Surveillance Pedagogy: It’s what EdTech Sells

Don’t spy on your students. Build pedagogical approaches premised on trust and respect.  Maximize the best practices rather than letting potential bad actors frighten you into building your teaching approaches around scaring students, spying on them, stopping cheating, etc.

I wrote about this in The Atlantic:

Back in reality, technologists are largely focused on the Internet of Things in which all the objects with which people interact on a daily basis—Google Glass and Apple Watch, for example—are gradually becoming computers, robots, and phones. The technologist Bruce Schneier calls it a “world-size robot.” The upshot? Quotidian objects that are actually computers will soon enter classrooms. It’s still fairly easy to spot students using their cell phones in class—but when the smart pen or smart textbook sends messages directly to the contact lenses of students, teachers aren’t likely to even notice.

If the simple banning of devices from classrooms isn’t possible, then what? One option is to assert rigorous control over all information flow—a practice that could be described as panopticon pedagogy. As the education writer Audrey Watters has shown, ed-tech companies are all-in on surveillance, eagerly promoting models that capture every website, click, and time spent working. But students would inevitably find workarounds—using cellphone hotspots, for instance. More critically, controlling data use in class runs counter to optimal pedagogy.

Ultimately, we can spy on our students or we can trust them. I don’t think we can only sorta spy on them.  And while the tools to spy on them can potentially be useful in a culture based on trust and respect, they make it harder to create that culture.

Teaching is hard. Tech won’t fix it. Tech can break it.

Leave a Reply