16 Mar

Week 9 Synthesis

The vast majority of my lifestream content this week has been via Twitter, in keeping with the focus on twitter-storming about algorithms and learning analytics. I started this task by watching, and then critically reviewing, Ben Williamson’s presentation on the prospect of ‘smart universities’.  Ben draws on a range of sociological critiques of Big Data in order to explore the implications of this regime for teaching praxis.

I engaged in several debates with tutors and fellow students via twitter around the role of algorithms in education.  Particular debates focused on:

  • Whether or not researchers need to learn how to code
  • Who ‘owns’ algorithms and the potential of algorithms to behave in unpredictable ways
  • The extent to which we ‘give’ information to algorithms to use
  • The dominance of post-humanist/modernist thought in framing debates about algorithms and learning analytics

During the course, I’ve become increasingly sceptical of the ability for socio-material theory (and other post-modernist frameworks) to offer adequate frameworks for these debates.  In particular, they fail to  consider adequately the role of power and vested interests in shaping online learning spaces and practices.  There is a strong preference in the literature for post-humanist/modernist models, yet alternative models do exists!

One approach I’ve been exploring is the political economy of digital culture.  This approach, in my view, offers a more coherent framework for exploring the role of algorithms and learning analytics in the (envisioned) 21st century SMART university. I intend to explore this approach in my assignment.


Ben Williamson (2014) Calculating Academics: theorising the algorithmic organization of the digital university

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