetic hypothesis that maintains the neoliberal pedagogic project. In critiquing the relationships between the individual and the State-market duality in Discipline and Punish, Foucault (p. 138) argued that “These relationships take the form of a multiplicity of often minor processes, of different origin and scattered location across and beyond the state. These overlap, repeat, or imitate one another according to their domain of application, they converge and gradually produce the blueprint of a general method.” The question is whether co-operative education might enable spaces and times (or space-times) for life to be lived as an associational, mutual, transitional process, rather than as an outcomes-based blueprint.

Talk: The challenges of resilient learning and the production of a university experience

On Thursday 20th June, I’m keynoting the University of the West of Scotland Learning and Teaching Conference. My talk is entitled:

The challenges of resilient learning and the production of a university experience

My slides are here.

The Spotify playlist that accompanies the talk is here.

The talk is a triptych: hope; despair; and courage (#solidarity).

The talk may follow this path:

  1. We are told that business-as-usual has been disrupted but that there is no alternative to finding new mechanisms for growth. We hide from the narrative that it is easier to imagine the end-of-the-world than it is to imagine the end-of-capitalism. Yet this state of grace is all we are taught, and even worse it feels like it is all that we imbibe with our mother’s milk.
  2. Hope: if only we can find the superhero inside, who is able to mange debt and disruption, and in the process become resilient, there would be no need for alternatives. Maybe resilience gives us hope?
  3. Despair: look behind the curtain and you see: the crash in real wages; a student debt bubble; rising youth unemployment; the State and its institutions disciplining and delegitimizing its students’ voices; energy and environmental crises; and an outpouring of anger. Is this what business-as-usual looks like? Is there really no alternative? Will becoming resilient make a difference?
  4. Courage (#solidarity): how do we work to make hope possible? What can we learn from critical pedagogy? What can we learn from historical and current alternatives? How do we look beyond the market and the knowledge economy, to manage our historical materialism in association and democratically? How do we liberate knowledge from the University for global knowing? How does hope rest on courage?

And what, exactly, is the role of the University in this process of disruption and in making alternatives?

I am indebted to Joss Winn, Mike Neary, Sarah Amsler and Andrew McGettigan for helping me to find some slides/images, some words and some courage.

Making the Cloud work for you: institutional risk and governance

On Thursday I am presenting at BETT13 on “Making the Cloud work for you”, with a subtitle of “institutional risk and governance”.

My presentation is here:

These are my notes for those slides, which are a mix of a case study of learning and teaching a De Montfort University and an approach to personal/institutional risk.

SLIDE 3: thinking about the pedagogic development of cloud-based technologies has amplified issues around the following [risks].

  1. How does the use of cloud-based technologies affect how an institution maintains a level of curriculum control or control of curriculum change-management processes? Control might be required for quality assurance, curriculum transparency or accountability. Where academic autonomy and the use of technologies in the curriculum is devolved, how do cloud-based technologies affect ad hoc curriculum design/delivery, as opposed to strategic control. How do staff digital/technical literacies affect this approach? What are the implications where staff are operating beyond a hosted/in-house LMS?
  2. How do institutions support/nurture in-house skills development? Do they focus on what is of quality or is distinctive or is interesting, and then outsource or migrate that which is deemed boring (depending on risks to data etc.)?
  3. How do institutions analyse and prepare for elasticity of demand and new service-provision, where technologies or techniques are in the cloud? How d they focus on developing technologies that will enable emerging and future web applications?

SLIDE 4: this is DMU’s Core/Arranged/Recommended/Recognised technology model. This is defined as follows:

Core: integrated corporate systems, including the Blackboard VLE, the staff/student portal, library management systems, MS Lync, streaming media (the DMU video server), dropbox facilities like Zend, and the DMU Commons (our.dmu), are available to students/staff to use with the devices and services of their choosing, and extended through tools that the institution arranges, recommends or recognises.

Arranged: accounts are created on key plug-ins or extensions beyond the core, like plagiarism detection tools (Turnitin), external blogs and wikis, like Campus Pack, and synchronous classrooms (WizIQ, WebEx).

Recommended: recommendations are made with supporting training materials, for connecting key, web-based tools into the core/arranged mix. This might include using RSS to bring in content from Twitter, SlideShare, iTunes or YouTube, or supporting SKYPE.

Recognised: the institution is aware that students and staff are experimenting with other technologies and maintains a horizon-scanning brief, until and unless a critical mass of users require the recommendation of specific tools.

SLIDES 6-11: whether or not one buys into the critiques of how neoliberal policy is opening-up higher education, it is clear that HE is seen as a marketised space into which services can be sold. Lipman defined this as a $2.5 trillion market in education that is restructuring the reality of education and training. This has ramifications for those who work in institutions that are, at least in-part, publically/charitably-funded, governed and regulated. How value is defined in that restructured space, beyond the rule of money, needs to be assessed, including which services will be outsourced to the cloud and why. This is more important because, as Macquarie Capital Equities Research House argues, the market for cloud-based solutions is growing and becoming more aggressively competitive. Witness Google’s Knowledge Graph and the application of big data/semantic web to web-based service development. The rate of profit is critical here in how it affects the restructuring of businesses that operate “the cloud” and which will be looking for new markets, and for those universities which are being recalibrated through HE policy as businesses and which need to extract value from their operations. UK Government policy, the pronouncements of UK Vice-Chancellors like Malcolm Gilles, and reports from think-tanks like Educause create a cultural space inside civic society that helps to reframe educational policy around deterministic uses of technology.

SLIDE 12: Stakeholders inside universities might reflect on how technology is deployed inside hegemonic, fiscal “realities”. These include the following.

  • The drive for public-private partnerships, or private finance initiatives that drive efficiencies, value-for-money etc.. This underpins ideas of service re-engineering, outsourcing of services to lower-wage/cost spaces, and consultancy for new services. This is about disciplining labour and extracting surplus value from outsourced services.
  • The generation of discourses of efficiency/productivity that are rooted though analytics, big data, the reduced circulation time of information-based commodities, changes in production through outsourcing, and workload/workforce monitoring.
  • The legitimation of further innovation and R&D, through discourses of value-for-money, commercial efficiency, business process re-engineering (c.f. European Vision 2020; HEFCE 2012).
  • The need to maintain technological innovation, in order to stay one step ahead of competitors. This connects to Marx’s idea of the moral depreciation of technologies/machines, and the need for constant innovation/value-creation.

Each of these pressures act on universities, and catalyse the need to consider cloud-based migration.

SLIDES 14-17: the second big risk is to users and institutions of placing data in the Cloud, especially where that data is stored on services hosted by a corporation based in the USA, or where hardware is physically located in the USA. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology have both raised concerns over the Justice Department’s use of courts in the USA to subpoena access to data that has left a user’s device and is stored in “the cloud”.

SLIDE 18: universities might wish to consider the following cases, which affect the storage of corporate assets (research data, personal information, communications, assessments and evaluations etc.) in the cloud.

  • Twitter: the EFF/American Civil Liberties Union reported on the U.S. Department of Justice’s subpoena to Twitter for Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir’s tweets regarding Wikileaks. The Salon reported:

The information demanded by the DOJ is sweeping in scope. It includes all mailing addresses and billing information known for the user, all connection records and session times, all IP addresses used to access Twitter, all known email accounts, as well as the “means and source of payment,” including banking records and credit cards. It seeks all of that information for the period beginning November 1, 2009, through the present.

  • LinkedIn: opens-up attempts to crack a service, and to enable hackers to aggregate data for future cracking of other services, for instance by confirming guesses about passwords. This enables the comparison of hacked data against pre-computed versions and broadens “guessable” data. How does this affect the recommended technologies that staff/students use? In June 2012, ComputerWorld noted:

More than 60% of the unique hashed passwords that were accessed by hackers from a LinkedIn password database and posted online this week have already been cracked, according to security firm Sophos.

  • Facebook, Google and Twitter: there is now an obligation to identify “trolls”, and internet companies will have to surrender the details of those posting libellous messages. How does this affect staff and student professional development/identities?
  • Leveson: Jeremy Hunt’s private Gmail account, which was used to conduct official business was subject to Freedom of Information, according to the Information Commissioner.

