Team Endeavour: Eunice Leung, Jeff Goodes, Leigh McCarthy, Sue Reid, Lorne Strachan

Our facilitation week consisted of posing a debate topic, which was, “Be it resolved that digital tracking can be used to help students without crossing over into invasive surveillance.” The resulting discussion was a vigorous and vibrate exchange of ideas and opinions, which we have summarized below.  

Highlights of Con Comments

  • Earl referenced the notion of data being “captured” for the purposes of commercialization, a note-worthy connotation in the context of this discussion.
  • Mark floated the metaphor of edtech as a “car” which has potential to be both good or bad, depending on how someone uses it. However, society has made laws to ensure the best possible safety of the public.
  • Earl and Leigha talked about the lack of choice that students have to opt out of surveillance.
  • Sharon talked about the allure of edtech surveillance through the lens of technological solutionism that she said seems to consume a spectrum of people from IT designers, politicians, to education scholars, and philanthropic billionaires;
  • Kathy raised a caution that edtech surveillance, even well intentioned, could further alienate already vulnerable students.
  • Tala pulled off an effective mic drop by quoting Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Highlights of Pro Comments

  • Caroline brought up that learners must know and understand that the analytics are available and be aware that this information is collected to help them succeed in their studies.
  • Tala discussed the importance of creating awareness by educating citizens and policy makers about digital literacy skills and best practices. She referenced some excellent best practices from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  • Sanjay pointed out how important student data and data analytics are to his role in working to help student success and retention. He shared that “it has helped me to be proactive in my approach to creating and advising on retention strategies.”
  • Kerry shared, “as Watters (2020) pointed out, we are living in pretty volatile times and assisting a student through these uncertainties, through monitorization, could help with additional stressors and anxieties.”
  • Owen proposed a unique perspective, that technology can in fact help us to protect the vulnerable. He stated that, “digital tracking, and by extension monitoring of personal digital communications (email, text, and social posting) has been pivotal in preventing thousands of self-harm cases and several hundred instances of ‘imminent threat’(Beckett, 2019).”

Bringing it All Together 

An overarching theme that emerged is the pursuit of finding a balance between the negative aspects of surveillance, and the positive benefits that can be achieved by this technology. Clint described this as “the exact tension you are debating between privacy and functionality with regards to student data.” In our Thursday evening synchronous session, Audrey Watters urged us to err on the side of humanity and offer “more support for humans and human relationships.” She suggested we are focusing on the wrong things: “the silver-bullet that technology promises, that so many people liking the idea of  a product that can solve many problems in education… is highly problematic”. She pointed to a need for pedagogy that isn’t “copshit”, in other words, pedagogy that doesn’t promote narratives surrounding the need for edtech surveillance tools. 

Reaching a Middle Ground

In conclusion, the middle ground in the debate lay in the idea that we need to be critical of technology and assess it, not as a tool that can assist an institution, but one that has the potential to assist learners. Caroline used a word that’s central to the entire debate, trust: “If surveillance tech is used in the right circumstances, to help, guide and achieve success then it helps to create a trusting relationship between the facilitator and learner.” Sanjay raised a strong point: “I think with solid policy around the ethical use of student data and processes for verifying data, we can have the best of both worlds using data to promote a better student experience.” Finally, Sharon urged us to be critical and ask tough questions when implementing technology to ensure that we are making decisions centred on the people we are serving. 

How will you contribute to finding the balance in a changing landscape that is challenged by conflicting agendas in the midst of a world pandemic? We hope that this week’s discourse has encouraged you to continue as an avid participant in this critical and ongoing conversation. 


Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash