#OpenBlog19 Are we the baddies?

I’ve been thinking a lot about critical digital literacies and how I, as a supplier and ‘evangelist’, balance my professional role and my personal views. It has lead me to ask “are we the baddies?”.

Before you read on, watch this brilliant Mitchell and Webb sketch:

I don’t have a cap with skulls on…

Who’s we?

Well, I suppose I’m talking about those of us who make decisions about technologies, promote technologies or supply them. Particularly, institutionally-provided technologies. Those of us in the dreaded center *insert villainous laugh here*.

I am a supplier of services. Those services involve technologies. I am party to, although rarely the ultimate decision maker on which technologies are implemented at my institution. I am a peddler of technological wares. My job is to ‘encourage’ people to use them. I am judged/measured on that usage. If I had a £ for every time someone asked ‘how many people actually use X’, I wouldn’t work at a University, I’d own it.

What are critical digital literacies?

5 dimensions of critical digital literacy – developed by
Juliet Hinrichsen and Antony Coombs at the University of Greenwich. Taken from Teachthought.com

Critical digital literacy is a broad church but I rather like the model above or at least it’s a good place to start. To do a poor job at paraphrasing, digital literacy is the understanding, analysis and reflection on digital tools, data and information. It’s about context in every sense of the word. It’s about ownership and motive. It’s about critical reflection. I once heard Teresa MacKinnon describe critical digital literacy as “digital wisdom”. I rather like that.

A recurring HE conversation is around Turnitin and it’s use of student data and intellectual property. For more background, and a far better exploration of the issue, see Jesse Stommel‘s article A Guide for Resisting Edtech: the Case against Turnitin. I weighed in on Twitter and it is on Turnitin that I will focus in the rest of this post.


Further Reading:

ALT West Midlands – Resources and Presentations

Jesse StommelCritical Digital Pedagogy: A Definition

LSE Blog by Gianfranco Polizzi – Critical digital literacy: ten key readings for our distrustful media age

“Just following orders”

Forgive the over the top analogy but sometimes an unsubtle point has greater impact.

I encourage, and if the University mandated it would have to enforce, the use of Turnitin.

My professional head says, for the reasons outlined in my tweets, we can’t just stop using it. Which forces me to ask:

Are we the baddies?

Am I complicit in something that is, to my critical heart, ‘wrong’? Am I forcing people to use something against their better judgement? Can I stand idly by and say I’m just following orders?

This is where I become frustrated with critical digital literacy discourse. We can all wag the finger and say “you shouldn’t do that”. We can all say that company is bad and we should boycott it. There needs to be more in the discourse to consider the impact of ‘practicalities’ (things we must do) with the things we’d like to do. We make choices in our personal lives daily. Which technologies we use and how much we’re willing to compromise to use them. Personal data being a perfect example, there’s no such thing as free, read the Ts & Cs. The same applies to Turnitin. It doesn’t work as well without a pool of student essays, therefore, to get the benefit they have to be relinquished. We could argue about what they do with them afterwards but I’m not going to here. Other people have done it better. I’m merely illustrating the point that technologies often come with an inherent compromise.

Anne-Marie Scott wrote a brilliant and thought provoking blog on the recent sale of Turnitin and a student’s understanding of how they make their money. Read Meaningful Networking here. It was this post and discussions at ALT West Midlands that made me sit down and start thinking about this.

Sometimes my critical heart has to take a backseat to my professional head. Something needs to be done and I have to do it.

What I need is alternatives. I need collective action. I need an education sector who has the power to change company policy. I need some way for my critical heart to intervene in decision making.

So I’ll leave it hanging here, like a fart in a lift.

Are we the baddies?

This blog was written in response to Amber Thomas‘s call for #openblog19 posts. See Amber’s Change and Transformation contribution here.

One thought on “#OpenBlog19 Are we the baddies?

  1. It’s funny – I teach about Turnitin’s business model as part of my digital goods class – we look at the revenue streams and how it is a good example of specific type of IP licensing of digital artefacts (within a range of examples including open source and CC licensing). However the interesting thing is that out of the hundreds of students I’ve done this with – not a single one is actually interested in the sense they are outraged. So does this mean they are suffering from false conscious and I should get on my soapbox to free them or I allow them their agency of not caring?

    > What I need is alternatives. I need collective action. I need an education sector who has the power to change company policy.

    You aren’t going to get it – for a couple of reasons. The first is that although I like watching conferences like OER from a far, from a *message* point of view, they work on the underlying assumption that everyone in the sector shares a leftist (Central left, broad left, far left, full on communist – you decide) perspective and shared ideology – they simply don’t – it’s not true. I say that as a manager, I said that as a someone who was a trade union activist and case-worker for fellow members (still a member of my union), I also said that as someone who’s won teaching awards for their use of OERs and active learning.

    The other problem is that the messaging is one that you get on the hour, every hour in a university and people who aren’t that ideologically bent just start to tune it out as background music – the problem is that then it’s difficult to change the overall culture because half your audience has switched off as soon as you utter ‘neo-liberalism’ or ‘Critical….’.

    It’s easy to preach to the converted but for some of the proposed solutions to shift from singular cottage industry non-scalable feel good examples (often relying on the free labour of the most exploited – the adjunct!), it also needs a bit of hard noised quantifiable benefits – for staff, for the people who monitor the op-ex and so on.

    (Then… you slip them some politics).

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