Classifications in our interactive learning environments need careful critical scrutiny

Pericles ‘asher’ Rospigliosi

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorial


A recent incident in which I was supporting a colleague as they trained to become a user of a system for assigning and managing reviews highlighted the complex limitations of classifications in the kinds of information systems, that we use extensively in interactive learning environments. This user was keen to participate in a process where work was allocated to reviewers and they needed to be able to read a submission, yet the system denied them access. It transpired they had recently changed their name due to marriage and had two different identities on the underlying identity management systems. This identity management tool is Microsoft Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), widely used in enterprise, and increasingly adopted by higher education institutions as a solution to the problem of having many logins required for the numerous online tools, we all use. Eventually the colleague and I determined the cause of this identity confusion, but not before both of us had been frustrated over prolonged exchanges of emails with links that seemed valid to the sender but could not be opened by the recipient. The incident I am describing occurred between two professionals on an equal basis of power and in comparable roles. But it highlighted the difficulties of using the information systems we depend on in so much of our work and wider life processes when systemic classifications do not match. Star and Bowker (1999) have highlighted that information systems are at a very fundamental level governed and determined by classifications; for example the security afforded by online banks to ensure only the legitimate account owner can authorise transactions or the read/write access granted for each individual user to their own resources stored on shared filing systems like OneDrive or Google Drive. More complex are the privileges underlying the difference between how a student will view their grade, where it cannot be edited, and an instructor who may have power to change a grade. Classifications are important as they are powerful, and they can be dangerous when not acknowledged and recognised as imposed by the way the system is designed and operationalised.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-592
Number of pages2
JournalInteractive Learning Environments
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2023


  • systems design
  • classifications
  • legacy software
  • design choices
  • unintended exclusions


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