Against Argument

‘Education is broken’, the Silicon Valley Narrative

Rebuttal: Martin Weller

There are several elements necessary to the Silicon Valley narrative: firstly, that a technological fix is both possible and in existence; secondly, that external forces will change, or disrupt, an existing sector; thirdly, that wholesale revolution is required; lastly, that the solution is provided by commerce.

“These narratives are often accepted unchallenged and deliberately ignore higher education’s role in many of the changes that have occurred (positioning it as external forces fixing higher education) or simplifying the functions of higher education.”(Weller, 2014)

Whilst the institution provided the personal WordPress space on their servers all the technologies that were used to feed into this including IFTTT were products of Silicon Valley. Prominent Silicon Valley figures have literally been selling the ‘education is broken’ metaphor whereby their services will fix it, at a cost, both in financial and privacy terms.

Also, IFTTT was mandatory and even the number of technologies feeding into it were encouraged repeatedly. Therefore, student choice was not applicable in this scenario and new registrations were required for IFTTT, Instagram, Pocket, Pinterest, Vimeo and Storify. This was entirely to fulfil the course requirements and after twelve weeks of use, there is no evidence to support any learning benefit which could not have been gained from manually posting content in the WordPress area. This tension between technology use and reading and reflection was so strong that it remained unresolved to the end.

Whilst the need for challenging technology use was a crucial element of this course with regards learning outcomes, it is important to highlight that technical requirements may result in potential equality/equity issues for wider open learning. This can be both the physical access to technology and the digital literacies required to use it (Weller, 2014).

To focus on one specific example, three witnesses are called to give evidence on issues arising from Twitter serving its shareholders instead of its users.

Witnesses one-three:

Jack Morse – Bye, Twitter. All the cool kids are migrating to Mastodon

David Hopkins – Dear Twitter. It’s not me, it’s you

Doug Belshaw – Why I’m not using Twitter next month

Witness four: Jeremy Knox

Ultimately, the centring of community in education problematically positions web technology as the passive instrument of our predetermined educational aims. This overlooks the powerful economic and ideological forces that underpin and shape the technology industry. The drive for technologies that facilitate our ‘community learning’ have simultaneously embroiled education in a Silicon Valley culture, motivated by data acquisition and profit.” (Knox, 2015).

This evidence builds on that previously indicating a worrying scenario where the learner is potentially participating in an online community driven both by the educator/institution and/or by external commercial businesses.

A further issue that then arises is regarding data ownership and ethical usage of data. For example, this evidence is from Instagram Terms and Conditions regarding the rights of user images:

Image taken from:

Not only is this bordering on incomprehensible with regards to readability but they are appearing to be claiming full rights without claiming ownership. The need to be ever vigilant of the terms and conditions on all the ‘open’ and ‘free’ services is almost continuous. Frequent purchases of smaller companies by larger ones adds to the confusion, for example, Instagram was bought by Facebook in 2012. So, whilst a user may believe they are signing up to Instagram alone they are actually signing up for having their data stored in a Facebook data centre, which means a sharing of data between the two services.

Further, a mandatory part of the module was participation in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Despite the initial hype and use of ‘open’ in the title, the majority of providers are commercial enterprises. The content can only be freely accessed if you sign up to the delivery platform and may have a limitation on how long this period of access may be. In this regard, the term open only refers to the course being free of financial cost.

To sum up in Freire’s words “It doesn’t hurt to repeat here the statement, still rejected by many people in spite of its obviousness, that education is a political act.” it simply cannot be viewed in terms of neutrality (Freire, 1998). This is visualised by Bryan Mathers highlighting the dangers and issues of being open in our current political climate.

Image attribution under a CC-BY 4.0 licence, @bryanMMathers


Frustrations regarding technology: example 1 | example 2

Feedback suggestion of increasing IFTTT variety

Feedback acknowledging increased variety of use

FutureLearn changes to access 2017

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