This raises issues of: cloud-based service availability and resilience; confidentiality/privacy and personal/institutional data; copyright/copyleft/content distribution; data security/back-ups control/deletion.

SLIDES 19 and 20 demonstrate how important it is to protect critical assets or data from providers and to think about service resilience, even when dealing with a behemoth like Amazon Web Services which has suffered outages.

SLIDE 21: demonstrates just how ubiquitous cloud services are, and how deeply interconnected they are to broader geographies of transnational finance capital and corporate governance. Thinking through what transnational corporate governance means for your institutional data/services/technologies is critical.

SLIDES 22-23: some final governance issues for institutions and their staff.

  • Risk-management operates at a range of scales: does it matter if someone accesses your stuff? [c.f. Dropbox; subject to FoI] If so, canyou build Chinese walls or local alternatives?
  • What about corporate governance, including access to services that are marketised? [e.g. the recent Google-Verizon issue, which flagged the possibility of a two-speed internet, especially for multimedia distribution/consumption. See also the potential costs of accessing data in a marketised HE space.]
  • Does it matter if the academic who is responsible for the curriculum/assessment that is managed in the Cloud, in non-institutional services gets hit by a bus? [What should be managed in-house or hosted via a contract?]
  • Do we understand that data is being transferred into a service and that we have responsibilities? [T&Cs; Intellectual Property; protected characteristics; indemnities for libel].
  • How do we work-up the digital literacies of our staff/students in these spaces?

Do Universities Care Enough About Students?

I am speaking on a panel at the London Festival of Education on Saturday 17 November, 2012. The panel is covering the question Do Universities Care Enough About Students? I take care to mean a positive perception of assistance that enables the person who is cared about to cope with emotional issues and to perform mental or cognitive activities.

My argument will cover the four points that follow and which have all been made elsewhere on this blog over time.

FIRST. On spaces for caring about students.

The British Child Psychologist Donald Winnicott argued that care was predicated on the value to the individual of an enabling environment where s/he can be held whilst making sense of the world. This act of holding is based on trust and engagement within a secure space that is engaging and not so fragmented as to overwhelm the individual. Both the environment and the relationships have to be good-enough to enable the individual to make sense of themselves and what they feel and want to achieve.

There are connections here to Vygotsky’s social constructivism, and it is important to note Vygotsky’s Marxism. This was captured by Mike Neary as “A key issue for Student as Producer” where it highlights that “social learning is more than the individual learning in a social context, and includes the way in which the social context itself is transformed through progressive pedagogic practice.” Vygotsky argued for a understanding of a progressive environment that might be described as caring in that it enables the individual to make sense of her/his world and act in it.

The environment is the source of development of these specifically human traits and attributes, most importantly because these historically evolved traits of human personality, which are latent in every human being due to the organic makeup of heredity, exist in the environment, but the only way they can be found in each individual human being is on the strength of his being a member of a certain social group, and that he represents a certain historical unit living at a certain historical period and in certain historical circumstances. Consequently, these specifically human characteristics and attributes manifest themselves in slightly different ways in child development than do other traits and attributes which are more or less directly conditioned by the course of prior historical human development. These ideal forms which have been refined and perfected by humanity and which should appear at the end of the development process, prevail in the environment. These ideal forms influence children from their very early beginnings as part of the process of mastering of the rudimentary form. And during the course of their development children acquire, as their personal property, that which originally represented only a form of their external interaction with the environment.

The interplay between cultures and norms, practices, environments or contexts, scarce or abundant resources, relationships and technologies, unfolds as issues of power, identity, coercion and consent inside the University, as the student attempts to emerge more fully into the world. It is in this emergence that the idea of care is negotiated and situated.

SECOND. On the relationship between the University and students, and the idea of the student-as-entrepreneur.

Higher education is part of a regime of capitalist power that directs the consumption and production of our lives, both as we labour and as we relax. As Ellen Meiksins-Wood argued in 1997: “we’re living in a moment when, for the first time, capitalism has become a truly universal system…. Capitalism is universal also in the sense that its logic – the logic of accumulation, commodification, profit-maximisation, competition – has penetrated almost every aspect of human life and nature itself”. Debt and forms of indentured education that can be driven by information and data flows, and accelerated through the transfer of risk to the individual, are central to this logic. Even where it is shown that educational subsidies like EMA are efficient in recouping their costs they are scrapped because they are beyond the logic of debt. For, as Michael Gove argues debt is now a way of life, and a way of marketising humanity: “Anyone put off… university by fear of… debt doesn’t deserve to be at university in the first place”.

This is amplified in David Willetts’ speech to the spring 2011 conference of Universities UK, in which he made plain a view of: privatisation; cost reduction; consumption as pedagogy; closing-off teaching in “undesirable” subjects; and anti-humanism.

Let me start this morning with our broader vision for HE – it is a simpler, more flexible system which gives students better value and greater choice. That means a more diverse range of providers should be able to play a role. It means funding for teaching should follow the choices that students make. And it means empowering students to make their own choices based on better, more transparent information.

It is from within this space that debt becomes a pedagogic tool, focused upon the consumption of knowledge and lifestyles, of uncriticality, of employability and skills, of business and not economics, of STEM and not humanities. It is about recalibrating the University as a site where, rather than coming to understand the objective conditions that exist inside capitalism, students pay to develop the individuated skills of the entrepreneur. The risk in the separation and individuation of students-as-entrepreneurs is that the responsibility for failure is handed to the individual rather than being collectively/socially negotiated and owned. Thus, future roles/status or the very idea of a meaningful future is indentured and disciplined through the prevalence and amount of debt. Debt becomes a pedagogic tool, and recalibrates the structures, meanings and relationships of the University, as against the humanistic lesson that the university traditionally proclaimed. This is hardly resilient.

We are being taught a lesson that as the state transfers the social value of a university life to the individual via debt, higher education is no longer immune from the logic of the market, and is no longer able simple to call upon the mantra of the public good. Thus we enter a world where graduates face paying back double their student loans as debt charges rack up, and where Universities are disciplined by funding shortages into providing what their students as customers, disciplined by debt in a specific market, demand of them. There is no space for common deliberation about the purpose of an education in a world that faces massive socio-environmental disruption. There is only space for discussion of employment and debt repayment, pivoting around the entrepreneurial self. The logic of capitalist accumulation through debt, and the treadmill necessity of finding spaces for the re-capitalisation/investment of surplus value shackles higher education to the hegemony of consumption for capitalist growth.

THIRD. The legitimacy of caring about students.

As Paul Mason noted in 2011, about why it is kicking off everywhere, “At the heart of it all is a new sociological type: the graduate with no future”. In Athens, Oakland, Santiago, Quebec, University College London, Dhaka, Taveta and Wundanyi in Kenya, UC Berkeley, and in countless other places and spaces, students have led the protests against the legitimacy of austerity, and the limitations of a commodified educational experience. They have recalibrated their environments to cope with emotional issues and to perform cognitive tasks.

In this process of protest, students have used a range of deliberative techniques to uncover what is legitimate, and to reveal what they are collectively willing to bear in the name of freedom. To care about themselves and each other appears important. What they are willing to bear has to be negotiated communally, through a process that re-legitimises the politics of both the form and the content of the University. This demands trust and consent rather than coercion, a discussion that is more vital to the idea of the University in a world that faces not just economic austerity but socio-environmental crisis. For it may be that we risk enduring a semi-permanent state of exception if we do not find the courage to deliberate the reality of our world. EP Thompson recognised this courage emanating from a radicalised student collective, and saw in it a glimpse of redemption beyond economic growth:

We have been luckier than any of us had the right to deserve in the quality of our students. They took the initiative. They asked the right questions. They began to understand the answers. They stood firm against rhetoric, against threats, against the special pleading of those with large interests to lose. They have – by now in scores – put their academic careers at risk. It is they who have reasserted the idea of a university. They may well need help.

In response to the spread of the state of exception into the space of the University, student occupations have reminded us of the courage that we share in debating what is legitimate, who is marginalised, and why power is wielded. Students have asked who is to be cared about? They have also reminded us that the University is reproduced inside a broader, global set of relationships and political contexts, and this set both enables/disables the use of labels and interpretations about people and practices. This labelling comes in the wake of power, and affects who is scrutinised and which technologies are used to coerce and prevent, and for whom do we impose exceptional circumstances. Through critique we might work to push back against the University’s role in this reproduction of states of exception, and to re-politicise the forms of our University life, against meaningless, enclosed and universal narratives of justice and democracy. To take care of ourselves in society.

FOURTH. A care full University life.

The University develops meaning as it enables working and living in public. The work of the University must be public, knowable and fair, and it must be care full or full of care. How we demonstrate our care is a crucial question. As we answer it, we might consider how we enable our students’ dreams to outlive our fears, and how we collectively develop the courage to keep trying. We might usefully consider the realpolitik of University life. Inside capital and in the face of the rule of law and the market, what is the role of the University? How does the University help us to understand what we are willing to bear in the name of freedom?

We might try, therefore, to understand how the University can help us to be against force and enclosure, in order to become a space for deliberating rather than judging, and for developing an avowedly political response to the collective punishment meted out as austerity and marketisation. In taking this view, we demonstrate that the University cares very publically about a world that is socially-defined for collective ends rather than privatised of value extraction. This is important in overcoming what Christopher Newfield calls “subsidy capitalism”, which “means that the public, directly or indirectly, does not participate in the investment, research, and development decisions that remake society year in and year out. It hands over resources and all decision rights at the same time.” Newfield goes on:

There is a profound cultural limitation at work here: American leaders see the agencies responsible for social benefits as categorically less insightful than the financially self-interested private sector, even though the latter are focused entirely on their own advantage. As it is now, the future emerges in erratic bursts from the secret development operations at companies like Google (e.g. this radio report on the sudden appearance over Silicon Valley of The Cloud). We are having an increasingly difficult time imagining a collective future that emerges from common activity.

In defining a collective future that is against the poverty of the thinking behind the student-as-entrepreneur, we might develop an idea of the kinds of enabling environments where s/he can be held whilst making sense of a world that faces significant socio-environmental and political disruption. As a result we might focus on three different sets of questions that attempt to enable the person who is cared about inside the University to cope with emotional issues and to perform mental or cognitive activities.

  1. What sorts of relationships between people are we encouraging? What are our negotiated roles/responsibilities in the curriculum and beyond?
  2. What sorts of knowledge/understanding do our students need to be effective agents in a society that faces stresses of climate change, peak oil and liquid energy availability, and austerity?
  3. Can the University work equally well for a mixed demographic, with some networked and mobile learners, operating in information-rich environments and preparing for highly-polarised workplaces? If not how do we respond? Is a resilient education part of this mix?

Two projects on digital literacies and some matters arising

I’m currently working on two Higher Education Innovation Fund projects that connect DMU into cultures/practices or discourses around what has been termed digital literacy. The first is called EARS2 (Electro-Acoustic Resource Site) and is a partnership between the Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre and the Centre for Enhancing Learning through Technology, both at DMU. The second is a knowledge exchange partnership between Leicester City Council, with Josie Fraser as lead, and the CELT team, and focuses upon the digital literacies of secondary school teachers in the City. There is some emergent work in this area that has been undertaken with librarians across Leicester as part of the LCC Connect project.


  • The project is based on the idea of finding mechanisms for presenting aspects of listening/appreciation, understanding of concepts and creativity, interactively within a single learning environment – in our specific case related to the body of music known as sonic art or electroacoustic music.
  • A proof of concept will be fully developed, based on drupal, with a wide variety of multimedia tools made available within the system.
  • The project builds upon the internationally acclaimed EARS Pedagogical Project, and aims to translate this for young people at Key Stages 3 and 4.
  • The key is the development of a holistic system that addresses users at their own level, and that focuses on musical, acoustical and relevant technical terminology and related theory and skills.
  • At issue is how to engage more inexperienced users in the relationships between appreciation <-> understanding <-> creativity
  • The drupal-based repository will provide a node-based framework for managing a hierarchical structure of web-based learning objects, and support teacher-led, pre-programmed and ‘à la carte’ routes for progression. Progression will include a timeline/historical dimension, but its navigation will be concept driven.
  • For example, the use of sounds from the real world as musical content can be found in a few examples in traditional acoustic music, but it becomes a fact of life with the birth of musique concrète in 1948. It evolved into a ‘household word’ when sampling in music became ubiquitous and could be applied musically on anyone’s PC. Therefore the concept of sound sources from the real world as musical material will be related to today’s sampling culture as well as the genres that use such sounds and will furthermore be linked to opportunities to organise sounds musically in terms of the system’s architecture.
  • Central to the project is the translation of electro-acoustic concepts to the curriculum at Key Stages 3 and 4, and this will involve work with practitioners in schools and colleges in the East Midlands and with European partners.

 A Framework for Digital Literacies across Leicester City Secondary Schools

The aim of this project is to transform educational provision across the city in all secondary schools through the strategic implementation of a digital literacy framework. The project will develop a generic structure incorporating best practice and a toolkit which will enable educators and learners to share an understanding of what constitutes digital literacy and how it can be translated into educational practices.

The aim is that implementation of the developmental framework within the city’s secondary schools will enable the Council to:

  • Improve learner outcomes and raise standards at city-wide level
  • Create a networked learning infrastructure
  • Develop resilient learning strategies
  • Share knowledge more effectively
  • Increase confidence, capacity and capability at a time of reducing budgets
  • Maximise investment in ICT infrastructure, realised in Building Schools for the Future
  • Ensure that user behaviours relating to the use of ICT contribute to reductions in energy consumption

The project is ambitious. It is intended not only to transform education across the city but also to serve as an exemplar both nationally and internationally. As such, outputs will be designed to be customisable, adaptable and able to be re-purposed.

Schools will be supported in the development of an online presence and identity, particularly in relation to social and collaborative web-based environments. 

Beyond the project, the new model will be cascaded to the city’s primary schools. Hence, we hope that the project will generate social benefits for both learners and educators by enabling the Council to move the whole City a step forward in digital literacy skills.

Matters arising

The following issues are live for these two projects and connect them to broader, critical and political narratives. 

FIRSTLY. The development of digital or web or worldly literacies or competancies or skills is contested, in terms of their definition, scope and purposes, and the complexities of constructing narratives and authorship/identity.  There are also issues of how technologies are deployed to enable learners to move in excess of themselves in appreciating and making their own creative artefacts and their own life-world. 

SECONDLY. In this process of using technology to enable students to produce or make their own work, makerspace projects offer ways of viewing the production of hacked curriculum spaces, which connect social tools to resources and activities for personalised learning. Here, the development of individual self-efficacy inside social learning environments highlights the importance of understanding whether structured, personalised opportunities enable a movement from apprenticeship to journeyman to mastery in new learning situations. Critical in this process of making is the ability to work across disciplines, and to make sense of the world through hacking or cracking established pieces of work. 

THIRDY. A connected strand that is important here is the ability for learners to collaborate on-line, and to gain credit for the outcomes that they have achieved or the skills they have developed. The Mozilla Badges initiative forms one mechanism through which a student’s developing repertoire of skills might be recognised and represented. Learners might (collaboratively) create their own badges or collect those created by peer-groups, including on established social networks like Edmodo.

FOURTHLY. These approaches might enable the idea of student-as-producer, as a demand for re-forming the role of the student inside education as a maker or producer of their own lived experiences, to be critiqued. In this process, listening, comprehending, making and remixing, might enable students and staff to emerge as social beings rather than simply emerging as institutionalised agents.

FIFTHLY. These ideas of student-as-producer and a pedagogy of excess are geared to individual mastery inside social spaces that require communal problem-definition and solving, and political transformation. By integrating these concepts technologically inside and against the established social relationships that exist in, and are framed by, both institutions and more network-centred spaces like MOOCs, it might be possible that students will be able to develop their own literacies, skills, capabilities, social practices, whatever. The challenge is to work with teachers and students to frame a set of activities and governances in both the digital and real-world space that make sense to the student as she engages with understanding, listening, practicising, making, cracking and re-mixing.

SIXTHLY. A central issue will be defining the inter-relationships between the forms and content, governances and practices, which emerge in the range of real/virtual spaces for these projects. The allied questions that move this forward are then: what does political agency look like in these spaces? And how can such agency be enabled?

