Digital technologies have extended the commercialization of schools into new realms. From Microsoft and Google, through to News Corporation and thousands of far smaller ‘Ed-Tech’ start-ups, digital technologies have positioned for-profit interests at the center of how public schooling is now funded, organized and delivered. This variety of enterprise reflects the fact that schools and technology is now a very big business, with global sales of K-12 instructional technology reaching $13 billion in 2013. There is a clear need here for investigations that seek to simply ‘follow the capital’ associated with the increased use of digital technology in schools. As the infamous case of the $1.3 billion iPad program in LAUSD continues to illustrate, the use of digital technologies in schools is driven by an ‘education-industrial complex’ (Picciano and Spring 2013) of IT industry and publishing businesses, foundations and think tanks, and other vested interests.
As such, digital sociology reminds us to constantly challenge the private sector values that underpin much of what is blithely seen as the inevitable digital reform of public schooling. Take, for example, how digital technology and the imagined imperative of ‘the digital’ is being used as justification to redesign, reform and re-orientate the nature, form and values of public schooling. Philanthropic foundations, transnational corporations, venture capitalists and other ‘edu-prenuers’ continue to invest substantial amounts of time, finance and spin in attempts to ‘fix’ and/or ‘disrupt’ our supposedly ‘broken’ school systems through technology-based approaches. These include promises of technology-driven ‘personalization’, games-based-learning, ‘flipped classrooms’, maker culture, ‘twenty-first century skills’ and so on. These also include new blueprints for schooling along the lines of Altschool, Quest-to-Learn, P-TECH and even ‘Steve Jobs Schools’. Reversions and innovations such as these might well be desirable and beneficial, but surely require sustained scrutiny and critique. Many of the ‘new’ forms of digital education being promoted by commercial interests are based undoubtedly around different agendas and ideologies than we are used to seeing in public education. These shifts in tone and emphasis may, or may not, be a ‘good thing’. Yet these are issues that require more recognition, debate and scrutiny from within the educational establishment.
Picciano, A. and Spring, J. 2013. ‘The great American education-industrial complex: ideology, technology and profit’ New York, Routledge