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Session Overview
SY-II-18: The rising power of data infrastructures and data flows in education policy: an international comparative perspective
Wednesday, 21/Mar/2018:
1:30pm - 4:00pm

Session Chair: Dr. Sigrid Hartong, Helmut-Schmidt-Universität Hamburg
Session Chair: Dr. Nelli Piattoeva, University of Tampere
Session Chair: Dr. Sam Sellar, Manchester Metropolitan University
Location: R12 R04 B02
40 Plätze
Session Topics:
qualitative, Comparative Educational Research, Research of Education Systems, theoretical, International Comparative Studies, Education in a digitalised World

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The rising power of data infrastructures and data flows in education policy: an international comparative perspective

Chair(s): Dr. Sigrid Hartong (Helmut-Schmidt-Universität Hamburg), Dr. Nelli Piattoeva (University of Tampere), Dr. Sam Sellar (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Discussant(s): Prof. Marcelo Parreira do Amaral (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster)

This symposium will examine the worldwide increase of (digital) assessment infrastruc­tures and new accountability measures in education, which over the past decades have been esta­blished to evaluate progress that is being made and to better identify so-called ‘needs for intervention’. While such measures and infrastructures have become (directly or more indirectly) interwoven with global assessments such as PISA, they also increasingly ‘reach into’ sub­national spheres, such as states and schools. The symposium brings together projects which compare data infra­structures and flows from an international com­parative pers­pective, thus shedding light on a still underexplored and under­theorized field in educational research. By presenting both theoretical ideas and initial empirical findings from various cultural and national/subnational contexts, the projects seek to understand the contribution of data-driven modes of governance to the overall transformation of edu­cation.


Presentations of the Symposium


Governance of education at a distance through data circulation. Does data flow as it is expected?

Dr. Nelli Piattoeva1, Dr. Vera G. Centeno2, Prof. Risto Rinne3, Olli Suominen3
1University of Tampere, 2University of Tampere/Humboldt-Universität Berlin, 3University of Turku

The expanding practices of evaluation, particularly standardized testing, produce numerical knowledge about education that is said to allow the nation-state to extend its capacity to govern across territory and into the classroom. Such a form of governing at a distance rests on the circulation of information about subjects, objects and processes to the centers of calculation and power. By means of a comparative analysis of Brazil, China and Russia, we shed light on the tensions and paradoxes that seem to make the process of governance through data less smooth than would be generally depicted in both academic literature and political rhetoric. We analyse national policy documents in order to explore the purposes of national large-scale assessments in the three countries. We then use interviews with policy-makers, experts and civil servants to examine the actual circulation of assessment data. We show how data circulation remains limited in Russia and China, as it is powered by uncertain and mutually contradictory political agendas. In Brazil, where data is least restricted, its circulation still easily leads to the paths that contradict the original aims. Governance at a distance through data circulation thus appears to be fragile. The sensitive and unsettled issues of, for example, trust, logistics, simplification, and cooperation between authorities and experts easily undermine the visibilities and interventions that assessment data is supposed to bring into existence.


Data infrastructures in school governance: the implementation and transformation of (digital) state monitoring systems in Germany and the USA

Dr. Sigrid Hartong, Annina Förschler
Helmut-Schmidt-Universität Hamburg

This paper presents initial findings on the implementation and transformation of (digital) education monitoring systems in state-level administration and policy-making, understanding such systems as infrastructural ‘data hubs’ in between national and local contexts. The overall question of the presented project is whether and how such systems, as well as a growing number of data-mediating actors (such as EdTech-vendors), have contributed to shifting the geographies and rationalities of power by fabricating new ‘topological’ spatializations of governance. The project compares the transformation of state monitoring systems in Germany and the USA. Both countries have multi-level architectures of power devolution, with subnational actors (state departments and (in the US) school districts) as key authorities for ruling and monitoring education. However, at the same time, both countries reveal a different tradition of ‘believing’ in performance data and output control, and also a different history of non-state and private actor involvement in terms of monitoring and accountability (high in the US and low in Germany). The paper will present initial findings about (a) the connectedness of (digital) state monitoring systems to international, national and local data infrastructures, (b) the type of data produced and processed for particular purposes (such as accountability), and (c) the role of (for- and nonprofit) data-mediating actors.


Data infrastructure in schooling: The case of the Australian National Schools Interoperability Program

Dr. Sam Sellar1, Prof. Kalervo N. Gulson2, Prof. Bob Lingard3, Prof. Keita Takayama4
1Manchester Metropolitan University, 2University of New South Wales, 3The University of Queensland, 4University of New England

This paper examines the development and implementation the Australian National Schools Inter-operability Program (NSIP). This case is one of many that we are analysing as part of a multinational comparative study of data infrastructure in the US, Canadian, Australian and Japanese school systems. The study has involved fieldwork in schools and education authorities across multiple sites and scales (local, provincial, national) in each of the four study countries. Our theoretical framework draws on insights from ethnographies of infrastructure and logistics, network ethnography and software studies. NSIP is a standards-setting forum that is driving the national implementation of a digital learning infrastructure for Australian schools. Australia now has arguably the most developed national data infrastructure in schooling globally and NSIP provides a revelatory case for examining how this infrastructure was developed (a) across multiple states in federal systems and (b) through negotiation between governments and commercial vendors. A corpus of web-based technical and promotional documents and interviews with key actors provide the basis for the analysis. We aim to demonstrate the role of standards-setting in the development of educational data infrastructures and how these infrastructures contribute to new modes of educational governance. We will also discuss comparisons with other national and sub-national infrastructures that we are examining as part of our broader study.

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