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Decolonising EdTech: A resource list for tackling coloniality and digital neocolonialism in EdTech

At EdTech Hub, we’ve been reflecting on how coloniality is embedded in the work we do: from the colonial roots of the international development sector, to colonial practices embedded in research methods, to “core-to-periphery” design and deployment of EdTech interventions. We’ve just begun this journey, but in trying to embody one of our EdTech Hub values of ‘fearless and humble learning,’ we wanted to think out loud with you. This is the first of a three-part, long-form series exploring what it means to strive toward ‘Decolonising EdTech’.

Special thanks to our @GlobalEdTechHub twitter followers who responded to our crowd-sourcing call for resources on Decolonising EdTech.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

What does Decolonising EdTech mean?

From recentering knowledge systems of indigenous peoples in Canada, to ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ student protests in South Africa, and ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ campaigns in the United Kingdom, ‘decolonising’ can mean a variety of things.  This is especially true when you take into account different people in different contexts who have had different experiences of colonialism and who continue to experience neo-colonialism in our day and age. 

As a starting point, we’re using the term ‘coloniality’ coined by Anibal Quijano and further developed by Walter Mignolo and Nelson Maldonado-Torres in ‘On the Coloniality of Being, (2007)’:

“Coloniality is different from colonialism. Colonialism denotes a political and economic relation in which the sovereignty of a nation or a people rests on the power of another nation, which makes such a nation an empire. Coloniality, instead, refers to long-standing patterns of power that emerged as a result of colonialism, but that define culture, labour, intersubjectivity relations, and knowledge production well beyond the strict limits of colonial administrations. Thus, coloniality survives colonialism. It is maintained alive in books, in the criteria for academic performance, in cultural patterns, in common sense, in the self-image of peoples, in aspirations of self, and so many other aspects of our modern experience.” 

Decoloniality is then described by Nelson Maldonado-Torres in ‘Césaire’s Gift and the Decolonial Turn (2016)’, as “the dismantling of relations of power and conceptions of knowledge that foment the reproduction of racial, gender, and geo-political hierarchies that came into being or found new and more powerful forms of expression in the modern/colonial world.” 

Additionally, Walter Mignolo notes in ‘Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking (2000)’ that it is simultaneous ongoing reclamation, creation and construction of other-modes and other-practices of knowledge, thought, sentiment, being, and living that come from indigenous, sub-altern and marginalised knowledge ecologies and cosmologies.

When the concept of decoloniality is brought into the digital space, a further layer is added, as according to ’Digital neocolonialism and massive open online courses (MOOCs): colonial pasts and neoliberal futures (2019)’ defines digital neocolonialism as “the use of information technology and the internet by hegemonic powers as a means of indirect control or influence over a marginalised group or country. Hegemonic powers need not be a nation state as in colonialism but could be a corporation or institution.’’ Other topics similar to this include cyber colonialism, data colonialism, technology colonialism and techno-capitalism.”

While there has been discourse around decolonising education and decolonising technology, conversations on ‘decolonising EdTech’ are still nascent. Decolonising EdTech involves dismantling the ‘relations of power and conceptions of knowledge’ that are reproduced through EdTech in: its fundamental assumptions; its content; its pedagogical underpinnings;  its design; and its implementation. 

But what does that really mean? Within the EdTech space, this could cover ideas such as:

  • Globalising education (e.g., through universal education platforms), such that dominant knowledges (mostly White, Western-centric), values, norms and beliefs are forefronted to the detriment of those from marginal, non-dominant, local and indigenous groups;
  • Western-centric epistemological and pedagogical underpinnings in EdTech that, for example, focus on the individual — their individual learning path, their individual assessments, their arrival at a predetermined completion point — to the detriment of communitarian models of learning or critical pedagogies that centre praxis;
  • Dominant languages used to achieve EdTech product scaling, that lead to the loss of the conceptual frameworks used by minority languages, and resultantly, the loss of scholarship in minority languages;
  • “Core-to-periphery” implementation of EdTech products that, for example, promote a predominantly one-way transmission of standardised knowledge from Western countries to a diverse and complex pool of ‘awaiting’ participants globally;
  • Technological design critiques that go beyond looking at user-friendliness and content design, to discussions of who creates EdTech products, who it is designed for, and the embeddedness of colonial logics. ;
  • Adverse incorporation whereby young learners’ thoughts and experiences are tracked and monitored, giving them a digital footprint that will be with them for the rest of their lives.

In attempting to understand and unpack these sub-topics, we have compiled a list of resources that discuss decolonising EdTech. We hope this list can inspire you when you come to write the next paper, develop the next curriculum, design the next application or project: Whose voices count for you? Whose knowledge are you elevating and whose are you suppressing?

A decolonising EdTech resource list

This initial list has been built opportunistically through resources the authors are aware of as well as through crowdsourcing calls on Twitter. In other words, it’s just a starting point to share what we are aware of. The inclusion criteria was kept broad with two main criteria:

  • The resource specifically refers to themes that touch on both the education and technology side of EdTech (e.g., learning technology, digital pedagogies, digital learning, online learning, EdTech platforms, EdTech devices, etc). Education refers to anything from accidental learning to formal education and all education levels and types were included.
  • The resource specifically refers to themes of decolonisation, whether implicitly or explicitly (e.g., power imbalances; conceptions of knowledge; entanglements of racial, gender, language, and geo-political hierarchies).

Reading lists focusing specifically on decolonising education can be found here and on decolonising technology here, thus we did not want to duplicate these efforts. 

The live resource list is available on the Decolonising EdTech Zotero community library, where anyone can add resources they deem relevant.

The resources listed below are loosely grouped according to common themes that emerged from the pool of resources collected. Some resources could fit across multiple groups, but the group it most aligns with has been chosen.

Resources focused on injustices and inequity in online education systems

These resources focus on systemic injustices and inequities in education systems (in particular, post-secondary education systems) as they pivot online.

Resources critiquing technological design, pedagogical design and learning analytics processes

These resources discuss how technical design and learning analytics features such as algorithmic logic, artificial intelligence, harmful surveillancing and data use can reinforce coloniality.

Resources focused on critical views in open education

These resources bring in marginal perspectives and non-dominant epistemic stances in open education, highlighting that open education can inadvertently reproduce many of the existing inequities of the systems it seeks to change. They argue that ‘open’ is not politically neutral nor ideologically free, that ‘openness’ in education can be achieved whilst educational inequalities remain unaddressed, and that openness in itself does not inherently lead to justice. 

Resources on digital neocolonialism

These resources draw parallels between ideology, assumptions, and methods of control of colonial education with that of present day globalisation and technologisation of education.

Resources focused on epistemic injustices

These resources critique the lack of epistemic diversity in EdTech and online education. Epistemic diversity relates to different ways of knowing that, for example, underpin different worldviews, beliefs and value systems.

Resources on positionality in EdTech

These resources challenge educational technology researchers to be explicit about the impact of insider positionality on their research studies. While there is only one resource here, its unique nature deserved its own category.
The vulnerable insider: Navigating power, positionality and being in educational technology research (⇡Tshuma, 2021)

Resources focused on indigenous knowledges and reclaiming diverse non-Western centric epistemologies

These resources highlight education experiences and experiments around the world (mostly higher education) that start from places that references indigenous knowledge.

Missing resources?

This list was a first attempt by the authors to share resources they were aware of. You may know of more resources that you want to add. If you wish to add more resources, you can go to https://www.zotero.org/groups/4578719/decolonising_edtech and click Join. (Note that you will need to create a Zotero account, if you don’t have one already.)

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