• #Naomi_Klein: How #big_tech plans to profit from the pandemic

      Public schools, universities, hospitals and transit are facing existential questions about their futures. If tech companies win their ferocious lobbying campaign for remote learning, telehealth, 5G and driverless vehicles – their Screen New Deal – there simply won’t be any money left over for urgent public priorities, never mind the Green New Deal that our planet urgently needs. On the contrary: the price tag for all the shiny gadgets will be mass teacher layoffs and hospital closures.


      #stratégie_du_choc #technologie #surveillance

    • Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time

      During COVID-19 times, the ‘social distancing’ catchphrase has invaded every aspect of our lives. Public space has been fragmented into individualized, quarantined units, transforming social relations into aggregates of their interactions. Unlike other pandemics of yesteryears, COVID-19 has given a tremendous push to technology to secure social distancing. In the field of education, the phenomenon of online education was already slowly gaining space especially as complementary to traditional classroom education and as a mechanism of distance learning.

      Today, the ideology of social distancing has brought online education in the centre of educational systems. It has acquired legitimacy and the capacity to take over the whole system of education. In countries such as India, where COVID-19 has been used by the state as an opportunity to revamp various sectors, including health and medicine, a reconception of education is underway. Online education serves as the organizing force in this regard.
      Education as Commodity and the Question of its Production

      Popular debates on technology and online education generally revolve around the idea of education as a commodity to be put to consumption in the classical sense of the word. It is, of course, a commodity with a use-value, much in parlance with material commodities like food items, daily wear etc. Such commodified education naturally must meet the parameters of consumer satisfaction. Therefore, much discussion on the recent COVID 19-triggered tech-intensive online teaching harps on students’ differential access to internet connectivity and bandwidth, the problems of long-distance assessments without the characteristic ‘fairness’ metrics associated with offline exams etc. In short, anything connected to the students’ overall satisfaction with their purchase of this immaterial commodity.

      What these debates however miss are the fundamental processes that go into the production of education, and the complex dynamics of the teacher-student relationship underpinning such production. By neglecting its sphere of production, we miss out on a very important aspect of this commodity – one that would help us understand online education, and the role of technology better, and also identify spaces of critique of education, as understood in the current socio-economic system.

      Notwithstanding the similarities, education is unlike any other commodity, not just in the material or physical sense, but mainly in the organization of its consumption and production. Material objects such as pens, cars etc. have an immediate use-value for buyers, consumed beyond the sphere of production. Education on the other hand, produces students as workers for their future entry into the labour market; its consumption or use-value lies in generating new, educated and skilled labour power for further use in the processes of production. Through a network of local and international educational institutions placed at different orders of hierarchy and status, education reinforces and reproduces the existing and (unequal) social relations by producing a heterogeneous group of future workers with differential skills, and by extension, differential wages. Hence, from the students’ perspective, education is consumptive production.

      Education as knowledge production is unique in placing this consumer – the student – in the production sphere itself. In other words, education as a commodity is a co-production of teachers and students, and is generated through continuous dialogue and interaction between them. It is not a fixed commodity, but one that is processual, and evolves within the dialectic of the educated-educator relationship. This dialectic constitutes a predicament for education in the current system. On one hand, there is the tendency to establish standardized syllabi and programs in response to the needs of a globalized labour market, making the practice of teaching and learning very mechanical; on the other, there is an equally strong opposition from the co-producers against attempts to kill their cooperative agency and creativity.

      Classroom settings and face to face instruction allow the dialectic of education to be productive in their dialogicity, with teachers innovating ideas and methods in dynamic and synchronous concord with students. With both instructors and learners present in the same physical space, learning – despite constraints of fixed syllabi and evaluation metrics – evolves through collective thinking and with a view to the intellectual needs and abilities of the participants. There are challenges thrown in with big class sizes and formal disciplinary settings leading to alienation typical of a hierarchized industrial scenario – an intensified lack of interest and commitment from both learners and teachers. However, since education in such settings is still based on direct relationships between students and teachers, there is always a possibility to overcome the alienating institutional mediation. There is a relative autonomy operating in this dialogic relationship, which allows innovation in ideas and knowledge production.
      Technology and the Informatization of Education

      Online education, on the other hand, despite and because of deploying the best of technologies, fails to simulate the same environment. Educational production is now distributed over multiple zones, with producers confined to their virtual cubicles. Without a shared space, education is reduced to instruction and information, discretized and reintegrated by the mediating pre-programmed machines. The dialogical relationship is now between the machine and the producers, not between the co-producers. The teacher is deprived of her role of the facilitator in this dialogue. She is just an instructor in this new environment. Her instructions are received by the machine, which mediatizes them and delivers them to students in a manner that it is programmed to deliver. This overhauls the whole dialectic of education, which is now hierarchized. Alienation in this process is quite stark, since the relations of production of education are completely transformed, which cannot be overcome by the deployment of any kind of technology.