Call for Proposals: TEL, the Crisis and the Response

Call for Proposals: TEL, the Crisis and the Response

The Alpine Rendez-Vous

The Alpine Rendez-Vous (ARV) is an established atypical scientific event focused on Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL). The ARV series of events are promoted by TELEARC and EATEL associations. These took up the legacy of the FP6 NoE Kaleidoscope and Prolearn, and the FP7 NoE Stellar, which sustained them along past years. The goal of the Alpine Rendez-Vous is to bring together researchers from the different scientific communities doing research on Technology-Enhanced Learning, in a largely informal setting, away from their workplace routines. Although originating in Europe, the ARV is open to other continents’ researchers and proposals. ARV is structured as a set of independent parallel workshops located at the same time in the same place. Workshops may last two to three days each, half of the workshops taking place in the first part of the week and the other half in the second part, possibly with a “common day” in the middle. The Alpine Rendez-Vous of 2013 will take place from January 28th to February 1st, in Villard-de-Lans, a village in the middle of Vercors. Breaks and meals are organized in a way that promotes informal encounters between participants from the different workshops.

An informal group concerned about the relationships between TEL research and change, discontinuity and dislocation in the wider world have had a workshop proposal accepted and are now calling for proposals and participation.


The TEL research community has undoubtedly been successful over the last fifteen or twenty years in extending, enriching and even challenging the practices and theories of education within its professions and within its institutions, and through them has engaged in turn with the institutions and professions of industry and government. These have however been largely inward-looking discourses best suited perhaps to a world characterised by stability, progress and growth. These are all now problematic and uncertain, and call for new discourses within the TEL research community and across its borders. The world is now increasingly characterised by challenges, disturbances and discontinuities that threaten these dominant notions of stability, progress and growth. These represent the grand challenges to the TEL research community, challenges to the community to stay relevant, responsive, rigorous and useful.

Earlier discussions (eg purpos/ed,  & e4c, education-for-crisis, had outlined the emergent crisis in broad terms and identified different perspectives and components, including

  • economic and resource crises, including long-term radical increases in economic inequality within nations; youth unemployment across Europe, the polarisation of employment and the decline in growth; sovereign debt defaults and banking failures; mineral and energy constraints;.
  • environmental and demographic crises, in particular, the implications of declining land viability for migration patterns; refugee rights and military occupations; nation-state population growth and its implications for agriculture, infrastructure and transport
  • the crisis of accountability, expressed in the failure of traditional representative democracy systems especially in the context of global markets, the growth of computerised share-dealing; the emergence of new private sector actors in public services; the growth of new mass participatory movements and the rise of unelected extremist minorities both challenging the legitimacy of the nation-state and its institutions
  • socio-technical disruptions and instability, exaggerated by a reliance on non-human intelligence and large-scale systems of systems in finance, logistics and healthcare, and by the development of a data-rich culture;  the proliferation and complexity of digital divides;  the dependency of our educational institutions on computer systems for research, teaching, study, and knowledge transfer
  • the dehumanisation crisis, expressed in the production of fear between people, the replacement of human flourishing with consumption, the replacement of the idea of the person with the idea of the system, the replacement of human contact with mediated exchange, the commodification of the person, education and the arts

and specifically, in relation to TEL;

  • TEL and the industrialisation of education; marginal communities and the globalization and corporatisation of learning; futures thinking as a way to explore TEL in relation to resilience; the political economy of technology in higher education and technological responses to the crisis of capitalism; the role of openness as a driver for innovation, equity and access; digital literacies and their capacity to shift TEL beyond skills and employability in an increasingly turbulent future; connectedness and mobility as seemingly the defining characteristics of our societies; the role and responsibility of research and of higher education as these crises unfold, the complicity or ambiguity of TEL in their development; is the current TEL ecosystem and environment sustainable, is it sufficiently responsive and resilient, how extent does TEL research question, support, stimulate, challenge and provoke its host higher education sector?

TEL is at the intersection of technology and learning and encapsulates many of the ideals, problems and potential of both.  Education and technology permeate all of the perspectives outlined above, some more than others. It is possible however that they could ameliorate some of their consequences or amplify and exaggerate others. TEL has been a project and a community nurtured within the institutions and organisations of formal education in the recent decades of relative stability and prosperity in the developed nations of Asia-Pacific, North America and Western Europe. Some of the critical challenges directly relate to the perceived missions of the TEL project and its community. Contemporary formal education in schools, colleges and universities is increasingly reliant on TEL. The TEL community is however currently poorly equipped either to resist the progress of these crises today or to enable individuals and communities to flourish despite their consequences tomorrow. The transition movement, the open movement and the occupy movement are all parts of wider responses to differing perceptions and perspectives of the underlying malaise.

The Call

The proposed workshop will enrich conversations by bringing in new perspectives and will explore how the different communities can learn from each other, perhaps bringing about more open, participative and fluid models of education. It brings together researchers seeking to articulate these concerns and responses, and develop a shared understanding that will engage and inform the TEL community. It is timely, necessary and unique, and will contribute to a clearer and more worthwhile formulation of the Grand Challenges for TEL in the coming years.

One of the outputs of the workshop will be a special edition of a peer-reviewed journal; other options, such as an open access journal, a book or a website, are possible if there is a consensus.

Please submit an individual or collective two-page position paper, or propose a structured discussion or debate on the role and place of TEL in the light of our analysis. Contributions will be selected by the organisers on the basis of individual quality of the papers and the overall balance and coherence of the programme.


Submission by 17 August 2012


  1. Doug Belshaw, Researcher, Mozilla Foundation
  2. Helen Beetham, Consultant, JISC
  3. Hamish Cunningham, Professor, University of Sheffield
  4. Keri Facer, Professor, University of Bristol
  5. Richard Hall, Reader, De Montfort University
  6. Marcus Specht, Professor, Open University, Netherlands
  7. John Traxler, Professor, University of Wolverhampton, (corresponding organiser)

A presentation on the knowing university and a podcast on positive politics

Next Tuesday I’ll be keynoting the HEA/University of Huddersfield workshop on Enhancing the Quality of Student Blended Learning through Integrative Formative Assessment Methods. My presentation is on my slideshare and is entitled student involvement, assessment and the production of a university experience. The main points that I will make are as follows.

  1. For the student, the academic and the University, assessment for learning is framed and enclosed by a series of external, sector-wide pressures. These are revealed through the instability of the Coalition’s HE reforms and the concern over the privatisation and separation of teaching and learning from assessment, and in the governance of higher education awards/degree awarding powers. This is also revealed in the sector-wide strategies that push employability and the need for assessment of learning, alongside the institutional drive for efficient workflows in assessment, and the drive for commodifying activity and immateriality through learning analytics and data-mining. However, the rise of badges and some form of accrediting open learning beyond the formal education setting is also a threat to recently established HE practices.
  2. We might ask, where the power that academic staff had to manage the curriculum, including assessment for learning, is transferred to administrative functions (in part via technologies that remove power and mental skill) or to the student-as-consumer/customer, what does that process do to academic labour and the idea of the university in society?
  3. HE is framed by disruptions both to the very idea of waged labour and to the precarity of living and working inside austerity politics. One outcome is the prevalence and fear of debt as an instrumentalist, pedagogic tool. This fear and the need to recalibrate HE for debt-driven economic growth then shadows our approach to what HE is for, and for what ends assessment for learning exists. Thus, we are not able to discuss issues of resource availability (capital controls, immigration, liquid fuel availability etc.) or the impact of the accelerated consumption of education, and of the increased consumption/commodification of assessment, on the planet, in terms of emissions. There is some work to be done on education, assessment and entropy or disorder.
  4. The crisis of capitalism, revealed through austerity politics and the (de)legitimation of certain discourses, makes the struggle over assessment for learning inside the university of critical importance. The relationships between energy, oil, economic growth, carbon emissions and education all need to be revealed and discussed. In particular as they frame and impact the idea of assessment for learning inside and beyond the university.
  5. The idea of assessment for learning inside and beyond the university might usefully be discussed in terms of developing socially useful knowledge, or knowing. This is the idea that students and teachers might dissolve the symbolic power of the University into their actual, existing realities, in order to engage with a process of personal transformation that is about more than employability skills. We might use assessment for learning in order to catalyse knowing or socially-useful knowledge, in order to consider the courage it takes to reclaim and re-produce our politics and our social relationships, in the face of disruption.
  6. Academics might engage with the ideas of student-as-producer and pedagogies of excess, in order to create spaces for the production and construction of a mass intellect in commons. At issue is whether assessment for learning can refuse and push-back against the idea that the market and an employability-fuelled education system is the motor for solving social problems. Might socially-defined and produced knowing, achieved through work that is carried out in public and that engages with uncertainty and a wider cohort of disciplines, be a more resilient approach? How might assessment for learning involve and emancipate student voices in the struggle to re-invent the world?
  7. And we might think about ds106, and its focus on learning in public, via shared and collaborative assignments, that can be produced and consumed and distributed and remixed. See this tweet, and this one. The beauty of ds106 (from my narrow, political perspective, and trying not to fetishise it) is in the relationships that might be formed and nurtured over time, reinforced creatively using a range of media (radio, video, text) and in shared programming/a desire to keep the space moving and reflective. These communal actions in the ds106 world underpin individual formations and integrations and perspectives. David Kernohan writes really well about what this means here. If we are interested in assessment for transformation and resilience (modularity, diversity, feedback), we might look to critique MOOCs/the university through the lens of ds106.
  8. Which reminds me that I wrote about resilient/life-wide curricula a while back.

