Seminar recording - Analytics: The Datafication of Higher Education and Work

23 Apr 2018


A recording (voice and slides) of the CRDE seminar 'Analytics: The Datafication of Higher Education and Work' is now available.

This event took place on Friday 13th April 2018 at The Moray House School of Education.

Please follow the link below to access the recording through Media Hopper:

Higher education students and professional learners appear to be on the threshold of broad ‘learning analytics’ implementations that, through expertise in computer science and behavioural psychology, adapt and personalise experiences with platform software, but also establish automated contact with faculty and advance agendas for scaled provision in the sector. We welcome the following speakers:

Learnification 2.0: from student- to machine-centred higher education

Jeremy Knox (University of Edinburgh)

Drawing on Gert Biesta’s well known work on ‘learnification’, this talk will examine the extent to which intensive data analytics are involved in transforming the prevailing discourses, material practices, and technologies of higher education. While, according to Biesta, various conceptual and societal shifts have contributed to the reorientation of education around particular notions of ‘learning’ and the ‘learner’, the advent of so-called ‘big data’ appear to be ushering in important changes in the ways educational practices are being understood. The burgeoning field of learning analytics is gaining significant traction in higher education, utilising ‘machine learning’ techniques that can be ‘trained’ on the ever-increasing volumes of student data captured from interactions with digital technologies. This talk will examine the ways in which these learning analytics implementations not only escalate and intensify the ‘learnification’ of higher education, but also entail a shift towards the ‘machine’ as the site of ‘learning’. Firstly, therefore, I will discuss the extent to which learning analytics bolsters the view of the student as self-directing consumer of higher education, and the institution as the responsive ‘provider’ of learning. Secondly, I will consider the influence of learning analytics on educational practice, highlighting ways in which we might understand these processes as ‘active’ and ‘demanding’ rather than ‘passive’ and ‘serving’. There are significant implications for notions of ‘citizenship’ in these perspectives, and the talk will conclude with some suggestions for developing critical, participatory practices with educational data analytics.

Data analytics and work: Pseudo-data, dashboards, and re-thinking inclusive data practices 

Terrie Lynn Thompson, Anna Wilson, & Cate Watson (University of Stirling)

How workers experience “data” and how workers and employers develop more skilled and knowledgeable data practices to use local and global digital infrastructures is a pressing issue. We use the findings of a research project on learning analytics to explore new notions of data citizenship as enacted in and through work practices and workplaces. We consider the new data fluencies required by workers as they engage in new forms of “data speak” and “data work”, the subsequent deskilling and upskilling of professional work that accompanies increasing use of algorithms, and how workers, employers, and labour policy can strive towards more inclusive and informed data practices.

Datafication of professional practices: Introducing our new digital co-workers. Decision-making practices and responsibilities of professional workers are being reconfigured as work is increasingly outsourced and delegated to digital devices. Growing datafication is evident in how work is distributed across crowdsourced data and predictive analytics; bots that automate online tasks; and new regimes of accountability and surveillance. I draw on posthumanism to reframe notions of data and the collateral effects of datafication. Findings prompt a re-thinking of what data is and does, including a re-distribution of labour between humans and digital co-workers. These questions probe the political nature of digital data and urge critically questioning of the implications of such datafication on work and ways of working.

Techno-(self) disciplining through quantification: Partial, processed and re-presented data increasingly shape our actions and the spaces we act within.  Learning analytics are just one example of a wider class of systems - incorporating track-and-predict, recommender and reputation systems - implemented with promises of personalization and transparency.  Proponents imagine a world of systems that know us intimately, can predict our wants and needs before we do, and can guide our behaviour to produce more efficient learning, more reliable decisions, and "good behaviour" on the part of those we transact with and those that govern us.  But these systems are neither morally nor politically neutral: they embody and enact particular paradigms, predominantly neo-liberal mercantile or authoritarian, and sometimes a curious mix of both. I suggest it is important to consider the implications of this for data citizenship.

Workplace Surveillance, Wearables and Ingestible Technologies 

Karen Gregory (University of Edinburgh)

This talk places the datafication of the workplace within a larger history of worker surveillance and worker resistance. While enhanced data analytics and physiolytics”, or “the linking of wearable computing devices with data analysis and quantified feedback to improve worker performance” (Wilson, 2013) pose new challenges to worker agency, autonomy, and the possibilities for resistance and refusal, this talk also suggests that the tendencies and logics involved in the datafication of the workplace are by no means new or unfamiliar.

In this talk, I will explore current legal precedents, protections for worker data, as well as worker interventions to suggest the future of work remains a terrain for debate and resistance. I employ Fourcade and Healy (2013)’s notion of classification situations to explore how we can link worker struggles to the datafication of the classroom, the grocery store, and the border, each a social space where data is fundamentally re-structuring and reorganising human movement, as well as what it will mean to be “mobile.”  


Wilson, J. 2013. “Wearables in the Workplace”. Harvard Business Review.

Fourcade, M. and Healy, K. 2013. “Classification situations: Life-chances in the neoliberal era.”Accounting, Organizations and Society, 38:559–572


Dr Jeremy Knox is co-director of the Centre for Research in Digital Education (Data Society) and a Lecturer in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. His research interests include critical posthumanism and new materialism, and the implications of such thinking for education and educational research, with a specific focus on the digital.  Jeremy's published work includes critical perspectives on Open Educational Resources (OER) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Dr Terrie Lynn Thompson is a Lecturer in Digital Media and Professional Education in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Stirling. Her research focuses on the digital and how professional work-learning practices and pedagogical spaces are changing globally in the face of datafication, AI, and robotics. Such questions prompt a re-thinking around new arrangements of work, economic and social implications, data activism, and the politics of technologies. She is the editor of the ProPEL Matters blog: an international cross-disciplinary network that critically debates professional practice, education, and learning.

Dr Anna Wilson is a Lecturer in Lifelong Learning at the University of Stirling.  Her research interests span higher education, professional learning and informal learning, with an emphasis on interactions with technological artefacts.  She is currently involved with a Horizon 2020 project aiming to develop a digital platform to support cooperative, grass-roots initiatives working to improve the situations of economically and socially precarious people living in Europe.

Dr Karen Gregory is a digital sociologist, ethnographer, and lecturer in the department of sociology at the University of Edinburgh and Programme Director of the Msc in Digital Society. Karen is particularly interested in the notion of "resilience" and the ways in which everyday working people navigate shifting economies and technological terrains. She is also interested in new and emerging digital research methods and research ethics in digital scholarship.