      Technology, in fact, plays a big role in this alienation of labour that happens through the informatization of education. In the effort to replicate the classroom experience sans the direct relationship of affectivity between teachers and students, there is an overaccumulation of technologies and educational products, bringing in the surveillance techniques for remote disciplining of students and teachers.

      One only needs to look at the number of new gadgets and software for online education to understand the extent to which technology tries to overcome its artificiality. The market is flooded with AI-driven ‘smart content’ materials, customized lessons, digitized textbooks, easy to navigate chapter summaries, flashcards, automatically-graded exams, cameras for remote surveillance etc. The process of alienation is evermore intensified, since human living labour of both teachers and students are objectified in the development of these technologies. Their vivacity is reduced to an appendage to the artificiality of the machine.

      What is interesting is that while technology deskills the producers by taking over their powers of imagination and judgement, it also forces them to reskill themselves. With evermore new technologies hitting the online teaching platforms every day, both students and teachers are forced to continuously update themselves in their technical knowhow to assist these machines. This has led to generational and occupational redundancies in education too by promoting lean production methods and Taylorising techniques in education.
      The Struggle over Disposable Time

      What happens to education as a commodity in this alienated and Taylorized production process? Education internalizes the segmented social relations that characterize capitalism. This introduces dualism in its institutionalization, which gets further systematized and globalized in the wake of the ongoing technicization of education. On the one hand, we have mass production of education as a set of discrete information and instruction to train the majority of the working population in the drudgery of assisting the machines. This is facilitated by online education technologies. On the other hand, we have elite institutions monopolizing the rights to innovate and research (secured by various legal and institutional mechanisms like patenting, funding etc.), for which the more intensive conventional teaching methods must continue. This duality of education enhanced by online educational technologies has been developing for the last few decades to keep pace with the human resource requirements of other industrial and service sectors. Hence, online education itself has emerged as a fast-growing industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has given its production and dissemination a new intensity, urgency and definite possibility.

      With the growing dominance of online education, and discretized learning/teaching methods, there is also a proportionate increase in disposable time for both teachers and students. In the absence of direct and personalized contact during lectures, instruction intensifies; knowledge in the form of discretized information is produced in less time than in traditional classroom set-ups due to the absence of students’ queries and interventions. But what will be the utility of this disposable time? The system controls this disposable time by retrenchment, and by increasing workload and diversifying work profiles for the existing educational or knowledge workers.

      However, from the workers’ perspective, the disposable time has a different meaning, one that allows the co-producers to overcome drudgery and alienation by reclaiming the time-space for innovation and creativity. It is in this time-space that workers recognize knowledge as a result of their co-production, and re-appropriate it, going beyond being passive feeders-receivers of information assisting the machine. Dialogues between the students and the teachers are reestablished through more interpersonal interactions. This leads to a process of conscientization, in which the co-producers move beyond the classroom norms and fixed syllabi, and collectively build an understanding of phenomena and concepts, drawing on their own realities and experience.

      The disposable time enables workers to reclaim their common space and self-organize knowledge production, while reducing technology to mere means in this process, not as a mediator, organizer and controller of production and producers. It is only through such collaborative activities in these fractured times, that teachers and students together can assert their autonomy as knowledge producers and consumers.


  • Lecturers condemn #Durham University’s plan to shift degrees online

    The university plans to radically redesign its curriculum to cut in-person teaching by 25%.

    The University and College Union (UCU) has condemned plans by Durham University to provide online-only degrees and significantly reduce face-to-face lecturing in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

    The union’s general secretary Jo Grady called on the university to halt proposals to cut “live” teaching by 25% as part of a radical shift towards providing online learning, which she described as “destructive” and “an attack on staff”.

