New Publication on Dashboard Stories in Big Data & Society

bds-2Data dashboards do not only visualise facts, they also produce compelling narratives.

In our paper, Felicitas Macgilchrist and I trace the stories told by dashboards of AI-powered learning analytics and discuss the implications for educational futures and edtech

With narrative we do not only mean fiction. Narrative refers to a mode of presentation in which a sequence of actions or events unfold over time, involving one or more characters, often involving change.

We analysed one of the leadinglearning management systems which offers adaptive learning tools and predictive analytics for premium clients. The system integrates far more real-time data than early warning systems in education have ever done. We identified 3 stories:

In the first, teachers are managers who oversee, design interventions, check the effects of their interventions, improve efficiency and effectiveness. The multiple further roles of teachers are rendered invisible and thus irrelevant to this particular understanding of education.

The second story is about risk. In the materials, we see red colours flagging a student in trouble. We see him beginning to struggle, as his “success index” decreases over the weeks. The dashboard shows him as the most at risk and in need for intervention.

The third is about sociality: it is risky, the dashboard tells users, for a student to be insufficiently socially integrated and connected. Those students are portrayed as ‘successful’ characters in the dashboard story who maximise their in-tech interactions with others.

As educational and other fields are increasingly embracing predictive tools, it is crucial to examine these systems and their narratives, to highlight how they are harmful, and to consider if and how they are being used beyond the current limited and limiting recommendations.

The Problematic Framing of Machine Learning

I am super excited that the paper I have co-authored with Hendrik Heuer and Andreas Breiter on the problematic framing of Machine Learning in tutorials has been published in Big Data & Society. Machine learning has become a key component of contemporary information systems. Unlike prior information systems explicitly programmed in formal languages, ML systems infer rules from data. In the paper we show what this difference means for the critical analysis of socio-technical systems based on machine learning. To provide a foundation for future critical analysis of machine learning-based systems, we engage with how the term is framed and constructed in self-education resources. For this, we analyze machine learning tutorials, an important information source for self-learners and a key tool for the formation of the practices of the machine learning community. Our analysis identifies canonical examples of machine learning as well as important misconceptions and problematic framings. Our results show that machine learning is presented as being universally applicable and that the application of machine learning without special expertise is actively encouraged. Explanations of machine learning algorithms are missing or strongly limited. Meanwhile, the importance of data is vastly understated. This has implications for the manifestation of (new) social inequalities through machine learning-based systems.

Chapter in edited volume: Socio-Gerontechnology

TITLE HEREThe interdisciplinary Socio-Gerontechnology Network attends to questions of the use and design of gerontechnologies from a critical social science and design perspective. The network has now published its first edited volume: Socio-gerontechnology – Interdisciplinary Critical Studies of Ageing and Technology, which brings together perspectives from ageing studies and science and technology studies. I am have contributed a contribution with Andreas Bischof (Technical University of Chemnitz) which is entitled: Configuring the older adult – How age and ageing are re-configured in gerontechnology design. The chapter will be available open access in due course.

Chapter abstract: Later life has become one of the most prominent topics for the design and development of digital technologies, resulting in the creation of a large body of prototypes and products (gerontechnologies). However, the majority of these efforts suffer from a lack of empirical grounding of their imaginaries of ageing and later life while also failing to involve older adults in design processes in meaningful ways. This chapter reviews how age and ageing can be configured across different instances of the development and deployment of digital technologies. We understand such design processes as configuration practices that co-construct older users and later life. By using the concept of re-con-figuration, we critically reflect about conceptual, ethical and pragmatic challenges of involving older people in design processes.

Community and Identity in Contemporary Technosciences

978-3-030-61728-8The Sociolog of the Sciences Yearbook is now online and Open Access. It’s editors Karen Kastenhofer and Susan Molyneux-Hodgson have assembled an interesting collection of 13 contributions across a wide range of technosciences.

My contribution looks at ways in which the concept of “communities of practice” has been appropriated and argues that objects such as templates are not simply a means to share practices in digital communities but rather a means for enacting membership.

