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Computing the Student: Developing participatory methods to research digital surveillance in UKHE

Surveillance of students in Higher Education (HE) is now ubiquitous and increasingly fine-grained, encompassing the ways that institutions monitor student attendance, location, visa compliance, ‘integrity’ of assessments, ‘engagement’, and ‘wellbeing’, amongst others. Such a ‘surveillance culture’ in which students’ are primarily known and governed through their data profiles, potentially undermines the pedagogical relationships of trust and care in HE, which are essential to educational flourishing. It is within this context that researching HE surveillance cultures raises a number of methodological and ethical issues that call for innovative approaches. For example, ‘raw’ data, institutional policies, and data processing tools are not necessarily public. This poses significant methodological questions about how researchers ensure privacy and establish meaningful consent from students when investigating surveillance practices. Researching surveillance in HE therefore also presents opportunities for students themselves to critique, resist or adopt counter-surveillance strategies. The methods and ethics of such approaches deserve further exploration. This pilot project takes a collaborative approach, working with students to develop a research agenda and participatory methodology for researching surveillance in UKHE.

University of Bath
University of Bristol
Cardiff University
University of Exeter