Thursday, 21 November 2013

Lecture Capture and Data Capture

I attended an excellent debate on lecture capture yesterday, held as part of the University of Leicester’s IT Focus week. There were good arguments for the use of lecture capture, and the arguments against were not anti-lecture capture per se, but rather its possible detrimental effect on the learning and teaching experience. However, as is usually the case at this sort of event I was disappointed by the lack of discussion and, seemingly, awareness of the wider political and ethical issues of learning technology, in particular issues surrounding the use of learning technologies for the gathering of metadata.

As Neil Selwyn and Keri Facer (2013) have said the study of educational technology remains “stuck stubbornly in its ways - dominated, at best, by an optimistic desire to understand how to make an immediate difference in classrooms and, at worst, in thrall to technicist concepts of ‘effectiveness,’ ‘best practice,’ and ‘what works’.

The discussion of any learning technology will understandably concentrate on teaching and learning. However, I feel that academics, learning technologists and students have a restricted view of learning technology when they ignore the actual use of technology to gather data for performance management and ‘learning analytics’. And while this data gathering can be used to enhance learning and teaching it can also be used for disciplinary and surveillance purposes.

We are seeing the increasing marketisation of Higher Education (and education in general) with governments and private companies seeing universities as sites for the extraction of profit. Maximising profit requires (among other things) analysis of business performance to enhance efficiencies. Digital technology provides the data required for that analysis, and in education that includes metadata from various content and learning management systems - lecture capture and VLEs are two such systems. It is naive to think that university managers won’t at the very least have an interest in exploring the analytical potential of these systems. There doesn’t seem to be any possibility for a change of direction any time soon in the view of universities as an economic good, so such investigations of the potential and actual use of metadata will happen - it has to because that’s how the system works. It forms part of what Jenny Ozga (2009) describes as the ‘governance turn’ in education - “the shift from centralised and vertical hierarchical forms of regulation to decentralised, horizontal, networked forms”. Such a way of thinking “is a reflection of a constant search for more complete state knowledge, for a ‘bridge’, that allows panoptic visions and strategies while ensuring compliance.”

I was pleased to hear yesterday at the debate that one senior member of staff was adamant that he would not work at university which uses data in an unethical manner, and that the university has ethical guidelines in place to guard against the use of data in such a way. As a senior member of staff he will be in a position to influence the debate, unlike a mere VLE monkey like me!

However, If we are to guard against the use of data for surveillance and performance management to create efficiencies for the extraction of profit then it requires a wider debate across universities, and not the odd, lone voice.

As a learning technologist I appreciate how the use of digital technology can provide fantastic opportunities for the enhancement of learning when it’s used appropriately and creatively. It’s what I do for a living, so I’m certainly not anti-technology. Lecture capture can be a valuable tool for students with accessibility issues, or those with learning difficulties, those who have English as a second language, and non-traditional learners. Nor am I opposed to the gathering and analysis of data from digital systems, it can be used to enhance learning and teaching. What I am ‘anti-’ is any top-down, technodeterminist, solutionist approach to the implementation of learning technologies, and the view of the university as an economic good rather than a public good. Learning technologists, and those researching learning technology have been too quiet about its use in supporting a data-driven managerialist audit culture. It’s time we started to shout a bit louder about it.

Ozga, J. (2009). Governing education through data in England: From regulation to self‐evaluation. Journal of Education Policy, 24(2), 149-162.

Selwyn, N., & Facer, K. (Eds.). (2013). The Politics of Education and Technology: Conflicts, Controversies, and Connections. Palgrave Macmillan.

Photo credit: James Vaughan CC: BY-NC-SA