Surveillance Machines in Ivory Towers? Surveillance Capitalism, Dignity and Learning Management Systems

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Universities in the Global North are embracing digital platforms as the basis for the delivery of content, assessment of proficiencies and cost reduction. Those platforms are surveillance machines, a manifestation of surveillance capitalism. They abstract students and academics alike, embodying a politics in which people are addressed as digital artefacts – instances of when, what and how they have interacted online rather than being respected as people who are more than a data point on an educational social graph. Digital panopticism in online teaching, where students might only have a virtual presence and teachers may be precarious, conflates seeing with understanding. It rewards a bureaucratic rationality that rewards conformity rather than creativity on the part of teachers and students, contrary to supposed improvements in the ‘student experience’ that construe students as clients in a market for credentialism. Although data may be neutral and might even be accurate, its interpretation has biases and political impacts. Academic achievement may be understood as deviations from norms or through algorithms about ‘students at risk’. Automated analysis of performance targets fosters casualisation of the academy alongside buying-in of course material from enterprises that have shifted from publishing textbooks to licensing courseware. The academic surveillance machine foreshadows a legal practice in which decision making is automated, employee productivity is assessed through artificial intelligence and justice is driven by data profiles rather than respect for dignity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-85
Number of pages16
JournalCanberra Law Review
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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