On a separate note, I spoke about the crisis and higher education on a positive politics podcast, that is available here. In the podcast I discuss the struggles of life in the neo-liberal university where life is governed by the logic and interests of money and profit. Dr Gurnam Singh help us to think about very different, democratic, empowering, and critical ways of teaching and learning, and Dr Sarah Amsler talks about the Social Science Centre – an attempt to make real the ideas and values of critical pedagogy and popular education.

A note on technologies for control, systemic violence and the militarisation of higher education

In their review of militarism and education normal, Meiners and Quinn argue that there is a three-fold mechanism by which public education in the United States is shaped through hegemonic militarisation: by offering a perception of choice to those denied any such choice as a result of their socio-economic status – where enlisting is an institutionalised way out of poverty and is catalysed through connections between education and the military; by serving as a catalyst for innovation and change in the forms of education, through taking-over schools/colleges and militarising the curriculum; and by using the vast revenues devolved to the military for research inside education. This latter point is critical for these authors when they turn their gaze to higher education.

[M]ilitarization, according to researchers, asymmetrically shapes contemporary higher education, channeling resources to sub-fields within science, engineering, mathematics, and particular areas of linguistic and political inquiry, while the remaining disciplines—art and humanities, in particular—receive no military dollars.

The interaction between the military and the pedagogies of/curriculum for technology is not new. Beyond the neuroses of the battle for education inside the Cold War, Dyer Witheford and de Peuter have argued in Games of Empire that the production of games like America’s Army and the development of augmented/virtual spaces in partnerships between the military and university knowledge labs enable capital to leverage the power of the state to ‘reassert, rehearse and reinforce Empire’s twin vital subjectivities of worker-consumer and soldier-citizen’. With a focus on the marketing of the game Full Spectrum Warrior, they highlight how curricula designed around the cultures of game production, as well as the processes/relationships of modding and hacking, demand “the total obedience of the culture industry to the protocols of the War on Terror – its immediate ingestion and reproduction of the state’s paranoias”, and that“new kinds of militarized formats” fuse “technological innovation and the erotic charge of combat” in “renewed, compulsive militarization”. Such compulsive militarisation is made manifest in the connections that emerge between firstly the virtual frontline, secondly coding and narrative and design inside/beyond the classroom, and thirdly the living room as space for play.

The ways in which the interplay between formal/informal spaces for educational engagement and the neoliberal development of curricula enables societies of control to emerge, is also seen in the normalisation of technologies for the management of risk and in promoting the idea of acceptable, business-like performance/attitudes in students and teachers. Here the demand to maintain the duality of worker-consumer and soldier-citizen results in the development and use of technologies for systemic violence through control. Thus, in the physical campus we see the increased use of kettling and a para-militarised response to dissent, with little opposition offered by institutional senior managers or staff. The classic example in the global North lies in the student protests and occupations at UC-Berkeley in 2011, which highlighted the increased politicisation of young people, the increased militarisation of our campuses, and the increased bravery of people as co-operative social forces in the face of State authoritarianism. However, the global South has also born witness to widespread use of military force/technologies in the spaces around campuses and student life, as witnessed in Chile. The result is the enforcement of consent through coercion, and a diminution/marginalisation of the space for alternative narratives to develop.

In part, the use of force on campus enables corporations to overcome the attrition on the rate of profit that emerges from the unnecessary circulation time of immaterial commodities like credit default swaps realised as student loan debts, and in part it enables the State to discipline the thinking/actions of those citizens who feel that they might be anything other than those twin subjectivities. As the interplay between subject-identities and the system is normalised and structured through debt, those identities/attitudes/actions are controlled and managed through the mining of data and an obsession with analytics. Surveillance and monitoring become means by which technologies can be used to effect biopolitical power, or the subsumption of individual wills to the creation of value. Thus, the use of management data to normalise and marginalise, and therefore overcome the risk inherent in the use of debt/future earnings/labour to secure an increase in the rate of profit, is key. Debt-fuelled economic growth demands that the management of risk, including the risk that students might be other than businesslike, should be controlled. Anything that is seen as abnormal in this space is disciplined. Such discipline includes use of physical force by paramilitary police on campus, but it extends beyond this, to the increasing homogenisation of campus-based or institutional technologies through public/private partnerships, and the refusal to support marginalised innovations, often located in open source communities. The physical space is coerced and enclosed, in order that capital can legitimise the extraction of value from the virtual.

However, even those more marginal spaces risk replicating the systemic inequalities and acts of violence that are catalysed by hegemonic positions. As Hoofdargues, all forms of activism/innovation risk their own subsumption inside structural regimes of domination. In fact

the current mode of [neo-liberal] late-capitalism relies on the continuous extension and validation of the infrastructure and the optimistic discourses of the new information technologies. Discourses that typically get repeated in favour of what I designate as the emerging speed-elite are those of connection, instantaneity, liberation, transformation, multiplicity and border crossing

Thus, even those educators who claim to be hacking or co-creating or accelerating ‘new spaces’, or personal learning environments/MOOCs as opposed to institutionalised systems, are operating inside structures which were created with the goal of facilitating global capitalism and its elites, and “that allow for the on-going perfection of military power through technologies of surveillance”. Whether such surveillance takes place in institutional or personal or massively-open learning environments is irrelevant when it is performed inside the totalising logic of capital. Thus, Hoofd argues that “The idea that subjectivities from social movements are in any way less produced by neo-liberal globalisation is highly problematic.” For Hoofd, these movements might form the collective opposition realised in the EduFactory, but her concerns might also be extended to those radical education projects discussing an exodus from formal higher education, or those communities and networks engaged in innovations against the grain of the institution. Without a structural critique that ‘outs power’ as decisions are made, the systemic violence and alienation enacted in the name of capital cannot be escaped. This makes the co-option of educational performance by the state for control or for violence or by the military a normalised outcome. 

Thus, education and educational innovation/transformation is folded inside a discourse that threatens alienation and violence, in the name of value and the reproduction of established, hegemonic positions of power. It is inside this connected set of spaces that the connections between the military, the market/corporations and public education needs to be discussed. If we are really for education as transformation there is no ignoring of the ramifications of:

  1. the recent discussion of the relationship between DARPA, hackerspaces and schools;

  2. the neoliberal networks that connect Blackboard to the Pentagon;

  3. the neoliberal networks that connect Pearson to the US Department of Defense through educational innovation and assessment, and then to its own policy think tanks that are setting an agenda for educational marketisation;

  4. the connections between hacking competitions, education departments and national security, and the co-option of hacking as a pedagogy of/curriculum for control;

  5. the use by Universities of drones, through which The Salon reports connections between the U.S. military, academic research, and defence contractors;

  6. public/private partnerships in the UK that focus upon wireless video surveillance;

  7. the deep connections between the military and research inside UK universities; and

  8. the disconnect between our activist promotion of technologies that are apparently transformative in the global North at the expense of their implication in war in the global South, like the Raspberry Pi.

Hersch, in her review of the ethics of university engagement with/research for the military, noted several preliminary conclusions.

  • Military research on offensive weapons is considerably more likely to contribute to reducing than increasing security.

