New surveillance technologies

New surveillance technologies are gaining a foothold in both social and private contexts. Not only do these technologies have the capacity to probe “more deeply, widely and softly” than traditional modes of surveillance, they can also break down natural (distance, time, skin) and synthetic (walls) barriers that, in the past, offered protection to personal information of individuals/groups (Marx 1997: 9). Surveillance technologies in schools can be seen to follow the same lines. While CCTV has gained much attention in the media and traction in schools as a deterrent for undesirable behaviours (Taylor 2010; Lauder 2013), its capacity to monitor and manage students pales in comparison to the surveillance might of online educational technologies. Used widely at Mountview Secondary College, Schoology is one example of the colonizing power of 21st century surveillance.

 

A market leader in Learning Management Systems (LMS), Schoology is a global company that has reached 12 million users in over 130 countries. The cloud-based platform is designed to cater to K-12 schools, higher education institutions, and corporations, allowing users to create, manage, and share content and/or resources. Celebrated as a “disruptive classroom technology”, Schoology has garnered significant attention in the mainstream media. The system is presented as an award winning platform for teaching and curriculum management that “offers teachers shortcuts to identifying the best way to teach their students” (Pofeldt 2014: para. 3).

 

PC Magazine’s (2015) Editors’ Choice Award Winner, the platform is said to have “the face of a social network and the foundation of an enterprise LMS, Schoology hits the sweet spot for K-12 learning management” (para. 2). A dashboard, for instance, helps teachers identify a student’s ‘learning style’ according to the student’s self-report. These dashboards also contain personal identifiers about the student such as full name, date of birth, email, mobile phone number, gender, and numerous other pieces of information about the user.

 

Schoology is illustrative of the dimensions of new surveillance outlined by Marx (1997) in his taxonomy of surveillance. Unlike traditional modes of surveillance such as CCTV that fit well with the often used panoptic framework, Schoology has low visibility or is invisible, often working behind the scenes. Given its usage by teachers across the school, data collection is integrated into routine activity and automated involving machines rather than (or in addition to) involving humans. Also in keeping with the dimensions of new surveillance, data often resides with third parties (such as the actors outlined in the Schoology Privacy Policy), can be collected remotely, and is easier to organize, store, retrieve, and analyze. With increased connectedness from schools to numerous external agents, data mining in the guise of online learning management has become entrenched in the educational sector.

 

The mechanisms built into Schoology allows student analytics to be available in real time. Data collection is continuous, and conducted by machines trawling for information on a student’s past, present, and future (statistical predictions). Data mining is performed through compilations of log files and tracking technologies. This form of dataveillance is not only ‘done’ by Schoology as the Privacy Policy states: “We gather certain information automatically and store it in log files”, but also by disparate actors located anywhere in the world: “Our third party partner may use technologies such as cookies to gather certain information about your activities on other sites in order to provide you advertising based upon your browsing activities and interests.” Through sharing, renting, and/or trading vast amounts of student information along a multitude of lines, not only is economic value created, but diverse bodies, either biological (human beings), social (social networks), or conceptual (ideas and values), are brought together. As a result, a rhizomatic surveillance process emerges from the arrangement of heterogeneous elements into a machinic (or productive) assemblage.

 

REFERENCES

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Lauder, Simon. September, 2013. “Principals call for CCTV cameras in schools to stop parents bullying teachers.” ABC. Retrieved: http://ab.co/17k1FbU

Marx, Gary T. 1997. “What’s new about the “new surveillance”? Classifying for change and

Continuity.” Surveillance & Society, 1(1): 9-29.

PC Magazine. 2015. Editors’ Choice Awards. Retrieved: http://bit.ly/1RyZr7B

Pofeldt, Elaine. 2014. “Disruptive classroom technology lures VCs in new round.” Forbes. Retrieved: onforb.es/1RD5XR0.

Schoology. 2016. Privacy Policy. Retrieved: bit.ly/1LIEfQt

Taylor, Emmeline. 2010. “‘I spy with my little eye’: The use of CCTV in schools and the impact of privacy.” Sociological Review, 58(3): 381–405.