Digitalization of Academic Learning and Edtech companies in Israel

In recent years, and especially following Covid-19, digital platforms have begun to infuse the higher education landscape. These processes rely on developing local and global High-Tech educational companies (also known as the ‘Edtech industry’) that provide digital services to higher education institutions. This research focuses on collaboration between Israeli Edtech company and Israeli University on a pedagogical level, i.e., on the process of shaping and creating full-digital courses based on in-person courses. As part of this collaboration, academic institutions provide the ‘content experts’ (such as University researchers and lecturers), with business companies providing the high-tech knowledge and experts (including marketing experts, programmers, screenwriters, etc.). Together, all these actors design digital courses for academic institutions worldwide.

Focusing on the complex encounters between the Edtech companies and universities in Israel, this research follows the processes of building digital learning platforms ‘in real-time’, observing the power struggles and negotiations involved. In Israel, where these collaborations are still in their experimental stages, they are often met with arguments and discursive clashes between the different actors involved in the process, including lecturers, educational units, marketing experts, programmers, screenwriters, researchers, and administration teams. However, it is not only human actors who take part in this complex encounter but also major forces like digital platforms, academic traditions, historical contexts of Israeli academia, academic curriculum etc.

The preliminary findings show that the academic discourse on digitization involves concepts that come from Israeli entrepreneurial culture, integrated with emotional language focused on the “clients’” (students’) experiences. An example is the use of positive associated terms like “innovation” and “pioneering” to describe the digitalization process, and asking questions on how to create a comfortable emotional environment for the students and fulfill their emotional needs through the digital platform.

The client-emotional oriented approach, as in apparent from the findings, corresponds with emerging research on emotionalization of public marketized spheres, and with existing political demands for universities to become more market-focused, and competitive. However, this work is also attempting to understand these global, well-researched processes with their introduction into local universities within the political and national contexts of Israel. Opposed to the already established theories which see higher education institutions as passively marketized by Edtech companies, the findings of this research show a more complex and not binary picture, where academic institutions also shape the ways Edtech companies act.

Maria Gretzky, a visiting researcher from Israel (Ben Gurion University) hosted at Surrey by Prof. Rachel Brooks (Department of Sociology), is exploring the expanding digitalization of academic learning in Israel.