  • By diverting resources from other areas, military research both distorts the research climate and balance between different subjects and reduces the resources available for creative holistic approaches to conflict resolution.

  • Banning military research is not counter to academic freedom, but such a ban would be difficult to achieve in the short term.

  • The resources associated with military research and the associated research climate may be impeding genuinely creative and innovative research, which often takes place at the boundaries.

  • Useful civilian spin-offs from military research is totally unfounded as a basis for justifying military research.

My contention is that we need to ask fundamental questions about the ways in which our educational spaces and the technologies we actively deploy inside them, contribute to: the normalised violence of coercion or control or marginalisation of students; or the militarisation of the physical spaces of our campuses; or the direct co-option of our own/our students’ immaterial labour in making stuff for the military. As the storify that describes one narrative of the connection between DARPA and Make notes, at issue is the possibility of creating non-militarised spaces that are not underpinned by systemic violence. As austerity bites and as the State, alongside transnational global capital, seeks to reinforce its control over the debt-fuelled obligations of its worker-consumers, the role of the University in applying a critique of the ways in which such control is engineered and our complicity in it has never been more necessary.

For the University and against a neoliberal curriculum

In her keynote at Discourse, Power and Resistance ’12, Rosemary Deem highlighted the isomorphism that is occurring within and across universities in the United Kingdom as the ideology of marketisation is insinuated into the practices and policies that shape the higher education environment. This is not a new process, but the pace with which it is now being rolled-out is a dislocation or shock that enables change to be enforced through uncertainty. This is one of the ways in which capital uses systemic crises to renew itself. This quickened process is made visible in: the re-catagorisation of Universities as businesses in the HRMC regulations on taxation; the Coalition Government’s use of VAT regulations to open-up a space for marketisation through shared services; and by enabling for-profit providers to obtain the same VAT exemption on educational services as not for-profits. Andrew McGettigan has highlighted how this enables private providers, which are able to ‘leverage’ private equity, to steal a march on the rest of the sector, which as it is not for-profit cannot access such funds, and this leaves those institutions at the whims of private, philanthropic donations, or needing to chase increasingly limited and limiting (research) funding. These sources of money, often sought from those with a specific ideological position to further, then disciplines what the University is able to research or produce or critique. In Christopher Newfield‘s terms this process is yet another example of ‘state-subsidised privatisation’. It is a form of enclosure enacted as a discourse veiled inside the logic of democratic capitalism.

[NOTE: please see Andrew McGettigan's comment below for an elucidation of his position.]

Deem also focused on the role of private equity companies and hedge funds in opening-up what is perceived of as being a public space for the market. This process is complex and related to the ways in which some educational functions prove profitable and can be privatised, like vocational training that can be provided at low cost using part-time or precariously employed (post-graduate) lecturers or courses that can be delivered via distance or work-based learning. These map onto leveraged or marginal or menial skills that are developed inside the knowledge economy. Those activities that require much higher infrastructural investment, and which are of marginal profitability in the market but which have a higher social utility, like medicine, can be left to the State to fund. Post-education, these proprietary skills can be harnessed for profit, for instance through the privatisation of healthcare. This whole process of marketisation forms a system of enclosure, or in David Harvey’s terms of accumulation by dispossession. It is a way in which rents can be extracted from individuals and institutions, in the form of services or fees that are contracted for and which might include technological services or actual courses of study. The latter are increasingly to be paid for from indentures/loans that inscribe education as an individualised good, rather than from general taxation that views educational spaces as a social good.

This process is exacerbated because the State, acting as regulator rather than funder, is regulating for the market and for enterprise, and not for the society of people. This is part of a neoliberal discourse in which the practices and activities of higher education are folded inside the subsumption of all of social life inside the dynamic of competition. Here the State is proactive in acting as midwife to the re-birth of public assets as market-oriented commodities. This idea of neoliberalism as a discourse is especially important in Stephen J. Ball’s work on Global Education Inc.. Ball traces the development of neoliberalism very deliberately as a discourse designed to promote shared libertarian, market-oriented entrepreneurialism that in-turn fosters a new nexus betweeen capital and the State, in order to re-shape all of society inside its hegemonic, totalising logic. In part, Ball sees this as facilitated by networks of power and affinity, that enable the re-production of ‘geographies of social relationships’ that are in the name of money, profit, choice and unregulated markets. These networks form shifting assemblages of activity and relationships that reinforce hegemonic power. Moreover, they are transnational activist networks consisting of academics and think tanks, policy-makers and administrators, finance capital and private equity funds, media corporations and publishers, philanthropists/hedge-funds interested in corporate social responsibility etc., which aim at regulating the state for enterprise and the market.

Importantly, this forms a neoliberal curriculum. The use of the word curriculum is hugely important in the roll-back of the State and the roll-out of the neoliberal agenda. Not only does it refer to a course of action that moulds individuals into persons, but it also anchors that discourse educationally. Thus, the focus is on creating uncertainties in the spaces in which the State operates, telling common-sense stories about the value of private enterprise in ‘leveraging’ both performance and cost reduction, and in connecting those stories to a meta-narrative of there is no alternative. In turn these meta-narratives reinforce World Bank and IMF orthodoxies related to structural readjustment, freedom and choice. Thus, the networks of interconnected actors and corporations, acting as transnational advocacy networks, then reinforce these dominant positions through their: activities; conferences; prizes; media attention; control of funding; research programmes and outcomes; evidence-based approaches to data-laundering; regulation etc.. Ball describes the reality of several networks that reinforce hegemonic power, and which connect academics to education providers and research groups, and interconnects them with technology firms, as well as to finance capital and think tanks, in particular in opening-up the Indian education system for marketisation. Ball highlights how academics based in the UK, like James Tooley and Sugatra Mitra (who has keynoted about his hole in the wall project recently, for example for the Association for Learning Technology) operate inside neoliberal networks that amplify the complex geographies of neoliberalism, which are made influential and powerful by money, policy advocacy, relationships, and action on the ground.

At issue then is how to create counter-hegemonic networks, policy and relationships, that might develop counter-hegemonic positions. What alternative actions might be taken to reinforce the idea that there is an alternative value position that can be take, both socially and in relation to higher education? In this, Deem argued for the role of academics acting as public intellectuals. Interestingly she also highlighted how ahead of the 2014 REF, the social sciences panel defined impact in wide-ranging terms, including public benefit. This is important because research impact is a crucial site of struggle in the commodification of the University and its subsumption under the logic of capitalist expansion. The ways in which academics might go into occupation of terms like impact, in order to redefine its use against that prescribed by the regulatory logic of the State or transnational advocacy networks, is important in moving beyond the use of the term simply as the impression of academic activity. Impact as impression objectifies activity and relationships and people’s subject positions through behavioural demands. What can be measured is part of a neoliberal discourse related to efficiency and consumption.

As the University becomes an overt site of capitalist accumulation, and as a result a site for entrepreneurial investment, the occupation of regulatory terms or regulations forms one concrete way in which resistance and refusal might be catalysed. There are two important points that flow from this kind of activity. The first is that the University remains a site of the production of mass intellectuality, where knowledge claims can be legitimised and critiqued. However, as a neoliberal discourse increasingly kettles the academic process and practices, it takes courage to act against the prevailing, hegemonic narrative. The cost of resistance is high and it is important therefore that academics act communally to shine a critical light on the activities of the state in regulating the University for the market. This requires that the increasing number of communal activities, like radical education projects/free universities outside the University and protests or refusals inside the University, are joined in solidarity.

The second point is about leadership. It is increasingly less certain that institutional leaders, Vice-Chancellors or Vice-Principals, will challenge the dominant narratives of the State, in terms of the marketisation of higher education. Acting as CEOs the logic is that they will attempt to compete rather than co-operate. Thus, in the UK, University leadership was quiet over the threats of violence made by the State against students who protest, and we witnessed banning orders being sought against protest on campus, PhD students being suspended for protesting via poetry, and elected student representatives being removed from University committees for protesting. This enactment of the University as an enclosed space for dissent is a logical outcome emerging from the rhetoric of competition. Earlier this year I wrote about the communal university, and noted that the marketisation of the sector reminded me of the establishment of the English Football Premier League in 1992, as a marketised space in which clubs were businesses and where the social health of the league as a whole was less important that that of the individual clubs acting as businesses. In this set of spaces, the public, or supporters, were of secondary, instrumentalist importance to the structural need to inscribe clubs as institutions inside the market.