Sozialverantwortliche Technikgestaltung und Partizipation

Der September stand für mich unter der Überschrift “Sozialverantwortliche Technikgestaltung und Partizipation”. Zunächst habe ich auf der Mensch und Computer in Hamburg am 8. September am Workshop “Partizipative & sozialverantwortliche Technikentwicklung” teilgenommen und ein Positionspapier zu “Co-creating digital citizenship: Considering the reconfiguration of participation in digital public service design” vorgestellt. Im Workshop trafen sich Wissenschaftler*innen aus ganz Deutschland und diskutierten über die Potenziale und Grenzen des Partizipativen Designs. Anschließend wurde entschieden, dass wir in der Gesellschaft für Informatik eine neue Fachgruppe zu Partizipation gründen möchten. Sie soll einen Raum schaffen, in dem Informatiker*innen sich über (neue) Herausforderungen und Chancen von Partizipation austauschen sowie Konzepte und Methoden weiterentwickeln können.

Am 25. September stellte ich bei der Jahrestagung der Gesellschaft für Informatik in Kassel einen Beitrag im Track: “Socio-technical Design and Value Orientation” vor. Der gemeinsame Beitrag von Ulrike Gerhard, Herbert Kubicek und mir fasst die Herausforderungen und Chancen der Technikgestaltung mit älteren Menschen zusammen. Er ist in den Lecture Notes in Informatics zu finden.

Schließlich habe ich am 26. September bei der DigitalisierungsConvention einen der beiden Impulsvorträge unter dem Titel: “Paradoxon Künstliche Intelligenz: Chancen und Risiken einer digitalen Gesellschaft gehalten”. Der zweite Impulsvortrag wurde von Roland Becker, Geschäftsführer der Just Add AI GmbH und Initiator von BREMEN.AI gegeben. Die Teilnehmer*innen der DigitalisierungsConvention waren ein bunter Mix aus Vertreter*innen der Wirtschaft, Verwaltung und Wissenschaft. Senatorin Kristina Vogt hielt ein Grußwort, gefolgt von Björn Portillo (bremen digialmedia) und Daniel Schneider (Mittelstand 4.0-Kompetenzzentrum Bremen). In meinem Vortrag bin ich darauf eingegangen, warum es wichtig ist zu verstehen, dass Technik Mittel zur Strukturierung sozialer Ordnung ist und Technikgestaltung immer ein sozialer Aushandlungsprozess. Eine gemeinwohlorientierte Gestaltung unserer Zukunft, bedarf daher der menschzentrierten und partizipativen Technikgestaltung.


20190926_Digitalisierungs-Convention (84)

20190926_Digitalisierungs-Convention (81)

Special Issue on Datafication of Education

Andreas Breiter and I edited a special issue on the datafication in education. It appeared in the journal Learning, Media and Technology. The special issue sheds light on the dynamics of datafication and related transformation of education. Contributions consider data practices that span across different countries, educational fields and governance levels from early childhood education (Bradbury), to schools (Ratner et al; Manolev et al), universities (Jones & McCoy), educational technology providers (Macgilchrist) to educational policy making and governance (Williamson & Piattoeva).

In sum, digital data allow for the analysis of different educational practices to a degree of complexity not previously possible and to a much greater extent, as they can be very detailed, cover a more complete scope and can be flexibly combined. This is increasingly happening in real time due to the power of computers and algorithms. In the near future, sensors will provide further data. As such digital data not only serve to support decisions, but also fundamentally change the organisation of learning and teaching. Thus, digital data not only support decision-making (“data-driven decision making”), but also fundamentally change the organisation of learning and teaching. These transformation processes lead to partly ambivalent consequences, such as new possibilities for participation, but also the monitoring and emergence/manifestation of inequalities.

The editorial can be accessed here, an overview on all contributions here.


Article on data transparency and environmental activism

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Map showing deforestation patterns, main roads, and protected areas in the Amazon. Source: IBAMA, PRODES/INPE, and IBGE 2010

