Schooling data citizens

You'll find a link to our seminar recording here:

Schooling Data Citizens

Children are not only increasingly subject to intensive analytic pedagogies, but are also schooled in coding, making, and ‘digital literacies’ that equip them for (inevitable) computational futures, and promote particular ideologies of civic duty and entrepreneurship.

We welcome the following speakers:

Giovanna Mascheroni (Università Cattolica of Milan)

Judy Robertson (University of Edinburgh)

Ben Williamson (University of Stirling)

9:30am - 12:00pm Paterson's Land 1.19, Moray House School of Education


The Internet of Toys, the datafied child, and the production of the surveilled citizen

Giovanna Mascheroni, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

The Internet of Toys (Wang et al., 2010) comprises an emerging set of software-enabled toys that: 1) are connected to online platforms through WiFi and Bluetooth, but also, potentially, to other toys; 2) are equipped with sensors; and 3) relate one-on-one to children (Holloway & Green, 2016). Examples include: toys-to-life, which connect action figures to video games (Skylanders, Lego Dimensions); toys, especially dolls, based on voice and/or image recognition (e.g., Hello Barbie); app-enabled robots and cars (e.g., Dash & Dot, BB8 Drone); puzzle and building games (Osmo); other newer Internet-connected toys (e.g. Springfree tgoma trampoline); health-tracking toys (Teddy the Guardian) (Holloway & Green, 2016; Mascheroni & Holloway, 2017).

These toys are typically both ‘smart’ and internet-connected. IoToys often use sophisticated sensor-based technologies to collect information from children and cloud-based platforms to process this information through real-time interactions. This cloud-based processing relies on sophisticated algorithms that can simulate human intelligence (AI) and deliver more personalised or individualised responses to children (FOSI & FPF, 2016). Thanks to these capabilities, IoToys offer new opportunities for personalised play and learning. They also raise new concerns among parents, policymakers and the public regarding how children’s personal information is stored, treated and shared. How children’s data are analysed, manipulated and stored is not transparent. Examples of data breaches in children’s online communities have already highlighted the potential risks to children’s privacy and safety. Other issues of concern include health, developmental, cognitive and social issues.

In particular, this talk examines how the emerging world of internet-connected toys and things for children amplifies the value of children’s data under surveillance capitalism (Andrejevic, 2014; Zuboff, 2015; Chowdry 2016) with children’s behaviour being the object of algorithmic surveillance [9], aimed at calculating and predicting future (consumption) behaviour. The datafication (Van Dijk, 2014) of children’s everyday lives and practices normalises surveillance at a number of levels. Indeed, it and long-term social implications that are potentially transformative of intimate relations (intimate surveillance – see Leaver, 2017) as much as of economic relations (repositioning children as both economic actors and objects, see Holloway, 2017), and that should be understood in the context of the broader surveillance of citizens’ data (Barassi, 2017).

In conclusion, the datafication of childhood through IoToys and other IoT devices raises a number of concerns. Risks for children’s rights to privacy are the most visible and immediate consequences, and have already been addressed in the academic and public agenda. Growing up in a culture where (self-)surveillance is normalised is also likely to shape children’s future lives.


Giovanna Mascheroni (PhD Sociology and Social Research Methodology) is Senior Lecturer of Sociology of Media and Communications in the Department of Sociology, Università Cattolica of Milan. She is member of the EU Kids Online management team and co-chair of WG4 of DigiLitEY Cost Action.


Data Citizens and Beyond

Judy Robertson, Digital Education, University of Edinburgh

If Data Science is the sexiest job of the 21st Century, and robots are going to steal the jobs from everyone else*, what should we be teaching children in schools? I argue that by the time children leave broad general education, they should at least be data citizens. They should have had the opportunity to be actively involved in the production of data; they should be able to identify what data is being collected about them and where it is stored; they should be aware of and be able to make use of open data; and be able to contribute to the ongoing discussion and evolving definition of data citizenship. But beyond that, I believe that we should lay the foundations for young people to develop the technical and analytical skills to innovate with data, and to use it to inform real world decision making. They should have a basic knowledge of statistics, programming and analytical techniques to enable them to pose and answer questions of data sets. They should also be fluent in critically reading and interpreting visualisations and other representations of data to help them make decisions.

These are the ambitions of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Deal. To develop Edinburgh as Data Capital of Europe, we need to grow a local talent pool of data savvy citizens. This will begin in schools, through a programme of teacher education and curriculum development, and will enable young people to chart journeys to a wide range of data careers if they so desire. At the very least, they’ll be able to reprogram the robots who come to steal their jobs.

*one of those statements might not be true


Judy Robertson is Professor of Digital Learning at Moray House School of Education University of Edinburgh. Her research has focused on the design, development and evaluation of educational technology for children, in conjunction with children and teachers. Her recent work includes the co-development of a computer science curriculum for primary school aged children, teacher education in computational thinking and an empirical investigation of intersection between computational thinking and underlying cognitive skills.


Rewiring digital citizens through neurotechnologies in education

Ben Williamson, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling

At a recent Creative Innovation conference, a panel on ‘Human Intelligence 2.0’ discussed the possibility of humans becoming ‘trans-species’ creatures through technical implants in the brain, and included the claim that new kinds of AI-enhanced ‘digital citizens’ might begin to outsmart ‘second-class biological citizens’ who lack access to augmentative technologies. New neurotechnologies may, over coming years or decades, allow the human brain to be scanned, scraped for data, and sculpted to perform in enhanced ways, raising significant questions about ethics, privacy, rights and citizenship. In this presentation I will provide a critical examination of emerging neurotechnologies designed for use within education. These include advanced brain imaging software, new kinds of wearable brain-computer interfaces, neurofeedback learning software and neurostimulation devices. These technologies can be understood to consist of intersecting bio-socio-technical codes: the neurobiological codes of the human brain known to neuroscience; the technical codes written by programmers to enact the devices; and the social codes of conduct that neurotechnologies are designed to induce in users. Drawing on sociological conceptualizations of ‘biosocial’ education to take seriously how the biological and social aspects of learning interpenetrate each other, and sociotechnical software studies which have shown how computer code reshapes everyday life, the paper explores how neurotechnologies are being designed to ‘rewire’ the learning brain, and the potential consequences for the shaping of digital and biological citizens.


Ben Williamson is a Lecturer in Education at the University of Stirling. He researches digital technologies in education from critical sociological and policy studies perspectives. His recent research has examined the rise of 'educational data science' as a new 'datafied' field of educational research; the digital techniques of Pearson plc in education policy; the role of policy labs in making 'learning to code'  part of the National Curriculum; and 'smart cities' initiatives that focus on reimagining education in software-supported urban environments.



Date of Event 
09 Feb 2018
Event Leader 
Giovanna Mascheroni, Judy Robertson, Ben Williamson
Moray House School of Education
Event type