By Hanna Karin Wideman Grue
This blogpost was partly written at my mother’s cottage, Nybacka, in Värmland, Sweden, where I have spent most of my summers since she bought Nybacka in 1978, when I was five years old. Here, I try to enjoy an everyday in the ‘analogue now’ (except for when I have to do work, like this blogpost…). And I believe this experience is part of why I have this profound belief that we benefit greatly from time-space where tech is secondary or even absent, here and there in our lives. Especially when growing up.
With this blogpost I conclude my journey as a Junior Researcher in ETHOS Lab, a critical feminist methods laboratory dedicated to experimentation at the intersection of digital methods, ethnographic inquiry, and speculative fabulation. In the previous blogpost you can read about how I found my way into this subject, which I initially found too comprehensive and complex to deal with. In this second and final blogpost, I will share my findings and reflections about the subject of my research: Tech policies in Danish public schools.
The quest was to somehow find a way to tackle this (to me) complex and intangible topic of how Danish public schools deal with tech. See if I could poke a hole in it and learn something new about it. Within the narrow scope of looking at available online tech policies, I created a simple research design where I located, harvested, looked into, and compared ten explicit tech policies. After having created a randomized list of all Danish schools, I went through their websites one by one until I had ten examples of what I considered to be a tech policy covering both bringable devices as well as laptops in general (policies covering solely mobile phones and/or digital bullying was excluded). I visited 103 websites before I had my ten tech policies for the project. If this is representative of the group as a whole, this means that 10% of the Danish public schools publish a tech policy on their website.
A quick disclaimer here: more schools than the ones with published tech policies do in practice ‘deal with tech’, I am sure of it, there will be schools whose policies are not published on the school’s websites for the every-eye to see, and hence, cannot be a part of this research. A second caveat relevant to mention is that I do not explore to what degree the tech policies found on the schools’ websites align with how tech is actually handled on an everyday basis in those schools. But to be able to do something, I made up a narrative that the published tech policies are good representations for how tech is dealt with in Danish public schools.
A qualitative plan morphed into a quantitative execution
The original plan was to apply Carol Bacchi’s quantitative ‘What is the problem represented to be’ approach (2012) on the ten tech policies. But I never got very deep into that method because I suddenly found myself being sucked into a more quantitative approach that emerged and took over in the phase where I was trying to get familiar with ‘my’ ten tech policies. Here’s what I observed in the data that this research is based on:
- The tech policies are between 86 and 837 words long.
- There is little to no overlap in formulations.
- One policy refers to research regarding mobile devises in schools.
- Rulemaking is delegated to
- Teachers alone (four policies)
- Teachers, management, and students (two policies)
- Teachers and management (one policy)
- Teachers and students (one policy)
- Management alone (one policy)
- No one (one policy)
- Three policies offer explicit rules in the policy itself.
- Six policies have a (complete or age-dependant) rule of phone-free school days.
- Four policies explicitly define unwanted digital content like offensive or pornographic online content.
- Seven policies describe mobile phones as a natural or necessary part of school life.
- Three policies describe mobile phones as a natural or necessary part of children’s everyday life.
- Four policies refer to mobile devises’ concrete negative impact socially and/or educationally.
- Four policies include rules for consequences in case of digital misbehaviour.
- One policy talks ‘net-etiquette’ and gives parental advise.
The overall conclusion being that there is a high degree of diversity in the batch of tech policies researched.
Feelings, interpretations, and assumptions
These findings and this diversity give me a feeling that neither knowledge sharing, common values, cultural habits, nor anything like that is part of developing tech policies. I interpret that it is ‘every school on its own’. I assemble an assumption that the way a tech policy ends up looking is completely human dependant. And my conclusion is that how tech policies are initiated, composed, and executed in Danish publish schools is highly coincidental.
If I combine this conclusion with what I have picked up along the way about tech, learning, and children, and about the (in my eyes) scrupulous economic-growth-mindset of too many players in the tech industry, if I combine all this, I will argue that we have a pressing issue that we, as a society, need to address. The way we choose to handle tech in our schools is too important to be dealt with in such a coincidental way as my findings indicate it is dealt with today. We, as a society, must support the schools in taking control and exploit the tech for the good things and mitigate the ways that tech interferes with and negatively impacts learning as well as the art of being a child and becoming a young adult (also known as growing up). My dream scenario is something along the lines of a serious, national conversation about this where we will be able to include students and teachers as much as possible. And maybe we would be able to achieve a kind of a co-liberation that D’Ignazio & Klein talk about (2020) where we all will be (more) free if we liberate the schools, the children, and the teachers that are under siege by the tech industry and associated partners.