Yesterday my paper with Prof. Raoni Rajao (UFMG, Brazil) was published at the Journal for Social Movement Studies. The article examines the relation between data transparency and environmental activism in the Amazon rainforest. For this purpose, we analyze the history of PRODES and DETER, two satellite-based monitoring systems developed by the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE). We discuss its role in environmental activism and the formulation of policy toward the Amazon over the last three decades. Based on this analysis, we argue that the level of aggregation (e.g. regional figures vs. individual events) and temporality (e.g. yearly consolidations vs. near real-time releases) of open data configure different ways of performing environmental activism. Aggregated figures tend to have wider policy significance due to their simplicity and scale, yet allow very little room for reinterpretation, contribution from environmental activists, and direct use in policy implementation. Disaggregated data, while allowing more forms of (unexpected) reinterpretations and additions via the overlay of different data-sets, also require the intervention of environmental activists and other info-mediators in order to acquire meaning for the broader public. Similarly, while consolidated data-sets have the advantage of allowing more time for the creation of higher quality data, they are often published at a point in the policy-making cycle in which the negative effects of current choices are irreversible. At the same time, while more frequent data releases may lead to more responsive policies, they also place governmental agencies in a more vulnerable position since near real-time data are more prone to contain errors. Based on these considerations we conclude that monitoring data do not simply represent deforestation in the Amazon. Instead, different publics and data configurations (i.e. spatial and temporal aggregation levels) produce different objects (e.g. a threatened Amazon, a successful policy) and subjects (e.g. knowledgeable environmental activists, an unresponsive government).

You may find the full article here.

The research was supported by the University of Bremen and the Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research (ZeMKI).

Themenessay zu Digitalisierung und Gesellschaft

Vorige Woche ist mein Themenessay zu „Digitalisierung und Gesellschaft“  in der Soziologischen Revue erschienen. Im Themenessay gehe ich auf die grundlegenden Herausforderungen der Erforschung dieses Phänomens ein – einer Soziologie des Digitalen. Hierzu habe ich vier neuere Publikationen  in diesem Themenfeld besprochen, Gemeinsamkeiten und Unterschiede in der wissenschaftlichen Debatte herausgearbeitet (siehe unten).

Inhaltlich argumentiere ich, dass die zunehmende Digitalisierung in dreifacher Hinsicht relevant und interessant ist: (1) als Forschungsobjekt – die digitale Gesellschaft, (2) durch die Entwicklung neuer Forschungsmethoden – digitale Methoden und (3) durch neue Plattformen für die Kommunikation von sozialwissenschaftlichen Forschungsergebnissen (siehe auch Marres, 2017).

Eine wichtige Aufgabe einer kritischen Soziologie des Digitalen ist es aufzudecken, wie sich Gesellschaft durch Digitalisierung verändert. Alle vorgestellten Bücher demonstrieren die Relevanz einer Soziologie des Digitalen, die verschiedenste Disziplinen zusammenbringt und stark empirisch ausgerichtet ist, denn traditionelle soziologische Fragen stellen sich im Verlauf des digitalen Transformationsprozesses neu.

Im Themenessay werden folgende Bücher besprochen:

Jessie Daniels / Karen Gregory / Tressie McMillan Cottom (Eds.), Digital Sociologies. Bristol, UK: Policy Press 2017.

Noortje Marres, Digital Sociology. The Reinvention of Social Research. Malden, MA: Polity 2017.

Roberto Simanowski, Facebook-Gesellschaft. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz 2016.

Florian Süssenguth (Hrsg.), Die Gesellschaft der Daten. Über die digitale Transformation der sozialen Ordnung. Bielefeld: transcript 2015.

Interim Study on Co-creation Practices

Since my last post, we have had a busy time with our co-creators in MobileAge to not only co-design the map-based application for Bremen’s district Osterholz but to also co-creation, validate and integrate relevant data. Our participants received their own tablets for the duration of 8 weeks and actively complemented the efforts of other stakeholders in the district. We will soon launch the official app (usability tests and evaluation are still to be done).

We have also submitted the interim study of our co-creation activities in Bremen and South Lakeland: D1.2 FINAL Interim study on co-creation practices.



European Group for Organizational Studies Colloquium

DSC_0324 (2) The 31st EGOS Colloquium took place in Athens from 2nd to 4th of July 2015. I participated in the sub-theme 45: Materiality, Human Agency and Practice which was convened by Eleni Lamprou (ALBA), Nathalie Mitev (King’s College London) and Lucas Introna (Lancaster). The participants included scholars from design research, IS, anthropology, technology studies, gender studies and many more; and covered topics ranging from digital book publishing to 3D printing to fertility treatments. I had the great opportunity to meet a number of scholars whose new work I greatly enjoyed hearing about, in particular Wanda Orlikowski, Susan Scott, Matthew Jones, Séamas Kelly, François-Xavier de Vaujany, Leon Hempel and Roser Pujadas. Overall it was an inspiring track and conversation that demonstrated the width of current research on materiality and practice-based approaches.

I presented a paper entitled: Considering the practicing of sociomaterial research and its enactments. You may find the paper and presentation slides here. → full paperpresentation slides