Datafying education: How digital data practices reconfigure the organisation of learning in schools
In the past decade, an ever increasing trend to capture (social) life in numbers became a prominent instantiation of the so-called ‘audit society’ (Power, 1999). Datafication affects many social domains and one of the most noticeable is education. Digital educational data are distinct from pre-digital forms as they may be exhaustive in scope, highly detailed, and can be combined in a flexible manner and at different aggregation levels. Such possibilities have always existed on a small scale, but new data infrastructures and algorithmic capabilities allow for analytics on an ‘unprecedented complexity and scope’ (Parks, 2014, p. 356). At the same time has datafication reached all aspects of schooling: It relates for example to schools’ performances and student achievements which are compared on a national and international scale; it affects salaries of teachers and school managers which are adjusted according to test scores as well as decision-making of parents for school choice or communication and control of teachers. Schools are being organised as ‘data platforms’ (Williamson, 2015) in which a wide range of data practices (including tracking and sensing) are employed. Subsequently the ways in which the imaginary of ‘good schooling’ is constructed and enacted is changing profoundly. In our paper we will juxtapose three case studies that exemplify the increasing importance of digital data in education. In particular, we are interested in exploring what a socio-material approach offers when attending to datafication. In our paper we argue that digital, educational data practices may be conceptualised as ‘material-discursive practices’ (Barad, 2007) that shape and reconfigure the organisation of learning, in particular through the ways in which they produce particular learning and teaching subjects.
Juliane Jarke is a researcher at the University of Bremen and the Institute of Information Management Bremen (ifib).