Recoding literacies in the machine: Agency and accountability in human-software complementarities in commercial-educational platforms and applications

Year: 2019

Author: Bulfin, Scott, Diamond, Fleur

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Schools and classrooms in many parts of the world are seeing an increasing uptake of commercial-educational software platforms and applications as part of the ‘business’ of schooling. Platforms technologies and applications, such as ClassDojo, Edmodo, Canvas, PebblePad and Kahoot! are playing a prominent role in teachers’ work and in student learning. Many of these platforms package together ‘educational’ media, curriculum content, assessment and reporting, teacher-student-parent communications, and behaviour management into a single interface (Selwyn, Nemorin, Bulfin & Johnson 2018; Williamson 2017). Because they offer the promise of convenience and personalised learning to schools and teachers, and are often marketed as ‘free’ to use, they have become very popular across educational contexts.

This paper reports on a study investigating the uses of these platform technologies and applications in the secondary English classroom, and the implications of these technologies for producing and managing specific forms of literate subjectivity based in emerging human-software relations and complementarities. The paper follows two strategies. First, it presents a ‘close reading’ of sample commercial-educational platforms widely used in Australian schools. We explore how these educational technologies work to (re)constitute and (re)compose both literacy learning and literate identities within school sanctioned language and literacy learning for both teachers and students. Second, we also draw on interviews with secondary English teachers who use these platforms in their work. The study examines the following questions:

* What kinds of literacies are imagined and privileged and what kinds of reading and writing subjects are produced through these platform technologies? How?
* What literacy pedagogies and practices of literacy learning are engineered, called forth and made visible via these technologies, their design and use?

In the paper we argue that English and literacy researchers must re-attune their research imaginations to examine emergent forms of school sanctioned literacy and literate identities as these continue to form and emerge—and, in many cases, combine and link up with existing challenges, such as the increasing standardisation, digitisation and commercialisation of education practice. We find that these forms of literate subjectivity are often anchored in emergent forms of ‘human-software complementarities’ (Shestakofsky 2017) that provide both opportunities and challenges for teachers and students. These subjectivities and complementarities require urgent critical attention as they increasingly shape agency and accountability across a range of educational sites, activities and relations.