Drones will Watch the Watchmen!

Another year, another FutureEverything (read about my last outing here) and another time I sidle up to the cool kids in the school cafeteria, try and fit in, and come back with ideas for how things might be different in education.

This year’s conference theme was ‘Tools for Unknown Futures’ and part of this was exploring the potential of design fictions (read about design fictions here and here). The basic idea is to create scenarios that present provocative but realistic versions of the future or near present that help us rethink where we are and where we are going.  I love the idea of design fictions because I’m not bad at ‘what if?’ but I suck at implementation and delivery. So with little training, time or talent… and late at night… I offer:

Drones will Watch the Watchmen  

Ofsted inspectors have crucial roles in safeguarding standards in the educational system.  Her Majesty’s Inspectors visit schools for short, intense periods and during which they are required to attend to a complex and dynamic school environment, making robust and reliable decisions.  Research that proves it suggests that a lack of sleep impairs performance, especially for professionals with busy lives that involve lots of travelling (read more about it here).  Until the inspectorate, the teachers and the pupils can be replaced entirely by drones [embargoed until 2017], our solution answers that oldest of accountability chestnuts, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? And our answer is, of course, Drones will Watch the Watchmen!

DwWtW will pair Ofsted inspectors with two drones that will follow them around, monitoring via quantified-self wearables fitted onto the inspector to monitor vital statistics such as pulse rate, liquid intake and their social media channels. While the inspector is observing the class, the drones will hover by the windows of a classroom barking ‘Here and now, boys, here and now!” to ensure they maintain focus on the task in hand. Then once the day is over the drones will follow the inspector home and use thermal technology to see if inspector gets their 8 hours constitutional rest. Failure to comply will result in the drone singing lullabies before moving to stage two intervention of emitting amplitude modulated microwaves to scramble brain function and cause temporary (8 hours) paralysis.  While one drone is watching if the inspector is definitely getting their 8 hours rest, its partnered drone will do shuttle flies up and down the street reciting the kings and queens of England in revered tones to inspire and educate the neighbourhood’s children.


An artists impression of drone one

DwWtW helps Ofsted meet its current stated priorities and values:

  • Better outcomes: a rested HMI is a happy HMI is a reliable HMI
  • Better inspection and regulation:  oh yes, both of them
  • Better public involvement:  the drones will introduce itself to anyone that asks
  • Better ways of working:  what’s better than a drone?
  • Putting children and learners first:  locating the inspector in second, in third and fourth place the drones, and fifth to thirty-fifth the drone pilots and ground crew… with the teacher in thirty-sixth.
  • Achieving excellence: a reliable HMI produces a world class educational system. FACT!
  • Behaving with integrity:  those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear
  • Valuing people’s differences:  Hello, hej, guten tag, ciao, hola, shalom, aloha, oi oi party boy, nuqneH… – drones will be programmed to say hello in 15 different languages!

AND SCENE!  (I’m not sure how you conclude a design fiction.)

Okay, so this fiction is ridiculous.  No one would suggest that this would take place.  The absurdity, the fiction, however helps us re-think how technology and governmental technologies are being integrated into education and the consequences for the humans involved.  Whether it is testing, data management systems or now CCTV cameras to monitor teaching activity (visit Iris Connect’s website) the imperative to improve things for pupils at all costs and using all devices to hand might take us to places that we don’t necessarily want to go.  So where do we draw the line?  What technologies creating particular transparencies within the system are we happy to exploit?  Who is it okay to observe and surveil?  Who gets to make these decisions?  Who gets to resist them?

James Duggan

3 thoughts on “Drones will Watch the Watchmen!

  1. Just catching up on your Future Everything blogs…we must talk about design fictions and the overlap with sci-fi/utopian/dystopian literature and counterfactual histories. There’s also a link to the iTEC scenarios…one of the problems there, I think, was expecting to see a direct relationship between these types of narratives and what happens in practice when it doesn’t really work like that!

  2. Pingback: Acknowledge the utopianism, the future mundane and other stuff from design | ESRI Blog

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