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Posted by on May 21, 2016

Mobile Learning in an Age of Surveillance: The Subversive


In keeping with my previous post on smart cities and embedding unpleasant history, my other recent research interest in mobile learning is surveillance, ethics, and privacy. In my more pessimistic, but thankfully rare, manifestations, I think the ship has sailed on privacy and the right to not be surveilled. To be seen is the default position in our current construct of society, particularly in urban environments. Even if the CCTVs, mobile phones, and other ICTs of the urban infrastructure were not in place, population density alone would make going unseen difficult. And I am making a distinction here between invisibility (unable to be seen) and unnoticed (seen, but not surfaced or perceived). These will grow to become important distinctions in the near future, I suspect.

So do we have a right to go unnoticed or even unseen? Is that what privacy is? These are the implicit questions in this research and ultimately I opt for answering no, or at least a negative qualification. A right maybe, but a doubtful reality. So, being a pragmatic guy, I move on to utility. If surveillance is the norm, then what use can we make of it? Do we need to be complicit in these regimes of surveillance? Can we playful resist and is their learning potential in this?

The short answers to those last few questions I believe to be yes. The abstract (paper under submission) spells it out in a bit more detail.

Surveillance graffiti

The inherent lag between the rapid development of mobile technology and ‘the more gradual evolution of rules governing its use’ (Castells et al., 2007) has generated uncertainty on how best to approach their use in learning. These challenges are exacerbated by recent revelations of government and corporate surveillance of mobile activity. Mobile learning is pedagogically rich enough to warrant grappling with these ethical issues involving surveillance, privacy, and security. We have seen parallel progressions in both the technology and the pedagogical applications made possible by the technology, as mobile learning emerges from the shadows of content delivery into collaboration and interaction (Kukulska-Hulme & Shields, 2008), and further afield into more learner-led (Kukulska-Hulme, 2009) and mobile-based field activities (Gallagher, 2013). However, much of this pedagogical advancement is at risk of regression as a result of unwanted or ambiguous surveillance; every CCTV camera and every mobile tower incessantly remind mobile learners of the persistence and ubiquity of observation.

This paper will argue that an additional positioning of the mobile learner, one responsive to an age of surveillance and the implications for learning that this surveillance implies, is now warranted: the subversive. This metaphorical position, and its related pedagogical application, places great emphasis on mobile technology and the media practices circulated therein as tools of both discovery and power; as positions of both observation and being observed; and as acts of compliance and subversion. This playful subversive metaphor is adapted from the ‘trickster’, ‘jester’ and ‘fool’ metaphors (Macleod & Ross, 2011) advanced in online research and situates them firmly in the mobile space as a learner who is aware of being surveilled and, in turn, surveils.

Surveillance graffiti

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