The possibility that the HE sector may come to resemble the English football league post-1992 following the deal made to form the Premiership, which lead to: the league being ruled by the power of money (witness the power of BSkyB, the influx of transnational capital in the form of hedge funds and corporates in club governance); the ossification of success/competitiveness (witness the limited number of clubs capable of sustaining challenges for the League or for Cups); the growth of indebtedness and administration (in particular where clubs chase access to the Premiership/TV deals); and the need for special pleading for/activism by supporters (in terms of fan ownership, supporter democracy and the rising costs of attending games).

In this process of enclosure, we might ask whether our academic leaders will be able to work communally or co-operatively to roll-back the neoliberal discourse that commodifies all of our social life inside the market, and which kettles free debate about what is legitimate. We might ask then what is the role of the academic as activist in developing alternative discourses that argue for a re-humanisation of educational life and activity.

One of those roles is to develop analyses of the transnational advocacy networks that influence the spaces in which we operate, and through those networks to reveal how the neoliberal discourse is played out in our society. So we might ask: how do the technologies we procure, and the procurement practices we use inside the University, and the people we ask to keynote our conferences, and the evidence-based research we enable to be used for advocacy, and the money that we take for research, and the learning/teaching and employability strategies that we agree and implement, and the definitions of impact/sustainability that we agree and use, re-inscribe both the power of a neoliberal discourse and transnational networks of power? Is it possible for scholarly communities of academics and students, working in society, to act in public against this discourse? Where do we identify communal spaces for solidarity and courage? Taking action that is against polyarchic, univeralised norms might enable a counter-hegemonic set of alternatives to be debated or created that support an alternative way of doing. The flip-side is that we do nothing as the whole of our lives and our sociability is subsumed under the abstracted rule of money.

Educational technology, hacktivism and the war on public education


In 2006, John Denham, Labour MP and former cabinet minister, argued in the Chartist that

All public services have to be based on a diversity of independent providers who compete for business in a market governed by Consumer choice. All across Whitehall, any policy option now has to be dressed up as “choice”, “diversity”, and “contestablity”. These are the hallmarks of the “new model public service”.

This morning Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, widened the space through which public or socialised goods could be enclosed, marketised and commodified within education as a new model public service, as he scoped a space for technology in education that was primarily economic, de-politicised and privatised.

Gove’s focus was laid bare from the very outset o his speech at BETT. He began not by championing teaching or teachers or the education sector, but “by congratulating all the companies in this Hall. British companies are world-leaders in the field of educational technology…” This is central for Gove as a member of the UK Coalition Government, precisely because that Government is closing down all public discourse that threatens or questions private profit maximisation or the extraction of value by corporations from our previously accrued social goods. Progress is to be realised by the privatisation and marketisation of public assets, and education is a pivotal terrain for making concrete and securing this neoliberal agenda. Thus, the only discourse that gains public space is framed by employment, labour (or capitalist work), commerce, industry and economics. This is now central to our educational culture. There is no place and no space for a critique of state subsidies for private gain or the politics of our education system, or how our education might enable other, dissenting or marginalised possibilities to be deliberated.


For Gove, the imperative behind linking markets and technology is key because “with each new gadget, each huge leap forward, technology has expanded into new intellectual and commercial fields.” More importantly and ominously, Gove re-framed the Coalition’s attack on education as a social good, originally signalled in HE through the Browne Review and in primary/secondary education through its White Paper, by folding into it the progressive, reductionist logic of technology. He argued:

Almost every field of employment now depends on technology. From radio, to television, computers and the internet, each new technological advance has changed our world and changed us too. But there is one notable exception. Education has barely changed. Our school system has not prepared children for this new world. Millions have left school over the past decade without even the basics they need for a decent job. And the current curriculum cannot prepare British students to work at the very forefront of technological change.

So there we are. Technology is revolutionary. Technology enables progress. Technology enables growth. But our schools and our teachers have failed our children as workers. And as a result millions of students lack basic skills. And we risk economic stagnation as a result.

And yet as Christopher Newfield argues in his work the new proletarianisation, it is difficult to sustain this positivist view argument for the generalised, emancipatory potential of technological skills, because under capitalism technologies are used to promote consumption, production gains or to increase the rate of profit. The logic of their use and deployment is for productivity gains, or for workplace monitoring and surveillance and management and stratification, or to catalyse the creation of value by opening up/harnessing new markets, or by stimulating innovations that further valorise capital. Thus, Newfield highlights three different types of knowledge or skill:

  1. Type C is ‘commodity skills’, which are ‘readily obtained’ and whose possessors are interchangeable. This category includes most ‘pink collar’ work that involves skills like ‘typing and a cheerful phone manner’.
  2. Type B is ‘leveraged skills’, which require advanced education and which offer clear added value to the firm that hires such skill, and yet which are possessed by many firms. Computer programmers or network administrators are examples of essential employees who worked long and hard to acquire their knowledge, and yet who are relatively numerous. Ironically, they may have entered the field because it was large: its size may have signalled to them when they were picked a major in college–and to their stability-minded parents–something like ‘the high-tech economy will always need computer support specialists’. Yes, but not any particular computer support specialist, and not at a very high wage.
  3. Type A consists of ‘proprietary skills’, defined as ‘the company-specific talents around which an organization builds a business’. The knowledge manager must nurture and cultivate only the skills that directly contribute to the firm’s propriety knowledge, and stamp out (or radically cheapen) the first kind of knowledge worker, whose skills are interchangeable commodities. Only the star producers–those who create proprietary knowledge–enable the firm to seek rents, and only they are to be retained, supported, cultivated, and lavishly paid.

Yet Gove’s speech re-enforces one of the entrenched myths of educational technology discourses in that it alleges the democratic-yet-neutral tendencies of technology, where all have the opportunity to profit from becoming the Type A workers that Newfield analyses. In Gove’s view, technology, coupled to re-skilling teachers and defining a new ICT curriculum for business, will enable economic equality of opportunity. However, in discussing Education and Inequality, Sean Reardon, argues for the United States that:

It is well known that economic inequality has been growing in the U.S. since the 1970s. Less well known, however, is the fact that inequality in educational success has also been growing. The difference in average academic skills between high and low-income students is now 30–40 percent larger than it was 30 years ago.

So family background has become increasingly determinative of educational success, and educational success, in turn, has become increasingly determinative of economic success. The American dream has moved farther out of reach for lower-income children.

What has caused this rise in educational inequality? Contrary to popular rhetoric, our schools are not worse than they used to be. The average nine-year-old today has math skills equivalent to those of the average eleven-year-old 30 years ago. Nor have test scores or college completion rates for students from low-income families declined; they simply haven’t risen nearly as fast as those of high-income students. Although there are striking inequalities in the quality of schools available to children from low- and high-income families, these inequalities do not appear larger than in the past. Furthermore, if schools were responsible for widening educational inequality, we would expect that test-score gap to widen as students progress through school. But this does not happen. The test-score gap between eighth-grade students from high- and low-income families is no larger than the school-readiness gap among kindergarteners. The roots of widening educational inequality appear to lie in early childhood, not in schools.

Reardon argues that “Stagnant incomes have left the poor and working-class without the resources to give their children the improved educational opportunities and supports that the children of the rich enjoy.” Marx saw this when he wrote that “Technology reveals the active relation of man to nature, the direct process of the production of his life, and thereby it also lays bare the process of the production of the social relations of his life, and of the mental conceptions that flow from those relations.” Moreover, this disengagement with the politics and reality of poverty and class, means that we prioritise “the [perceived] affordances of educational technology” (participation, horizontal organisational structures, opportunity etc.) over-and-above the implications of increasing proletarianisation in the service-sector and the routinisation of work that is based on outcomes and technologically-mediated prefomance, and which is reinforced by the reduction of social mobility under capitalism. As Paul Mason highlights, this is amplified through the idea of the disenfranchised graduate loaded with debt and with no future.


