Covidian Governance

|Matt Offord

The most intense period of being aware for the need for performativity and accountability I can think of is the recent pivot online response to the shutting down of traditional face to face learning in Higher Education. As an academic in a Business School, there was an intense pressure to achieve what would have been thought previously as impossible, the complete conversion of all courses to an online format. Williamson (2017:74) discusses how policy insturments are applied and linked to performativity and accountability and I recognised immediately the norm of control through managerialism, and performance data. The school responded to the crisis by creating an enourmous heap of resources, generated and curated by staff (myself included), as an online academy for becoming an online teacher. A year later I went back to gather data from the Moodle page where the framework is hosted. I wanted to see how much operational governance was being applied by data.

In all 151 individual items form the framework, in the form of documents, infographics, videos, podcasts or links to external resources. This was a hugely impressive piece of work compiled in just a few weeks by a handful of staff. Inevitably, University, College and School policy formed a part of this. I wanted to discover how many of these items were for collecting data on staff progress in developing these courses. Only 4 items were for this purpose. However, the items are significant, they are reporting forms to collect data on the course build progress. The forms were introduced ostensibly to reduce workload since, technically, academics should have gone through a months-long process to adapt their courses to online. Yet, many academics who would not previously have needed to inform the school of progress preparing for teaching, found that they had to. The other finding is the huge proportion of ‘standards’ that were produced. Given that standards direct effort whereas guides provide optional advice, the framework looks overwhelmingly directively. This was not the intention but increasingly, the School reverted to its customary managerial mode of operation. Standards, although not embedded in the data architecture, are algorithmic in nature (like pre-data algorithms). The response, to me, looks like a panicked attempt to regain control through policies and standards, while the School is yet to be datafied so far…

1 thought on “Covidian Governance

  1. This is fascinating as a piece of empirical research on the way institutions generate standards – and a particularly brilliant title in ‘Covidian Governance’. I don’t think the creation of standards has been studied enough in education, or the tremendous work that standards do to ‘direct effort’ as you put it. Standards do indeed govern everything. There is even a standard from the International Standards Organization for ‘Management systems for educational organizations’: It’s hard to quite work out what this standard is supposed to do, but I think it’s a standard for the kind of ‘managerial mode of operation’ you’ve described above! It also specifies how and why educational organizations should gather ‘learners’ performance data’ and ‘learner and other feedback, including satisfaction surveys and complaints.’ In this sense, it appears there is an international standard for datafication of education. Maybe focusing our critical attention on such standards would be just as useful as highlighting analytics and algorithms.

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