Near Future Teaching Themes and Values for the Future of Digital Education: “we’re not a unicorn tech start-up…We are a university.”
I haven’t been writing all that much here but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. Head down doing the academic work of the summer, drafting chapter and journal paper one after the other. I have also been writing a bit as part of my work on the Near Future Teaching project. The project has a core aim to develop a creative, future-oriented vision for digital education at Edinburgh, by having an open, institution-wide conversation with students and staff, which focuses on values, curriculum and pedagogy, not only on technological change. That is the critical part: the technology is a means of broaching a larger, campus-wide discussion about the future of digital education at this university of ours. Over 2017-2018 we ran a large number of workshops to engage the university community and recorded many short interviews (‘vox pops’) with students and staff. The project looks to build on the work we have already done by building a strong, creative vision which can inform strategy, policy and planning for the coming decade or more.
Those interviews and the events generated many hours of discussion around the future of the university, which were analysed and distilled into themes. Short videos were made and recently I did a series of posts on them for the Teaching Matters blog, the University of Edinburgh’s website and “for debate about learning and teaching, for sharing ideas and approaches to teaching, and for showcasing our successes, including academic colleagues who are leading the way in delivering brilliant teaching.” The themes ran the gamut from technological (augmentation, data, automation) to decidedly not (human, values, creativity). The posts are laden with quotes from the videos and are, I believe, profound takes on the future of digital education.
We have to retain the fact that people are not email addresses or Skype handles…we must try and retain a humanity
There’s differences in the way people learn depending on what group they’re with and what they’re experiencing. So if you’re on the virtual field trip, which we do now, very successfully, it’s a different experience to standing there in a group, and it might be that the experience is it’s raining cats and dogs. And it’s horrible, and you’re clinging together for warmth….But there’s a memory, and the way that memories are stored, they’re different.
being mobile, and able to travel to study, opens up an understanding of the difference of place and the richness of experience gained by being ‘in’ a new location…warns against over-promising on borderless community, emphasising that “national boundaries still exist”, and that these necessarily define much of the experience of being an international, online student.
Students need to be taught critical thinking and critical approaches to information and data. I see systems will have moved on exponentially. But understanding how these systems came into play, and that it was humans or bots that were programmed by humans, or bots that are programmed by bots that are programmed by humans, that there is always an underlying power structure. And I see that we should be better sociologists of our IT infrastructure.
there is like a strong consensus or feeling throughout the student body that there’s too few contact hours. And I think if we added lecture recording or more technology as a replacement, then that would only sort of add fuel to the fire that they’re not getting sort of the service in which they’re paying for.
One of the things that I think that will happen is there will be a massive uptake in the use of augmented reality. The ability to have someone giving a lecture and have supplementary notes pop up where people can see them and things like that. Or where they’re working from notes, for those who have hearing difficulties, they can have a rough transcript of what’s being said so they can keep up. It can help with accessibility issues for people to learn, for people to develop and build themselves up.
The university, although it is a business, although it does have some commercial aspect, although it does need to make money and cover its own bases, should be based on different underpinnings than commercial infrastructure. We should be starting from a different point of view. We need to take a step back and go, we’re not a unicorn tech start-up. We are not the next Facebook. We are not the next Google. We are a university.
Not to try and categorize everybody, and sort of neatly calibrate everybody. Perhaps even returning to some older values of universities, and thinking more about intellectual pursuits, and inquiry and curiosity. It’s what we do with technologies that’s important, not what they do to us.