28 SES 08 A, Digital Technologies and the Governance of Education
The paper deals with digital governance of education field. In particular, we focus on the power digital platforms perform in the processes of social construction of reality, i.e. as devices that contribute to producing what they would like (and claim) to portray (Maguire et al. 2015). Our research strategy consists of an integrated approach intertwining the Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and the critical studies on education. In fact, as we will better explain in what follows, we engage in an attempt of ‘critical reading' of digital formations. In particular, we try to make a critical sociology of digital governance, by assuming: on the one hand, the challenge that digital space represents in terms of topological dimension of school (Landri, 2018); on the other hand, the role digital formations play as project of reculturing of education field (Grimaldi and Serpieri 2012), that works by translating it in a space of commensuration (Lawn and Grek 2012).
As it is known, the rise of digital devices in the European educational landscape is linked to the spreading of a governing through data and standards (Lawn 2011) useful to reinforce the mantras of accountability, performativity, comparison and rankings (Williamson 2016; Landri 2017). A prime example of such a trend is the attempt to measure school quality by means of objective indexes useful to rank schools. Such a space of commensuration is usually built by private agencies that produce a double shift: 1) move the topos of schools into software by coding them, i.e. by enacting processes of measuring, classifying, ordering and ranking; 2) displace the quality of education from school to digital spaces. The shift in focus is not neutral, it affects (and produces) both the educational agenda and the choices made by clients (i.e. students and parents). It is a controversial topic that involves different scientific and ideological positions by putting into place dilemmas about the mechanisms through which the mentioned displacements are produced; the relationship between the technologies we use to be informed and the objects they point out (and produce) and so on.
Particularly suitable to our reflection is the ranking of the Italian secondary schools periodically drawn up by the Giovanni Agnelli Foundation, available on the Eduscopio online portal. The Eduscopio project is based on a database of administrative sources that links scholastic, university and job outcomes to draw information on the quality of the schools from which the students come, by evaluating the university results. Since its introduction, Eduscopio has aroused heated debate, producing a new space of reflection "where more and more objects are discussed by more and more actors" (Venturini 2010, 262).
Although prickly and complex, the debate about Eduscopio is not only a way to face the dilemmas that digital platforms and rankings raise, but it represents the occasion to observe the reculturing of education field in its making. Therefore, our main research goals have to be to 1) disentangle such a complexity; 2) disassemble the black box of Eduscopio. Thus, by making legible both the debate and the how Eduscopio works, we will be able to answer to the following research questions:
a) What is the stake of the disputes? In other words, which kind of school is represented and produced by the digital platforms and the rankings they provide? What is the quality concept they deal with and produce?
b) What are the risks digital devices entail?
To answer to our research questions, we have developed a two-level research strategy. At a first level, we refer to the controversy about Eduscopio as a sort of text able to talk about rankings and their power of producing both the meaning of school quality and the best school. So, in order to make the debate readable and consistently with our theoretical framework, we resorted to the cartography of controversy, i.e. a set of techniques to observe and describe social debate (Venturini 2010), useful "to know and to practice in the complexities of tension" (Law and Hassard 1999, 12). In particular, we built a tree of disagreement (Venturini 2011). This technique, named Porphyrian tree, allowed us to: 1) Identify human and non-human actors who get involved in the controversy; 2) Recognize among statements and claims the basic vocabulary on which the dilemmas continuously develop; 3) Unveil the way in which the debate intertwines concepts and actors, and through them, start to study the methodological apparatus and techniques involved by Eduscopio platform. Trough the Porphyrian tree, we analysed the positions of actors and the redundancies of the vocabulary. Thus, and through them, we traced the shape of the controversy; the way in which it is produced; the way words and concepts connect in discourses, that starting from "the most general principles, span to the most specifics" (Ivi, 805). So, we treated the controversy first as an occasion to observe the social phenomenon of ranking in its making, second as toolbox useful to start the second level of analysis. At this stage, we tried to disassemble the methodological black box. At this aim we have: 1) drawn an analytical scheme composed by the listed factors (actors, words and concepts, methods and techniques) to navigate Eduscopio 2) started to navigate and analyse the rankings of Eduscopio and its methodological apparatus. At the moment we are observing the rankings of high schools that are situated in the 20 Italian main cities ('capoluoghi di Regione'). The strategy allows us to disassemble the space of commensuration that Eduscopio built; analyse "how" the methodological apparatus works (which kind of schools occupies the first places in the rankings; what are the criteria of classifying; what factors Eduscopio considers and not; the analysis techniques it applies and how). Finally, intertwining the evidence emerging from the controversy with the "how" Eurisko works, we unveil the risks that digital platforms entail.
The study is still underway. However, our analysis already points up some elements of interests, useful to answer to our research questions. Regarding the first question, the stakes emerging from a complicate and opaque discussion is represented by the meaning of quality itself, and then by the ‘purpose in education’ (Biesta 2008). In fact, the controversy we have studied and the first five rankings we have just analysed show that Eduscopio does not consider (or at least it does not effectively weigh) the: 1) Socio-cultural context, where the schools are situated; 2) Socio-economic status of students; 3) Class size, i.e. the number of students, the teachers face; 4) The so-called peer-effect (the theory according to which the learning is affected by the type of classmates and the school with whom one interacts). Missing, or misunderstanding the listed points moves both the data and rankings of Eduscopio from the realm of the formative role of research, to that of a persuasive function. We refer in particular to the attempt of governing the educational opportunities of parents and students, by pushing them towards conventional choices that penalize the lowest schools of rankings, with obvious consequences in terms of equity and efficiency. In fact, what Eduscopio measures is not the quality of school in terms of training and education, but the distribution among schools of students of different abilities and background.
Biesta, G. (2008) Good Education in an Age of Measurement: on the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education, Educational Assessment Evaluation and Accountability , 21(1), 33-46. Grimaldi, E., & Serpieri, R. (2012). The transformation of the Education State in Italy: a critical policy historiography from 1944 to 2011. Italian journal of sociology of education, 4(1). Landri, P. (2014), Standard, dati e performance. La governance del sistema scolastico italiano in tempo di crisi. Scuola democratica, (1), 73-96. Landri, P. (2018), Digital Governance of Education: Technology, Standards and Europeanization of Education, Bloomsbury. Lawn, M. (2011) “Standardizing the European Education Policy Space.” European Educational Research Journal 10 (2): 259. doi:10.2304/eerj.2011.10.2.259. Lawn, M., Grek, S. (2012) Europeanizing Education: Governing a New Policy Space. Oxford: Symposium Books.Law J., Hassard J., eds (1999) Actor Network Theory and After. Oxford: Blackwell Maguire M., Braun A., Ball S. (2015). “Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit: The Social Construction of Policy Enactments in the (English) Secondary School”, in Discourse 36 (4). Taylor & Francis: 485–99. Raitano M. (2016), La classifica dei licei in Italia: i rischi dei ranking mal fatti, Menabò n. 55, https://www.eticaeconomia.it/?s=Raitano+la+classifica+dei+licei Venturini, T. (2010). Diving in magma: How to explore controversies with actor-network theory. Public understanding of science, 19(3), 258-273. Venturini, T. (2012). Building on faults: how to represent controversies with digital methods. Public understanding of science, 21(7), 796-812. Williamson, B. (2016). Digital education governance: An introduction, in European Educational Research Journal Vol. 15(1) 3–13
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