Every-day educational practices have increasingly become data-driven and data-intensive: Digital systems, platforms and technologies have become omnipresent and teachers, educational leaders, and administrative staff are encouraged to use digital software. However, the usefulness of platforms, systems and technologies heavily rely on a seamless flow of digital data, which is ensured by interoperability. Deriving from the Latin words ‘inter’ (between) and ‘opus’ (work) interoperability defines the ability of different technical systems and platforms to ‘work together’ by sharing digital data with one another. However, establishing wide-scale data interoperability involves solving a range of challenges, including technical difficulties as well as the necessity of a data interoperability standard, agreed-upon by numerous data actors, such as commercial and non-commercial actors, programmers, developers and final users.
Within the educational sector, the establishment of data interoperability is attributed with a number of benefits, including increased efficiency and reducing teachers’ work. Streamlining the communication between educational systems, within and between schools may reduce costs and increase productivity, while simultaneously omitting the necessity of a human intermediary. Moreover, interoperability also enables a seamless flow of digital data about individual student’s schooling trajectory, spanning from administrative information such as enrolment and attendance to learning, performative and behavioral aspects. However, data interoperability has come under scrutiny. While providing the benefit of a seamless integration of services, interoperability potentially opens up for the re-configuration of pedagogical practices according to the organizing principles of influential and dominant commercial actors in the EdTEch sphere, pushing forward the processes of privatization and commercialization (Kerssens & Van Dijck, 2021). Moreover, as a recurrent theme, the safety of potentially sensitive data when shared with numerous actors has been scrutinized. Connected to this, the de-contextualization of educational data also raises questions about the interpretation of digital data and their implications (Loukissas, 2019. Interoperability is further accompanied by discursive and subjectification effects, since interoperability and data standards create standards and classification to which schools adapt (Bowker & Star, 2000).
Also in Sweden, as a high-tech and highly digitalized country, interoperability in the educational sector has been in focus. Overall, the Swedish discourse on interoperability promotes ideals of efficiency and ease-of-use, and interoperability issues have been presented as an impediment for the ongoing digitalization processes in educational contexts. According to the Swedish government (2017, p. 4), “[it is] important with coordination and collaboration on standards and shared digital solutions within the school sector, and with relevant partners in the public sector and industry. In that way, double work can be avoided, and it can be ensured that different systems can work together and communicate with each other (interoperability)”. Interoperability, presented here as a technical standard and a government strategy, addresses infrastructural governance issues around balancing teacher’s work also ensuring digital access as a compensating for unequal access to digital infrastructures in educational contexts.
One practical example for the lack of technical interoperability, which increases workloads and shifts datafied work for teachers in Swedish schools, is attendance keeping. The necessity to convert attendance into the correct digital format for different platforms may require manual translation to cope with the lack of interoperability between technical systems. Despite being a technical term, interoperability in this context is rather a sociotechnical one, since human actions are regularly required to support and achieve technical interoperability, by e.g. manual translations from one system to another. In that sense, software, data and interoperability have the capacity to facilitate and re-configure every-day school practice and affect teachers’ work in Sweden. However, emerging interoperability standards (Swedish Standards Institute, 2020) between school platforms and attendance registers mean that data in educational contexts, such as attendance could be further datafied and streamlined. This may be an effective way to produce data, but it may dramatically change and re-configure classroom practice, potentially adapting to the organizing principles of generating digital data and interoperability (Kerssens & Van Dijck, 2021).
The push for interoperability is certainly based on good intentions; to make access and use of digital platforms technologies more equally and easily accessible and to balance workload. However, a seamless integration has its drawbacks. Frictionless interoperability creates technical lock-ins that make the use and work of alternative platforms increasingly intricate (Kerssens & Van Dijck, 2021). In addition, lock-ins potentially expand powers of prominent platform providers as dominant intermediary gatekeepers like Google and Microsoft, progressively mobilizing users into their domains and platform ecosystems.
Bowker, G. C., & Star, S. L. (2000). Sorting things out: Classification and its consequences (First paperback edition). The MIT Press.
Kerssens, N., & Van Dijck, J. (2021). The platformization of primary education in The Netherlands. 15.
Loukissas, Y. A. (2019). All data are local: Thinking critically in a data-driven society. The MIT Press.
Swedish Government (2017) Nationell digitaliseringsstrategi för skolväsendet. [National Digitalisation Strategy for the Educational System]
Swedish Standards Institute. (2020). Swedish Standards 12000:2020—Information Management—Interface for Information Exchange between School Administration Processes.