Disentanglement from my lifestream: wrapping up algorithmic cultures and EDC 2020

‘Entanglement’ (ellen x silverberg, Flickr)

As I disentangle myself from my lifestream feeds, and reflect on the course, I consider how I have perceived and been influenced by the algorithmic systems involved.

Google and Twitter were consistent influences, the latter through new/existing connections and via #mscedc#AlgorithmsForHer and #ds106, and I saved/favourited (often highly ranked) resources to Pocket, YouTube and SoundCloud (and other feeds).

While I had some awareness of these algorithms, alterations to my perception of the ‘notion of an algorithm’ (Beer 2017: 7) has shaped my behaviour. Believing I “understand” how Google “works”, reading about the Twitter algorithm and reflecting on ranking/ordering have altered my perceptions, and reading about ‘learning as “nudging”‘ (Knox et al. 2020: 38) made me think twice before accepting the limiting recommendations presented to me.

Referring to the readings, these algorithmic operations are interwoven with, and cannot be separated from, the social context, in terms of commercial interests involved in their design and production, how they are ‘lived with’ and the way this recursively informs their design (Beer 2017: 4). Furthermore, our identities shape media but media also shapes our identities (Pariser 2011). Since ‘there are people behind big data’ (Williamson 2017: x-xi), I am keen to ‘unpack the full socio-technical assemblage’ (Kitchin 2017: 25), uncover ideologies, commercial and political agendas (Williamson 2017: 3) and understand the ‘algorithmic life’ (Amoore and Piotukh 2015) and ‘algorithmic culture’ (Striphas 2015) involved.

During my ‘algorithmic play’ with Coursera, its “transformational” “learning experiences” and self-directed predefined ‘learning plans’ perhaps exemplify Biesta’s (2005) ‘learnification’. Since ‘algorithms are inevitably modelled on visions of the social world’ (Beer 2017: 4), suggesting education needs “transforming” and (implied through Coursera’s dominance of “tech courses”) ‘the solution is in the hands of software developers’ (Williamson 2017: 3) exposes a ‘technological solutionism’ (Morozov 2013) and Californian ideology (Barbrook and Cameron 1995) common to many algorithms entangled in my lifestream. Moreover, these data-intensive practices and interventions, tending towards ‘machine behaviourism’ (Knox et al. 2020), could profoundly shape notions of learning and teaching.

As I consider questions of power with regards to algorithmic systems (Beer 2017: 11) and the possibilities for resistance, educational institutions accept commercial “EdTech solutions” designed to “rescue” them during the coronavirus crisis. This accelerated ‘datafication’ of education, seen in context of wider neoliberal agendas, highlights a growing urgency to critically examine changes to pedagogy, assessment and curriculum (Williamson 2017: 6).

However, issues of authorship, responsibility and agency are complex, for algorithmic systems are works of ‘collective authorship’, ‘massive, networked [boxes] with hundreds of hands reaching into them’ (Seaver 2013: 8-10). As ‘processes of “datafication” continue to expand and…data feeds-back into people’s lives in different ways’ (Kennedy et al. 2015: 4), I return to the concept of ‘feedback loops’ questioning the ‘boundaries of the autonomous subject’ (Hayles 1999: 2). If human-machinic boundaries are blurred and autonomous will problematic (ibid.: 288), we might consider algorithmic systems/actions in terms of ‘human-machinic cognitive relations’ (Amoore 2019: 7) or ‘cognitive assemblages’ (Hayles 2017), entangled intra-relations seen in context of sociomaterial assemblages and performative in nature (Barad 2007; Introna 2016; Butler 1990) – an ‘entanglement of agencies’ (Knox 2015).

I close with an audio/visual snippet and a soundtrack to my EDC journey


My EDC soundtrack:

My EDC soundtrack cover image

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Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Re-engineering education’ (Williamson 2020)


‘Many new parents announce the birth of a child on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg took it a step further, announcing in a December 2015 ‘letter to our daughter‘ that he and Priscilla Chan would give 99% of their Facebook shares during their lifetimes (estimated then at around US$45billion) to causes including education, science and social justice. The vehicle would be the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), a ‘new kind of philanthropy’ focused on ‘personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities.’’

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Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Speculative method in digital education research’ (Ross 2017)


The question of ‘what works’ is currently dominating educational research, often to the exclusion of other kinds of inquiries and without enough recognition of its limitations. At the same time, digital education practice, policy and research over-emphasises control, efficiency and enhancement, neglecting the ‘not-yetness’ of technologies and practices which are uncertain and risky. As a result, digital education researchers require many more kinds of questions, and methods, in order to engage appropriately with the rapidly shifting terrain of digital education, to aim beyond determining ‘what works’ and to participate in ‘intelligent problem solving’ [Biesta, G. J. J. 2010, “Why ‘What Works’ Still Won’t Work: From Evidence-Based Education to Value-Based Education.” Studies in Philosophy and Education 29 (5): 491–503] and ‘inventive problem-making’ [Michael, M. 2012, “‘What Are We Busy Doing?’ Engaging the Idiot.” Science, Technology & Human Values 37 (5): 528–554]. This paper introduces speculative methods as they are currently used in a range of social science and art and design disciplines, and argues for the relevance of these approaches to digital education. It synthesises critiques of education’s over-reliance on evidence-based research, and explores speculative methods in terms of epistemology, temporality and audience. Practice-based examples of the ‘teacherbot’, ‘artcasting’ and the ‘tweeting book’ illustrate speculative method in action, and highlight some of the tensions such approaches can generate, as well as their value and importance in the current educational research climate.