    The radical redesign of the university’s curriculum, revealed by student newspaper Palatinate, would “invert Durham’s traditional educational model”, based on residential study, with one that places “online resources at the core enabling us to provide education at a distance”.

    The proposals, drawn up by deputy vice-chancellor Antony Long and vice-provost for education Alan Houston, warned that Durham has been slow to develop online education compared to its competitors, which posed “a very significant financial and reputational risk” to the university.

    Under the plans, seen by the Guardian, some students would only study online, some would be taught on campus, and others would do both. The proposals, drawn up without consulting staff or students, would reduce the number of modules taught in person by a quarter in the next academic year, with the goal of providing at least 500 of them completely online by the summer of 2021.

    An anthropology and archaeology student said she feared the plans would devalue her degree. She added: “This is clearly to increase the number of students on the books paying full fees, whilst maintaining existing staff levels. I feel like [a] cash cow and fear more strike action while I’m out of pocket and have very little to show for it in terms of education.”

    The document, due to be considered by the university’s senate later this month, also proposes contracting a private education firm, Cambridge Education Group Digital, to develop a business case to implement the plans.

    The UCU said that universities “should not see the global pandemic as an opportunity to try and drastically alter their different business models”, and urged Durham to consult properly with staff and students over any changes.

    Grady added: “This looks like an attack on the livelihoods and the professional expertise of hard-working staff – all to line the pockets of private providers who don’t have the same track record of providing high standards of education.

    “Durham needs to halt these plans. The fact there has been no consultation with staff or students is unacceptable and we will continue to defend the quality of education staff provide and our members’ jobs.

    “Changes to our higher education system should be led by staff from the ground up, whether they are necessitated by Covid-19 or not. We will do everything we can to challenge this and any other similarly destructive proposals.”

    The Durham plans revealed that a third of its undergraduate and half of postgraduate modules currently lack any online learning, noting: “In the short-term, we risk being unable to provide even a basic ‘minimum viable product’ online for our [academic year] 2020/21 intake.”

    The university aims to provide its key postgraduate and first-year undergraduate degrees online by October 2020, with a focus on delivering those with the most “international market potential”.

    Durham UCU branch held a virtual emergency general meeting this week where members “voted to firmly oppose rushed long-term changes taken without proper consultation”.

    More than 300 Durham academics have also signed a letter to vice-chancellor Stuart Corbridge, describing the proposals as “highly concerning … cynical and reckless”.

    Prof Antony Long, the university’s deputy vice-chancellor, said: “None of us yet know what the 2020-21 academic year will look like, but we must plan now so that when we do, we have options properly developed and ready to implement.

    “Anticipating that some and perhaps a significant number of students will not be able to travel to and live in Durham [then], we are preparing an online, distance learning programme that is both inclusive and high-quality.”


    Préparation de #le_monde_d'après
    #coronavirus #continuité_pédagogique #confinement #travail #réduction_des_postes #UK #Angleterre #effectifs #coupes_budgétaires #coupes_dans_le_personnel #personnel #universités #facs


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    • Coronavirus UK: Universities face £2.5bn tuition fee loss next year

      Capping student numbers will not avert financial catastrophe, report warns.

      Capping the number of students who can attend each British university will not stave off the financial catastrophe that institutions face following the coronavirus outbreak, a report from the University and College Union (UCU) warns.

      The report forecasts the sector could lose around £2.5bn next year in tuition fees alone, along with the loss of 30,000 university jobs, based on gloomy predictions of international and domestic students staying away if Covid-19 continues unchecked.

      The government is negotiating with the university sector to limit the number of students each institution can admit in September, in the hope that it will help some avoid cutthroat competition and possible bankruptcy if their student intake slumps.

      But the report, commissioned by UCU from London Economics, says a cap could be ineffective if more students are prepared to sit out next year. The consultancy’s forecasts show even the likes of Oxford and Cambridge seeing falling numbers of undergraduates entering from the UK and abroad.

      “Our world-renowned universities are doing crucial work now as we hunt for a [Covid-19] vaccine and will be vital engines for our recovery both nationally and in towns and cities across the UK. It is vital that the government underwrites funding lost from the fall in student numbers. These are unprecedented times and without urgent guarantees, our universities will be greatly damaged at just the time they are needed most,” said Jo Grady, the UCU’s general secretary.

      Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow education secretary, backed the call for greater government support. “UK universities must be valued as part of the frontline response to the coronavirus pandemic, supplying students to the NHS and conducting world-class research into the virus,” she said.

      The report suggests that universities could lose £1.5bn in international student fees, more than £600m from UK-based students, and £350m from students from the EU, based on surveys of students’ intentions, including one conducted for Ucas, the admissions service.

      Gavan Conlon, a partner at London Economics, said the pandemic will result in a “very substantial loss” in enrolments and income, requiring significant government support.

      “The proposed student numbers cap will not be enough to avoid an overly competitive market for the remaining pool of applicants, with the impact of this actually being worse for some institutions than the effect of the pandemic itself,” Conlon said.

      But Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said he thought the report’s forecasts for students numbers – particularly a 16% drop within the UK – were overly pessimistic.

      “I do not want to underestimate the severe impact of Covid-19 on higher education. But, given the diversity of our higher education sector, we must ask if it is right for modelling to assume every single institution will face a recruitment crisis across the board,” Hillman said.

      London Economics’ forecasts did not include the £790m lost in accommodation, catering and conference income identified by the Universities UK group of vice-chancellors in its recent submission to UK governments calling for at least £2bn in bailout funding.

      “The union is absolutely right to warn of the knock-on impacts this would have for jobs, regional economics, local communities and students,” said Alistair Jarvis, the chief executive of UUK.

      “Government must take urgent action to provide the support which can ensure universities are able to weather these very serious challenges, and to protect students, maintain research, and retain our capacity to drive the recovery of the economy and communities.”


  • A settembre possibile riapertura anno scolastico con didattica a distanza. Azzolina conferma, “piano già pronto”

    Non è uno scenario fantascientifico quello di una apertura in modalità didattica a distanza per il 2020/21. Ci sarebbero tutti i sentori in quella “fase 2” dell’emergenza che potrebbe significare per le scuole ancora chiusura.
    In cosa consisterà la fase 2?

    Si tratta di un piano ancora da delineare nei dettagli, ma già qualche idea circola tra gli esperti. Si tratterà di una lenta riapertura delle attività e di ritorno alla normalità, ma durante la quale sarà necessario “convivere col virus”.

    Con molta probabilità, indossare mascherine e guanti sarà una regola. Ieri lo scienziato Burioni ha affermato che con le mascherine dovremo conviverci per un po’. Altra questione riguarderà le distanze, con le quali sarà necessario prendere confidenza durante una lunga “fase 2”.
    Fase 2 e scuola

    Di certo è che se l’emergenza dovesse perdurare le scuole sarebbero le prime imputate, non potendo garantire la sicurezza richiesta. Basti pensare alle aule che non consentono di certo una distanza di un mentre tra un alunno ed un altro o tra gli studenti e il docente, mentre il Ministro ha già affermato che non si tornerà in classe con le mascherine.

    L’unica soluzione è quindi quella della didattica a distanza, per la quale al Ministero si sta lavorando alacremente. Da un lato dando indicazioni ben precise sulla sua “esecuzione”, dall’altro trasformandola in un servizio da garantire per gli studenti (al meno secondo quanto contenuto nella bozza di decreto che probabilmente sarà varanto quest’oggi). Infine, fornendo aggiornamento e contenuti a scuole e docenti.
    Le parole del Ministro

    E’ stato lo stesso Ministro ad aver confermato la possibilità di un prosieguo della DaD in autunno, ieri, durante la trasmissione “Che tempo che fa”.

    “E’ previsto un piano per riprendere le scuole in modalità in distanza se si riproponesse il problema virus anche in autunno?” ha chiesto Fazio. “E’ uno degli scenari a cui stiamo pensando”, ha risposto Lucia Azzolina. “Penso al problema atavico alle classi pollaio in cui è difficile tenere il metro di distanza. Con lo staff del Ministero lavoreremo a tutti gli scenari”.

    Così, se da un lato il Ministro ha ribadito che le scuole non riapriranno se non ci sarà certezza per la salute e il virologo Burioni, ospite da Fazio, ha risposto che la scelta è politica, la scuola si prepara ad un autunno difficile.

    #éducation #écoles #coronavirus #confinement #continuité_pédagogique #le_monde_d'après #Italie

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