The imaginary future
The largest scope I can come up with here and now is to grab all kinds of available data like data on tech releases, tech sales, children, families, school-well-being, mental health, and school-performances within the last 20 years and look for trends and correlations. Like smart phone sales, publicly available ‘trivselsrapporter’ from schools, school-changes, grades, mental health data for children, TAF-compensation (when parents are paid to stay home with their child because it’s considered necessary to the child’s needs), leisure time data (analogue as well as digital leisure activities), children’s physical state, children’s tech use, parent’s tech use, (attempted) suicides, and so on. And explore tech as both predictor and target. That would be dreadfully time consuming but also, in my imagination at least, potentially very interesting. A less extensive project could be to go through all schools’ websites and just collect, assemble, and publish their written tech policies somewhere. Subsequently, one could begin to contact schools and find out what their ‘real/acted tech policies’ are by interviewing relevant people at all schools (in the same randomized order), where schools without a website-published policy are included. We could ask questions like how tech is dealt with in practise, how the tech discussion is among teachers, parents, students, and management, and so on. That would of course turn the previously not so extensive project into a potentially really demanding piece of qualitative research, but again, very interesting! If this was made sufficiently systematic and thorough maybe one of the possible products could be to identify archetypical patterns and behaviour?
Can I just pause for a moment and ask why either of those research projects should be made? Would it be because we can? Because we have the technology to do it? Because we just want to know everything? Or because we truly believe that this knowledge could lead to better decisions? Lead to more mindful and sustainable dealing with tech in schools? If I get to continue working with this subject, I hope to find some good, forthright people in my network that will ask me all kinds of critical questions about the necessity of this particular research and help me make good scoping decisions. To avoid producing what I would like to call an academic delay. Another solution is to do something that does not carry any risk of an academic delay. The most down to earth thing could be simply to write a little piece based on the knowledge I have gained and email it to all schools and schoolboards. And in that way maybe, just maybe, spark new discussions about mindful and sustainable use of tech in schools. Yet another interesting project could be to start a conversation with students, to engage them and cooperate with them, and conducting experiments, together with them. Having kids participate in creating a guide for how to develop mindful and sustainable tech policies in the public schools could be an ultimate goal.
What will happen now is known to no one. I am very undecided about both my thesis and my imagined future work life. Maybe this is the last time I touch upon this subject. Maybe it is the beginning of the rest of my career. No matter how it turns out for me personally, I do hope that I am not alone in this. That someone will be able to push this agenda forward and help the subject grow into a national question.
As you can see, thinking big and judging is not a problem here. But this project is in essence not even a parenthesis, it is a research lab exercise, primarily meant to be a vehicle for learning. There are no expectations of a ‘true’ conclusion. No pressure to transform the above findings based on a relatively quick and shallow look at the subject into action. But even so, I do believe I am onto something. So, let’s stay in the game a little longer. Let’s imagine this is a real research project with funding and research partners and all. Then what? On one hand I do not want to join the endless row of researchers concluding their research papers recommending ‘further research on the matter is needed’. Shut up and get things done! Start developing ways to ensure mindful and sustainable ways of dealing with tech in schools now! On the other hand, I must admit that if I were to work on doing that: ensuring mindful and sustainable ways of dealing with tech in schools, I would want to know more to feel confident about doing a good job. My strategy to avoid ending on ‘further research is needed’ is to go a little beyond that and share my reflections about different options for the future.
D’Ignazio and Klein (2020) Unicorns, Janitors, Ninjas, Wizards, and Rock Stars. In: Data Feminism. [online] Available at: https://mitpressonpubpub.mitpress.mit.edu/pub/fcshwhq6 (Accessed: June 2022)
Bacchi, C. (2012) Why Study Problematizations? Making Politics Visible. Open Journal of Political Science, 02(01), pp. 1–8.