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Michael saved in Pocket: ‘What Does the ‘Postdigital’ Mean for Education? Three Critical Perspectives on the Digital, with Implications for Educational Research and Practice’ (Knox 2019)


This paper examines what the term ‘postdigital’ might mean for education through the discussion of human-technology relationships. It begins with a summary of two general interpretations of the postdigital: firstly, to understand the ‘post’ as meaning simply ‘posterior to’ the digital, suggesting a different stage in the perception and use of technology; and secondly, to consider the ‘post’ as signalling a critical appraisal of the assumptions embedded in the general understanding of the digital. Subsequently, the paper outlines three critical perspectives on the digital with specific relevance for educational concerns. The first examines the economic rationales underpinning digital technology, focusing on the idea of the platform and the assumed benefits of sharing. The second discusses the role of the digital in educational policy and the compound effects of the metrification of institutional quality. The third section explores the digital as ‘material’, and the increasing attention paid to issues of labour and the exploitation of natural resources required to produce digital technologies. These perspectives suggest an understanding of the postdigital in terms of profound and far-reaching socio-technical relations, which have significant consequences for thinking about the purpose, focus, and governance of education in contemporary times.

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Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Teacherbot: interventions in automated teaching’ (Bayne 2015b)

While considering the implications of moving beyond humanism for education, I am reflecting on this excerpt from Bayne (2015b: 456) and trying to visualise what a ‘creative “gathering”‘ of this kind might look like…

Biesta (1998), for example, has considered a ‘pedagogy without humanism’ to be oriented to the notion of ‘intersubjectivity’ rather than to the ‘bringing out’ of the potential of the individual subject. In this way, our teaching:

‘can retain the communicative intuition of the pedagogical project of Enlightenment; it can also sustain the critique of Critical Pedagogy against any instrumentalization and dehumanization of education. But it has to do all this without a deep truth of what it is to be human.’ (13)

Others are less concerned with the preservation of the Enlightenment project. Edwards, for example, also writing against educational hegemony which privileges the ‘knowing human subject’ (Edwards 2010), suggests that posthumanism inclines us to think towards education as an assemblage of the human and non-human, an ‘entanglement’ in which the purpose of education becomes not one of‘ learning’ but one of a creative ‘gathering’, in which the human subject cannot be seen as separate from the objects of knowledge with which it is concerned. Thus, for Edwards, drawing on the work of Barad (2007), Latour (1993) and Hacking (1983), the ‘post-human condition cannot be one of learning’, since the subject doing the learning and the object ‘being learned’ are no longer readily distinguishable from each other. The work of education then becomes focused on how ‘matters of concern’ (Latour 2004) ‘arise from the work of specific practices and assemblages of the human and non-human’ (Edwards 2010, 9). As Snaza (2013) has expressed it, ‘Recent posthumanist scholarship reveals that the human is not simply a being that is, but a social construction formed and defined in relation to various non-human Others’ (38).

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Michael commented on Susan’s lifestream – Week 2 Summary – enhancement & (dis)embodiment

Week 2 Summary – enhancement & (dis)embodiment

Michael Wolfindale:

Great summary and fascinating points!

Reflecting specifically on the idea of ‘distributed cognition’, and what this might mean for education, brought me across an article where Hayles (2008) discusses the idea in context of ‘slippingglimpse’, a verbal-visual collaboration involving a videographer, poet and programmer and consisting of videos of moving water associated with scrolling poetic text.

Amongst other things, Hayles (2008: 23) discusses the ‘collision/conjunction of human and non-human cognition’, as well as ‘non-conscious parts of cognition’. One example of the latter might be a musician who has learnt a piece ‘by heart’ and ‘knows the moves in her body better than in her mind’ (I remember the phrase ‘muscle memory’ from piano lessons!).

She also discusses the ‘non-conscious performance of the intelligent machine’ (for example, learning from ‘computed information’), as well as ‘the capacity of artificial evolution for creative invention’ (such as using image-editing software).

Another example is reading, which some describe as ‘a whole-body activity that involves breathing rhythms, kinaesthesia, proprioception, and other unconscious or non-conscious cognitive activities’ (Hayles 2008: 16). The work ‘slippingglimpse’ itself ‘requires and mediates upon multimodal reading as a whole body activity’ (ibid.: 18).

While I am still processing the implications of these ideas for education (particularly the way they complicate individual agency), these examples have certainly been food for thought and helped me to think beyond the Cartesian mind/body dualism!

Michael favourited on Flickr: Entanglement by ellen x silverberg

I found this image while reflecting on Bayne (2015) and the complex entanglement of technology and education:

‘As researchers and practitioners of digital education, we need to move away from our over-emphasis on how technology acts on education, or how education can best act on technology. Let us rather acknowledge that the two are co-constitutive of each other, entangled in cultural, material, political and economic assemblages of great complexity.’ (Bayne 2015: 18)