Chris Gillard makes the point that a lot of tech design is driven by a desire to reduce ‘frictions’ – in particular, “friction-free interactions, interfaces, and applications in which a user doesn’t have to talk to people, listen to them, engage with them, or even see them”. 

In the minds of many tech developers, this equates to the messy, awkward interactions with other people who are different from oneself – having to tell a taxi driver where you want to go, having to hand over a few banknotes to a delivery driver as a tip. 

As Gillard reminds us, these are all moments where we have to interact with another person and momentarily acknowledge them as a human being. Far from being uncomfortable, unwanted and/or un-necessary, these interactions are a vital part of everyday life – allowing people to gauge other people’s mood, interactions, and needs … to understand (and even get to know) each other a little better.

We need to pay attention to the technological removal of these interactions in educational settings. Personalised learning systems that inform individual students how well (or badly) they have performed, and what they need to do next. Automated attendance systems that save the teacher the time taken by the call-and-response of taking a class register.

For teachers, these interactions with students are a vital part of the relational work that classrooms depend upon – getting a feel for students’ dispositions and generally ‘greasing the wheels’ of working together as a group. For students, these interactions with teachers and their fellow students can be similarly insightful and impactful. 

While it might make sense in the minds of a distant EdTech designer, reducing the opportunities for these small moments of contact and care from the everyday classroom routine could be seen as unnecessary and ultimately de-humanising. 

illustration from Will McPhail (2021) ‘In’