On January 28th 2015, Ben Williamson visited the Programmable City Project and delivered a seminar on “Programmable Schools”. Ben is a lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Stirling. His current research focuses on learning analytics, policy labs, and the emergence of new forms of digital education governance and digital policy instruments. This presentation drew on the ESRC-funded Code Acts in Education project that Ben is currently leading.
Ben offered the following abstract for the seminar:
Along with the ‘smart city,’ the idea of the ‘smart school’ is emerging in recent imaginings of the future of education. Various organizations and actors have begun to envisage education as a highly coded, software-mediated, data-driven, and computationally-programmable social institution. These consist of commercial initiatives, such as IBM’s ‘Smarter Classroom’ project and Microsoft’s ‘Educated Cities’ programme, as well as non-commercial projects from organizations such as Nesta’s Policy Lab and Glasgow City Council. Smart schools are emerging ‘sociotechnical imaginaries’ formed of a mixture of technological fantasies and related technical developments. The presentation will provide a survey of the key features of emerging smart schools. In particular, it will focus on the constant flows of data smart schools depend on and the ‘quantified students’ they produce; the digital policy instruments used to monitor and measure them; the ways that students are solicited to ‘learn to code’ in order to become ‘smart citizens’ in the digital governance of the smart city; and emerging techniques of predictive ‘learning analytics’ that enable student data to be used to anticipate their behaviours and pre-empt their futures. Such schools are presented as becoming to some degree ‘sentient,’ programmed with the capacity to learn and adapt to the learner. These features are characteristic of a new technocratic way of conceptualizing educational practices and spaces and of emerging modes of both ‘real-time’ and ‘future-tense’ digital education governance.
The seminar was extremely well received by all in attendance, and offers a detailed and critical appraisal of current developments in education.