Digital watchmen

November 5, 2015

I cannot be the only reader who felt a sense of profound gratitude on reading of the efforts of Gavin McLachlan, chief information officer and librarian at the University of Edinburgh, to help academics such as myself to juggle the competing demands of teaching, research and administration (“Marking an essay? Big Brother may be watching...”, News, 29 October). His commitment to aiding us in our attempts to achieve “excellence” in our marking and assessment activities, via a process of rigorous digital surveillance, is to be warmly welcomed. I can only join Phil Richards, chief innovation officer at Jisc, in lamenting the prospect that some of my less enlightened colleagues may offer “tacit resistance” to this initiative and reassure him that in such matters, as in so much of contemporary university management, all resistance will doubtless prove useless.

Their inspiring words did, however, raise one question in my mind. For neither made any mention of the forms of digital surveillance that will ensure that those conducting the surveillance to ensure that our work is “excellent” are themselves conducting such surveillance in a suitably “excellent” manner. In the absence of any such clarification, I can only conclude that our two admirable colleagues risk leaving the “excellence loop” dangerously open.

One of my older colleagues has just informed me of a well-known Latin phrase that apparently covers such cases. However, I cannot help but suspect that his age, combined with his recourse to Latin, marks this colleague out as a member of that class of academic who may foolishly “resist” these important initiatives. In such circumstances,
I feel it would be preferable if McLachlan and Richards could inform us of their own response to my concerns, a response doubtless free of that regrettable tendency to resist new initiatives that they have identified with such perspicacity.

Jeremy Lane
University of Nottingham

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