Interesting paper: Google and the end of the teacher?

Simon Verwer shared this article on Twitter with me and it is indeed interesting. We’ve seen major tech companies investing big money in education, but… what is really happening?

The paper tries to answer the question if Silicon Valley wants the end of the teacher as we know it? The answer is complex:

We can conclude from the interviews that the figuration of the desirable teacher made up by the edupreneurs is a teacher who is absolutely present and who is coaching, not lecturing, flexible, willing to speed up, and ready to work whenever and wherever. School should undertake a fundamental cultural shift to downplay grades and bureaucracy and emphasize creativity and flexibility. The most obvious characteristic in the teacher figuration is the coach, the teacher who customizes his/her work to the individual student and his/her needs of knowledge, location and timeframes, emphasizing that education is not a collective activity but a personal business – which also correlates with earlier studies. Perhaps paradoxically, it is (still) impossible to articulate that teachers will disappear from school. On the contrary, they need to remain, despite the technological revolution.

I consider this figuration of the teacher as performative, meaning that it constructs the reality it claims to describe, so it is urgent to understand what it means. We can see a fusion between the traditions of public education and what is conceptualized here as Silicon Valley culture, drawing on an idea of network society. The ed-tech edupreneurs dream about a school that transcends the boundaries of time and space, with help from technology, but also in which learning is personalized and traditional hierarchies are displaced. The individualization concerning content, learning style, time and place, and efficiency of schooling is embedded in a discourse of collaboration, creativity, and fun – a translation of the playful Peter Pan culture that Löfgren (2003) and others (e.g., Jensen 2008; Vaidhyanathan 2012; Levina and Hasinoff 2017) described as organizing the Silicon Valley culture. The boring parts of the teaching profession, such as grading, assessment, and documentation, will be taken over by technology. The teachers should be the ones promising creativity in order to educate dreamers for the future; that is, entrepreneurs who can think outside the box and are prepared for a modern work life demanding resilience and adaption to new conditions in the knowledge economy. In this figuration of the unfinished but desirable teacher, promises and possibilities can be invested in and also created. This is done in the name of democratization, work relief, and fun. This optimistic language also means that problems such as re-localization of power from teachers to ed-tech companies, technology as a surveillance system, and teachers’ working conditions if they are constantly online are not addressed. The imagined possibilities downplay problems, which makes room for neoliberal politics in everyday classroom (Player-Koro and Beach 2014). This hidden policy implementation is boosted by imaginations of what technology can, and will, accomplish and by a construction of the unfinished teacher in need of change (Castañeda 2002). The ordinary, traditional teacher is not enough; s/he is supposed to work differently, more ‘democratically’, in new digital spaces and all the time. This figuration of a teacher, dressed in culturally desirable characteristics, also makes room for new actors in school. As discussed above, learning is ‘unbundled’ from schools, teachers, and schedules. This becomes evident, not least, in relation to the tech-companies certification of teachers – a commercial way of defining what a good teacher is and should be.

Abstract of the paper:

This article analyzes how a figuration of the teacher is made up within an ed-tech discourse and how it organizes how we think of teaching. It departs from an interview study with 25 ‘edupreneurs’ selling hardware, software, and/or professional development regarding digital tools to Swedish schools. The analysis illuminates how the ‘desired teacher’ is similar to what is conceptualized as a Silicon Valley culture, privileging characteristics valued in the IT sector. Such a teacher coaches rather than lectures, is flexible, and ready to work whenever and wherever. S/he customizes his/her work to the individual student and his/her needs of knowledge, location, and timeframes, emphasizing that education is a personal business. ‘Boring’ parts of the work (grading and assessment) are believed to be taken over by technology. The teacher should be the one promising fun and creativity in order to educate dreamers for the future and workers in a knowledge economy. With help from Castells’ theory of the network society, the study illuminates and discuss what this means for how we can think of school in terms of teacher authority, place and time. It also claims that a commercialized, neoliberal rationale is made possible in schools through the platforms.

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