Technology that Tracks Us.

Yesterday I had a very brief discussion on Twitter regarding artificial intelligence and surveillance in education. It was prompted by this tweet and the article it links to.

I read the article and responded with my gut reaction:

Then I elaborated when prompted:

This feels more pressing right now, at the wake of the U.S. presidential election. Surveillance seems like it will underscore our future even more now than it has in the past.

Surveillance in our lives to make cogs that better fit in the system deemed “great.” Not truly room for growth…especially not growth on an innovative and expansive level that requires trust and experimentation; that embraces differences for the multitude of perspectives and experiences they bring.


Underscoring my thoughts is this brilliant thread by Robin DeRosa this morning:


I get the appeal of using technologies and analytic to “improve” and “enhance” learning education. To reproduce and make efficient a system that churns out a desired belief system and populous. I even can empathize with the well-meaning and idealism that leads us to believe we can use these technologies, use surveillance, use artificial intelligence (which is only a propagation of a programmer’s belief systems! The epistemology of artificial intelligence and machine learning, a topic for research and another time). But these hopes are outweighed by the now apparent levels of fear that dictate their use. We must always stay vigilant in being critical of our technologies, of our ideals. We must stay skeptical of their use until we can guarantee  they will not cause more harm, more marginalization; that they will not strip freedoms from those we are trying to “help.”


Featured image: Surveillance by Tara Hunt, CC


4 thoughts on “Technology that Tracks Us.

  1. Hi, I really enjoyed reading this and in particular agree with your comments that we must always stay vigilant in being critical of our technologies, of our ideals. We are at a junction in our socieities – both in terms of politics and technology – is it a coincidence that it is happening simultaneously? So how do we stay vigliant? My fear is that although we are right to be concerned about technology tracking students in reality this is already happening when we suggest students use social media platforms (often big companies such as Twitter or Google or Facebook) – only neither the educator nor the student get to see the data. Are we as educators too late to be having this discussion?


    • I don’t think we are too late to be having this discussion. Is it ever too late to try to make change?
      We can still fight the targeted use of surveillance in education and the creation and implementation of surveillance technologies in our classrooms; and certainly the use of such technologies and ideals without student permission and input.
      We can call attention and stay aware of how our data is being collected and used in the world, and demand – through our words and our actions, that we be informed of what data is being collected, and how it is being used; that we have some say in it.

      I am not against data collection, and the use of data to make improvements in the world. Interestingly enough, my Master’s in Animal Science consisted entirely of a data analysis. Now, that was data collected voluntarily by farmers on cows. But having access to that data was beneficial to both us as researchers, and we hope, through our interpretations, to the farmers. A slightly different scenario, because cows aren’t humans, aren’t students. But still, I recognize the benefits that can come from data collection.

      Even more so, I have chronic, undiagnosed illness; I have thought many times of making all my medical records publicly available to perhaps crowdsource and find answers to help me. But in staying vigilant of my ideals (finding something to improve my health), and in recognizing that my data can be used against me – by pharmaceutical companies, my insurance companies, by other people… I strive to make an informed decision about what I will do.

      So I think they key here is agency. We must really push for agency in our data collection and use. How we do that? I’ll continue to listen to Audrey Watters for ideas… and continue to question and push for some accountability.
      (I think I got on a bit of a ramble here, sorry! I love your comment and think its so important. Thanks for sticking with me)


  2. I didn’t think you were against collecting data and I agree with everything you’re saying
    🙂 . I suppose my feeling is education should be leading the way on the collection and use of data – you point out that as a sector we should be well used to the processes and ethics of using data to better understand a topic. I’m getting the impression that education doesn’t like the suggestion that there is an overlap between surveillance (a bad thing ) and learning analytics (a good thing). And it strikes me education is coming late to the debate around collection and analysis of data generated through use of technology. There has been, certainly in the UK, a focus on using social media platforms for learning without a constructive and informed debate about what this means for student data. There’s been a tendency to sneer at those of us who have been cautious about use of social media platforms for learning – an assumption that we are reluctant to try out innovations when in fact, I’m suspicious about how commercial social media platforms use data and I don’t want to be an advocate for a business model I don’t respect or trust.

    Student and staff input is vital – and ownership. It goes way beyond a sentence or two in the student handbook saying a student gives permission for their data to be analyzed. If the education sector is going to ever take a lead on this topic, it’s going to take a long time and much consultation including ‘pushing for agency’. We all need to be comfortable – are we happy our employers could use our data to analyse and improve our own performance? Until we are more informed and comfortable, you are correct, it does come down to surveillance – let’s not call it anything else. Thank you for highlighting this and it’s worth sticking with a discussion when it involves something so important.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope I didn’t imply you disagreed with me! Not my intention at all, just my messy train of thought.

      I absolutely adore the point you made here “I’m getting the impression that education doesn’t like the suggestion that there is an overlap between surveillance (a bad thing) and learning analytics (a good thing). And it strikes me education is coming late to the debate around collection and analysis of data generated through use of technology.”
      Though I not certain learning analytics are always a good thing…

      I agree, education is late to the conversation. I don’t know that education has ever led a conversation (please, if anyone has information on edu being the innovators rather than the implementers I’d love to hear it!!) but it’s time for us to be having these discussions and pushes now, at the very least 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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