Mapping the political economy of digital technology in Higher Education during Covid-19

17th March 2022 : 14:00 - 15:00

Category: Webinar

Speaker: James Robson, University of Oxford

Location: Zoom webinar, registration required

Audience: Public

Covid-19 forced a rapid reconfiguration of the ways higher education institutions around the world operate, bringing a range of digital technologies to the heart of teaching, learning, research, and organisational behaviour. Many commentators have viewed this as an acceleration of existing trends in digitalisation in HE which has led to, in some quarters, a rise in techno-optimist discourses. These have particularly focused on the increasing importance of artificial intelligence and the growth in online learning as ways in which HE will be transformed, personalised, and, through opening up online access to a wider range of learners, democratised.

However, this webinar will challenge some of these technologically deterministic and optimistic assumptions by presenting a critical, socio-technical analysis of the rise of digital technologies during Covid. This approach will focus on the importance of conceptualising technology as socially constructed and socially mediated and will present an alternative narrative focused on the political economy of technology in HE. This will examine the ways in which HE technology use during Covid-19 has been co-opted for a range of commercial and political agendas, particularly acting as a vehicle for libertarian views while also becoming a site of controversy within the ongoing culture wars.

It will highlight how, alongside the potential for the democratisation of knowledge, access to HE, and inclusion, the ways in which digital technologies have been used during Covid-19 have also resulted in the exclusion of some learners and staff members. Such use takes the form of digital structural violence in some contexts, deepening and entrenching pre-existing social inequalities. Finally, the webinar will examine the implications of a continued emphasis on online teaching and learning, and digitalisation in HE more broadly, for student agency and formation.

This webinar is part of the free public seminar programme hosted by the Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE).