Harvard Educational Review
  1. Summer 2022 Issue »

    Symposium: The Economic, Social, and Political Dimensions of Platform Studies in Education

    Editors’ Introduction

    Alyssa Napier and Abigail Orrick
    Over the last several decades, we have witnessed the potential for educational technology, or edtech, to bring digital learning and media to learners around the globe and to support students in learning, activism, and identity development. Alongside these innovations, scholars have examined the pitfalls and injustices of various educational technologies, including the racism built into school surveillance technology, the tendency to pursue technological solutions to education’s social and political problems, and the inequalities of virtual schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic (Cotto & Woulfin, 2021; Galligan, Rosenfeld, Kleinman, & Parthasarathy, 2020; Reich, 2020; Waters, 2021). The Harvard Educational Review (HER) has been an important contributor to these conversations throughout the years, from pieces that detail the role of emerging technologies in teaching and learning (e.g., Goodman, 1995; Hermes, Bang, & Marin, 2012; Light, 2001; Philip & Garcia, 2013; Puckett, 2019) to cautionary articles on the promise of edtech, such as Oettinger and Marks (1968).

    Recently, scholars of edtech have turned their attention to studying digital platforms, or infrastructures that “enable multiple interactions between data, software code and a range of heterogenous actors” (Perrotta, 2020). Around the globe, educational institutions have become increasingly reliant on digital platforms for various educational functions, from the pedagogical (e.g., Khan Academy, edX) to the administrative (e.g., learning management systems like Blackboard). Perrotta (2020) refers to this growing dependency as the “platformization” of education. We now face a future where these platforms are deeply embedded in learning and teaching, which raises important questions for students, families, educators, policy makers, and scholars. Educational stakeholders may be familiar with pedagogical and technical questions about using digital platforms for education, asking, for example: Which platform is better for improving student outcomes? Which platform provides the best services for the lowest cost? Which platform works with our current technological infrastructure or expertise?

    The emerging and interdisciplinary field of platform studies brings together scholars from education, science and technology studies, computer science, and psychology to explore the consequences of these innovations for student learning and development. Platform studies scholars urge us to go beyond pedagogical and technical questions toward social, political, and economic critiques. How does the way a platform is designed to collect data affect the power relationships between teachers and students? What are the material and ecological effects of the proliferation of platform technologies? How are marginalized groups like people of color or people with disabilities differentially affected by digital platforms? Scholars argue for the need to view these platforms not simply as “discrete tools” with specific and tailored uses for learning but rather as “digital worlds unto themselves . . . each one its own environment, a place where teachers, students, administrators, corporate vendors, and other people interact” (Garcia & Nichols, 2021).

    With this “Platform Studies in Education” symposium, the Harvard Educational Review aims to broaden our knowledge of and inquiry into this growing field. In doing so, we answer the 2019 call from the editors of Learning, Media, and Technology for critical education scholarship to tackle the next decade’s “substantial challenge” of educational platforms and the consequences of their inherent corporatization and datafication of students and teachers.

    In the first of the four articles, symposium conveners Antero Garcia and T. Philip Nichols introduce readers to the intersections between the fields of platform studies and education. Next, Ben Williamson, Kalervo N. Gulson, Carlo Perrotta, and Kevin Witzenberger discuss the influence of the Amazon Web Services platform on educational governance, followed by a research article in which Luci Pangrazio, Amy Stornaiuolo, T. Philip Nichols, Antero Garcia, and Thomas M. Philip propose that students and educators should develop “data literacy” to critically navigate educational platforms. The symposium concludes with an essay from Niels Kerssens and José van Dijck discussing the relationship between the platformization of education and the institutional autonomy of schools. These pieces span geographies, contexts, and levels of education. Of particular importance is the relational perspective each uses to investigate digital platforms. This symposium looks beyond just the utility or purpose of a platform to examine the connections among the social, technical, political, and economic dimensions of platform design, circulation, and impact.

    We believe this relational perspective of investigating digital platforms in education honors commitments made by the Harvard Educational Review Editorial Board in our Spring 2021 issue, in which we pledged to “seek manuscripts that advance our understanding of educational theory and practice in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and energy inequity, increasing national and political polarization, and racial violence” (HER Editorial Board, 2021, p. 3). We hope that our global community of practitioners and scholars use this work as a starting point to critically examine and question the roles of platforms in their own lives and classrooms.

    Alyssa Napier and Abigail Orrick

    Cotto, R., Jr., & Woulfin, S. (2021). Choice with(out) equity? Family decisions on return to urban schools during COVID-19. Journal of Family Diversity in Education, 4(1), 42–63. doi:10.53956/jfde.2021.159

    Galligan, C., Rosenfeld, H., Kleinman, M., & Parthasarathy, S. (2020). Cameras in the classroom: Facial recognition technology in schools. University of Michigan STPP Technology Assessment Project. Retrieved from https://stpp.fordschool.umich.edu/sites/stpp/files/uploads/file-assets/cameras_in_the_classroom_full_report.pdf

    Garcia, A., & Nichols, T. P. (2021). Digital platforms aren’t mere tools—they’re complex environments. Phi Delta Kappan, 102(6), 14–19. doi:10.1177/0031721721998148

    Goodman, J. (1995). Change without difference: School restructuring in historical perspective. Harvard Educational Review, 65(1), 1–30. doi:10.17763/haer.65.1.9856723ur2648m35

    HER Editorial Board. (2021). A letter from the editors. Harvard Educational Review, 91(1), 1–4. doi:10.17763/1943-5045-91.1.1

    Hermes, M., Bang, M., & Marin, A. (2012). Designing Indigenous language revitalization. Harvard Educational Review, 82(3), 381–402. doi:10.17763/haer.82.3.q8117w861241871j

    Light, J. (2001). Rethinking the digital divide. Harvard Educational Review, 71(4), 709–734. doi:10.17763/haer.71.4.342x36742j2w4q82

    Oettinger, A., & Marks, S. (1968). Educational technology: New myths and old realities. Harvard Educational Review, 38(4), 697–717. doi:10.17763/haer.38.4.37863k075234nu72

    Perrotta, C. (2020). Programming the platform university: Learning analytics and predictive infrastructures in higher education. Research in Education, 109(1), 53–71. doi:10.1177/0034523720965623

    Philip, T. M., & Garcia, A. D. (2013). The importance of still teaching the iGeneration: New technologies and the centrality of pedagogy. Harvard Educational Review, 83(2), 300–319. doi:10.17763/haer.83.2.w221368g1554u158

    Puckett, C. (2019). CS4Some? Differences in technology learning readiness. Harvard Educational Review, 89(4), 554–587. doi:10.17763/1943-5045-89.4.554

    Reich, J. (2020). Failure to disrupt: Why technology alone can’t transform education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Waters, A. (2021). Teaching machines: The history of personalized learning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Williamson, B. (2019). New power networks in educational technology. Learning, Media, and Technology, 44(4), p. 395-398. doi:10.1080/17439884.2019.1672724

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  2. Summer 2022 Issue


    Curricular Countermovements
    How White Parents Mounted a Popular Challenge to Ethnic Studies
    Ethan Chang

    Book Notes

    Civic Education in the Age of Mass Migration
    Angela M. Banks

    How the Word Is Passed
    Clint Smith

    Minds Wide Shut
    Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro