Digital data use in schools – remembering ‘the conditions of its history’

When talking of the datafied school, we need to remain mindful of ‘the conditions of its history’ (Foucault 1963/2003, p.xxii). It is important to resist evoking a sense of ‘digital exceptionalism’ (see Morozov 2019), where the forms of data practices highlighted in our investigations are portrayed as unique  or unprecedented developments that stand outside of the broader histories of schooling  – in particular the past two decades of metricised, indicised and standardised educational reform.

Indeed, much of what is taking place within our research schools is inevitably shaped by prevailing conditions of NAPLAN, ATAR, VCEs, and the general fug of what Stephen Ball terms the ‘tyranny of numbers’ that has shaped schools systems over the past 20 years or so. As such, the fundamental ‘data logics’ that out investigations are detailing are not borne of and/or caused by digital data systems per se.

Yet, neither are schools’ uses of digital data simply a case of ‘old wine in new bottles’. As such, it is interesting to reflect on how the broader logics of school metrication and quantification are being evoked, enabled and extended by digital technology. Moreover – in some small way – it is important to explore how these logics might sometimes be curtailed and challenged through low-key and localised data practices within individual schools,. The datafied school might not be wholly unprecedented, but there are novel developments that we need to be mindful of.