Workshop with Dr. Tanner Mirrlees, Associate Professor in Communication and Digital Media Studies (Ontario Tech University)
Silicon Valley’s leading corporations are often said to be positively disrupting traditional ways of doing higher education, making it more personalized, calculable, accessible, inclusive, democratic and market-centered. At the forefront of the “digital disruption” of higher education is “EdTech”—digital hardware, software and services that promise to change teaching and learning for the better. EdTech is frequently packaged by its makers with rhetorics of technological determinism, optimism and solutionism, and in academia, the study of EdTEch is often affirmative. As an alternative to EdTech orthodoxy, this presentation introduces a critical political economy of communications approach to the “EdTech industries” that focuses on the economic, political and ideological structures, organizations and interests currently driving EdTech’s disruption of higher education. The presentation conceptualizes EdTech as a subsector of the ICT and cultural industries and gives a snapshot of the operations of EdTech’s digital titans (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft, or the “GAFAM”), online program management (OPM) corporations and Massive Open Online Course Corporations (MOOCs). It also contextualizes and probes the workings of the EdTech industries with regard to the contentious processes of platformization, automation, and globalization to raise critical questions about EdTech’s potential to undermine public education, academic labour’s dignity, and cultural difference.
Open table discussion will follow.
Tanner Mirrlees is the author of Hearts and Mines: The US Empire’s Cultural Industry (UBC Press, 2016), Global Entertainment Media: Between Cultural Imperialism and Cultural Globalization (Routledge, 2013), co-author of EdTech Inc.: Selling, Automating and Globalizing Higher Education in the Digital Age (Routledge, 2019), and co-editor of Media Imperialism: Continuity and Change (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) and The Television Reader (Oxford University Press, 2012), as well as numerous chapters and articles in a wide range of publishing venues. Mirrlees is the vice president and conference chair of the Canadian Communication Association (CCA), a research associate of the Decimal Lab, and a steering committee member of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism (CHBE) at Ontario Tech University. Bridging research and social justice activism, Mirrlees also co-organizes The Capitalism Workshop, which brings together political economists and activists to collectively discuss and generate knowledge about 21st century capitalism and collective responses to it.
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