IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Mapping the political economy of digital technology in higher education during Covid-19

17 March 2022, 2:00 pm–3:00 pm

Remote lecture on laptop. Image by Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock.

In this webinar, James Robson will examine the ways in which higher education (HE) technology used during Covid-19 has been co-opted for a range of commercial and political agendas.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Carly Brownbridge

Covid-19 forced a rapid reconfiguration of the ways higher education institutions around the world operate, bringing a range of digital technologies to the heart of teaching, learning, research, and organisational behaviour.

Many commentators have viewed this as an acceleration of existing trends in digitalisation in HE which has led to, in some quarters, a rise in techno-optimist discourses. These have particularly focused on the increasing importance of artificial intelligence and the growth in online learning as ways in which HE will be transformed, personalised, and, through opening up online access to a wider range of learners, democratised.

However, this webinar will challenge some of these technologically deterministic and optimistic assumptions by presenting a critical, socio-technical analysis of the rise of digital technologies during Covid. This approach will focus on the importance of conceptualising technology as socially constructed and socially mediated and will present an alternative narrative focused on the political economy of technology in HE. This will examine the ways in which HE technology use during Covid-19 has been co-opted for a range of commercial and political agendas, particularly acting as a vehicle for libertarian views while also becoming a site of controversy within the ongoing culture wars.

It will further highlight how, alongside the potential for the democratisation of knowledge, access to HE, and inclusion, the ways in which digital technologies have been used during Covid-19 have also resulted in the exclusion of some learners and staff members. Such use takes the form of digital structural violence in some contexts, deepening and entrenching pre-existing social inequalities.

Finally, the webinar will examine the implications of a continued emphasis on online teaching and learning, and digitalisation in HE more broadly, for student agency and formation.

This event will be particularly useful for those interested in higher education.

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About the Speaker

James Robson

Departmental Lecturer in Higher Education at The University of Oxford

James has spent more than a decade working in educational policy and research funding. His current research focuses on the intersection between higher education, professional learning and training systems; skills supply and demand, employability, and graduate labour markets; digitalization; and social mobility.

More about James Robson