Higher Education after Surveillance: why an international project?

UPDATE, September 2019. ‘Transatlantic’ was already a bit problematic when we started out, but it’s become more so as the group of people involved begins to expand! So we will be dropping that particular description of what we’re doing, going forward.

Thinking about issues of trust, surveillance and the future of higher education, there is more than enough going on in each of our individual institutions, education systems and even countries to keep us all busy for years – so why a transatlantic project? Our aim here is to move back and forth between the context-specific and the more conceptual dimensions of the issues we want to explore. By working across systems and national borders, we hope to help each other see big picture differences and commonalities, and ultimately see and understand our own situations and possibilities more clearly.

For example: The University of Melbourne in Australia has been trialling new plagiarism prevention software called Cadmus, which involves students typing their assignments directly into an online system which logs keystrokes and other forms of data. Students are resisting, but the pilot is moving ahead. This is an escalation of widespread use of plagiarism detection software systems, which are already problematic in relation to issues of trust. What level of intensity of surveillance are we prepared to subject our students to in the production of their work for us?

For example: In the United States, calls for “personalized learning” (with its wide range of definitions) have increased surveillance at universities and colleges, particularly in schools that serve underserved communities. Aggressive data collection drives the personalization, but few demands are made on the protection and ethical use of those data. As U.S. higher education continues its march toward de-regulation, de-funding, and commercial interests driving decision-making, there are critical concerns to address in this realm.

For example: in the UK, international staff on certain kinds of visas are subject to a range of surveillance practices within their employing institutions, with a view to ensuring they are fulfilling their immigration requirements. This has been widely critiqued and the university’s role as ‘border guard’ the subject of increasing discontent and protest. But, in the furore over Brexit, this issue is barely making a dent in national conversations about immigration.

We aim to use after surveillance as a springboard for critical conversations, new insights and knowledge, and to support action.

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