Pace Gove, some commentators have tried to re-shape the discussion about digital skills or literacy or computer science, to which his speech contributed. Josie Fraser, in her post Computer Science is not Digital Literacy argues “for ways in which young people can become active in creating and critically engaging with technology [as citizens]”. Pat Parslow’s post on Digital Literacies, schools and the Guardian argues prosaically for users as “confident explorers of the ‘digital space’, able to learn new systems without attending courses (or at least, without having to attend too many).” However, the dominant space for a discussion of digital literacy or an ICT curriculum is economic and not social. The recent Guardian article Pupils need to understand computers, not just how to use them, notes that

Michael Gove, has “sat up and listened”, says Ian Livingstone, one of the founders of the gaming company Games Workshop. He co-authored an influential report for the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts on the future of the UK gaming industry, which concluded that it was losing its edge on the rest of the world.

In this drive for “edge”, education is subsumed under the dictates of profitability, competitiveness and the commodity form. There can be no other way. And this logic is further revealed in the Coding for kids campaign, which has no politics in its statement of intent. The campaign was catalysed by an e-petition to the UK Government, which was justified in Emma Mulqueeny’s, Teach our kids to code e-petition, through the assertion that digital technology, the reproduction of our social world and economic growth are connected:

It is not yet awesomely cool to be able to build digital tools that shape the way the rest of us operate in our worlds, both social and work-based. Not in the UK anyway. And I could see this having a profound effect on our worldwide digital economy and reputation in the very near future

Mulqueeny goes on to celebrate Rushkoff’s assertion that “the difference between being able to code and not being able to code, is like being the driver or the passenger”, further demonstrating how technology is used to define what is contested within the positivist and progressive claims about its affordances for economic agency. In this case, coding skills, rather than their subsumption under the deeper structures of capitalist society that disenfranchise the many, are at issue. Thus, we never get to a deliberation of whether coding and hacking and open source might be used as a means of re-imagining our world.

The polyarchic parameters of this discourse are re-produced by Gove at BETT, as he attempts to constrict what we can discuss in terms of technology-in-education, reinterpreted by some as “digital literacies”. What we can discuss legitimately is kettled and cordoned and enclosed by economics and not politics. This notion of what it is legitimate to discuss is critical, and Gove uses it to further the mythology of a neutral, positivist technological paradigm being fused under education. He argued that

technology will bring more autonomy to each of us here in this room. This is a huge opportunity. But it’s also a responsibility. [So] We want to focus on training teachers. Universities, businesses and others will have the opportunity to devise new courses and exams. In particular, we want to see universities and businesses create new high quality Computer Science GCSEs, and develop curricula encouraging schools to make use of the brilliant Computer Science content available on the web.

This amounts to a form of what Christopher Newfield (in a separate blog-post) call “subsidy capitalism”, which “means that the public, directly or indirectly, does not participate in the investment, research, and development decisions that remake society year in and year out. It hands over resources and all decision rights at the same time.” Gove’s focus on business defining the curriculum/teacher training mirrors Newfield’s point that:

There is a profound cultural limitation at work here: American leaders see the agencies responsible for social benefits as categorically less insightful than the financially self-interested private sector, even though the latter are focused entirely on their own advantage. As it is now, the future emerges in erratic bursts from the secret development operations at companies like Google (e.g. this radio report on the sudden appearance over Silicon Valley of The Cloud). We are having an increasingly difficult time imagining a collective future that emerges from common activity.

Thus, for Gove there is a lack of a meaningful commentary about poverty or equality and their relationship to educational attainment and wealth, and no focus on the educational research that highlights the links between class and educational outcomes. This sets a direction of travel for public policy that disables our ability to imagine a collective future, and is further reduced by Gove’s eulogising of a few, self-made men like Zuckerberg and Schmidt, without a meaningful discussion of these cultural leaders’ approach to the production of our common wealth or social goods.


The risks of this approach and the domination of corporate power over our digital lives, and our digitalised spaces and time, has been analysed by Cory Doctorow, in Lockdown, The coming war on general-purpose computing. Doctorow highlights how the information economy is realised through the subsumption of our everyday engagement with technology and digitised content under private property and copyright law. Thus, our activity is reduced to “a tedious enumeration of every permutation of things people do with information—and what might be charged for each.” The result of this commodification of our virtual lives is a need to “control how people use their computers and the files we transfer to them.”

This is the world onto which Gove’s speech about educational technology, teacher training, the ICT curriculum and the value of student’s as workers, needs to be mapped. In this world, states Doctorow, the following practices occur and are contested.

  1. Human rights activists have raised alarms over U-EFI, the new PC bootloader, which restricts your computer so it only runs “signed” operating systems, noting that repressive governments will likely withhold signatures from operating systems unless they allow for covert surveillance operations.
  2. Sony loaded covert rootkit installers on 6 million audio CDs, which secretly executed programs that watched for attempts to read the sound files on CDs and terminated them. It also hid the rootkit’s existence by causing the computer operating system’s kernel to lie about which processes were running, and which files were present on the drive.
  3. Nintendo’s 3DS opportunistically updates its firmware, and does an integrity check to make sure that you haven’t altered the old firmware in any way. If it detects signs of tampering, it turns itself into a brick.
  4. On the network side SOPA, the U.S. Stop Online Piracy Act, bans innocuous tools such as DNSSec—a security suite that authenticates domain name information— because they might be used to defeat DNS blocking measures. It blocks Tor, an online anonymity tool sponsored by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and used by dissidents in oppressive regimes, because it can be used to circumvent IP blocking measures.
  5. The Motion Picture Association of America, a SOPA proponent, circulated a memo citing research that SOPA might work because it uses the same measures as are used in Syria, China, and Uzbekistan. It argued that because these measures are effective in those countries, they would work in America, too!

What is clear here is the contested and deeply politicised terrain on which the use and development of educational technology is played out. Yet, it is missing from the Coalition Government’s education agenda. In fact, their explicit attempt to reduce this discourse to economic utility, and to ignore the impact of poverty and economic inequality, and to forget or marginalise the political structures and organisation that is impacted by and revealed through technology, demonstrates further that this educational space is now open for enclosure under private property, and for further subsidy capitalism.


The crack in this revealed assault on education as a public good is Gove’s final statements connecting “an open-source curriculum” and “Disapplying [sic.] the ICT programme of study”. Gove talks here about freedom, and enabling teachers “to cover truly innovative, specialist and challenging topics.” This might be seen as an attempt by capital or corporations to enter, control and enclose what has previously been seen as open source or as the terrain previously set-out and negotiated by hacktivists. However, it does open up a space for educational technologists working with programmers and educationalists to challenge the dominant logic of how we construct and re-produce our educational worlds as commonly-defined, social goods. This does not disavow coding for kids, or digital literacies, or the reproduction of teacher training. It just doesn’t do it simply for corporations or for profit maximisation. And where it is for those ends, that realisation must be critiqued and deliberated both inside and beyond the formal curriculum.

For we exist in a world that faces socio-environmental crises, and which is in the midst of a global crisis of capitalism. It is simply not good enough that our discourse as educators is focused upon employability or economic growth. The agenda for our development of digital literacies, or for an ICT curriculum, or for redesigning our teacher training, lies beyond the demands of transnational finance capital or of commerce or of industry, as realised by the state-under-capitalism, for marketised skills. Testing and deliberating global solutions demands an engagement with politics, and with politics as they are revealed through technology. Overcoming global problems demands that we do not simply outsource solutions, but that we use and engage with technology co-operatively and socially, in order to consider whether the society we have built and re-produce is indeed the one we need.

In this those engaged in the operationalisation of technology-in-education might consider their activist stance. Is Gove’s industrialised, economically-driven and enclosed world really the best we can hope for or create? Given those advances in bio-engineering, in microcomputing, in shared services etc. that he advances, is it really all we can do to hope for the further commodification of our existence, and the production of an educational experience that is shackled to that end? If the answer is yes then we are all impoverished. The crisis demands that we consider how the actions we take and the technologies we deploy contribute to poverty and the stratification of society; how they contribute to state subsidized capitalism and proletarianised work; how they re-produce inequality; and how they disable us from acting co-operatively in society. But we might also consider how to re-engage our actions and the technologies we deploy asymmetrically; to refuse and push-back against marketisation, to realise the possibilities of the hacker ethic, and to use technology to describe more social forms of value.

If Gove wants “an open-source curriculum”, then we should give him “activism 101”, “protest 101” and “hacktivism 101”.