One of the central principles of de-growth thinking is the idea of doing ‘more with less’. In ‘The Future Is Degrowth’ (2022), Matthias Schmezer and colleagues describe one important initial step in this direction as:
“a selective downscaling and de-accumulation of those economic activities that cannot be made sustainable, contribute little use values, or are superfluous consumption” (p.9).
They go on to suggest some obvious examples that fit these criteria of activities that can easily be left behind in the transition to a more sustainable future. These include frequent flying, fast fashion, the arms trade, and David Graeber’s wide-ranging litany of ‘bullshit jobs’.
So what, then, are the EdTech equivalents of these expendable acts of overconsumption? Where is digital technology being applied to education in excessive, superfluous, useless ways … what David Graeber might have termed ‘bullshit EdTech’?
There is much that springs to mind. For example, we should certainly call out any form of EdTech designed to bring students into contact with targeted advertising, data-brokering, and other facets of surveillance capitalism.
We might also call out forms of EdTech built around predatory IT industry practices such as planned obsolescence, ‘free-mium’ pricing strategies, gamification and other manipulative business tactics.
We might also call out the growing number of technologies being brought into schools and universities to monitor and track students. This includes the fast-growing uptake of online exam proctoring and plagiarism detection software. This also includes ‘student safety management’ systems that monitor student social media use, hall-pass apps that track student trips to the toilet, and other such ‘spyware’ that reframes surveillance and mistrust as pedagogical care and safety.
Alongside these blatantly egregious products are many other technology uses that might appear more benign, but are equally superfluous and/or of little added value. If we are being honest, how essential is an online quiz app or student discussion forum? Aren’t most teachers well capable of running their classes without a learning management system? How useful is to for schools to be equipped with augmented reality textbooks or 3D printers?
When one stops to think about it, there are countless forms of EdTech that are not worth the environmental and/or social harms that are incurred through their use. The more straightforward question to ask, perhaps, is what forms of EdTech we might consider worth keeping?
All told, there is clear merit in bringing ideas of degrowth, ‘computing within limits’ and other ‘minimalist computing’ approaches into dialogue with discussions around the future of EdTech. As we move into an era of increased digital scarcity, educators will need to get used to being more selective and strategic in their consumption of digital technology. With the era of ‘always on’ and abundant digital technology fast fading, it is time to refocus our discussions toward what shouldn’t be done with digital technology in education. There is much to talk about!
Schmezer, M., Vetter, A. and Vansintjan, A. (2022). The future is degrowth: a guide to a world beyond capitalism. Verso