Tschaepe – Philosophical Tools for Educational Culture: Reconstructing Data and Assessment Practices

Mark Tschaepe

Prairie View A&M University

Assessment practices have come to dominate much of formalized education, especially within the United States. Currently, learning analytics (LA) and educational data mining (EDM) are purported by many educational companies and institutions to successfully improve learning through what are often considered as objective collection, classification, and analysis of educational data. Enthusiasm about big data in education has contributed to the naturalization of datafication within the field. Educational data is regarded as a natural resource that exists “out there” to be mined by EDM and refined by LA. Once refined, it is thought to bear the truth of educational assessment that leads to successful learning outcomes.

Here I use Larry Hickman’s work on pragmatism and technology to interrogate this trend in formal education. I begin with an explanation of the key concepts and practices used in my argument, including Hickman’s definition of technology, big data, datafication, naturalization, learning analytics, and educational data mining. Next, I provide a brief overview of the rhetoric of assessment within education. I then discuss how enthusiasm born from such rhetoric, especially for LA and EDM, has contributed to a form of reductionism within formalized education that denies that values are concealed and smuggled into assessment practices. By applying Hickman’s pragmatic philosophy of technology to educational assessment, I suggest ways in which LA and EDM may be useful for learning when values and their relation to data are consistently acknowledged and critically examined. I argue that this pragmatic approach provides a transactional framework that dismantles the naturalization of datafication and focuses instead on education as embodied experience that is critically reflective.