Dataveillance and the digital school

The past decade has seen rapid growth in “new” surveillance technologies in public schools. Students and teachers now find themselves under continuous watch, with (in)dividualized data and information captured and circulated inside *and* outside of school amongst a variety of (un)known actors. Although there is increasing academic debate devoted to surveillance technology as an educational phenomenon, this attention has tended toward a Foucauldian [Panoptic] lens for analysis (e.g., Hope 2015; McCahill & Finn 2010; Perryman 2006; Selwyn 2000).

Yet, as we are finding in our research, the increasing digitization of schooling has changed the nature and form of surveillance in terms of shifting boundaries of time/space, fixed/mobile, public/private. These changes render the Panoptic model incomplete as an analytic tool that can offer a comprehensive account of school surveillance in its diversifying liquid forms. While the Panopticon might serve as a useful point of departure from which to study digital schools (Gallagher 2010), a complementary frame for understanding what is emerging from our data is the rhizome which has the capacity to illustrate the nature and reach of surveillance in contemporary educational environments.

The primary questions we are focusing on are as follows: What evidence is there for rhizomatic modes of surveillance / dataveillance in school? How are digital technologies implicit in their operation? What tensions arise when technologies and practices of dataveillance are enacted within the context of digital schooling? These questions are being addressed through exploration of the e-learning and content management platforms used increasingly by individual teachers. Such applications, we argue, support pervasive rhizomatic modes of dataveillance – constituting a covert form of surveillance that systematically monitors individuals and/or groups through personal data networks in order to regulate or govern behaviours. We will also consider the implications of these “new” forms of hidden surveillance – especially in light of continuing educational enthusiasm for desirability of learning analytics, data-mining, and commercially-produced learning technologies.


Gallagher, Michael. 2010. Are schools panoptic? Surveillance & Society 7(3/4): 262-272.

Hope, Andrew. 2015. Governmentality and the ‘selling’ of school surveillance devices. The Sociological Review: 1–18.

McCahill, Michael, and Rachel Finn. 2010. The social impact of surveillance in three UK schools: ‘Angels’, ‘devils’ and ‘teen mums’. Surveillance & Society 7 (3/4): 273-289.

Perryman, Jane. 2006. Panoptic Performativity and School Inspection Regimes: Disciplinary Mechanisms and Life Under Special Measures. Journal of Education Policy 21 (2): 147-161.

Selwyn, Neil. 2000. The National Grid for Learning: Panacea or Panopticon? British Journal of Sociology of Education 21 (2): 243-255.