As part of new role as Research Associate on the Near Future Teaching project at the University of Edinburgh, I recently participated in a collider event led by Chris Speed, which is a design-oriented approach to developing methods, ideas, and approaches that might inform a particular outcome, which in this case was to develop responses to what the future of teaching in universities should look like. Below is the Storify-ied summary of the event followed by some of my notes from the presentations and the group discussions.

When I emphasize Note (as in Note:) that is purely my observation and not necessarily founded in any group consensus from the event. Overall, an engaging exercise, one that forces participants to get outside some of the anchors that might otherwise hinder a design orientation: legacy, history, inertia, existing practice and process. This is about designing a future for teaching in higher education, particularly in a university with such a pronounced digital education remit as the University of Edinburgh.

Near Future Teaching Collider Event15.9.2017; 14:00–17:00 BST; Design Informatics Studio; Edinburgh College of Art, 78 West Port
Room 1.09 Evolution House; Edinburgh

Description: What should the future of teaching in universities look like? Connectivity reduces the need for us to be ‘on campus’, while the growth of distance education raises questions about the value of having a campus at all. Artificial intelligence and machine learning promise to take over some aspects of the work of human teachers, while extended cognition and neurocomputation suggest new forms of human-computer crafted intelligence. In the face of data and computationally-driven social change, what values should drive the way we teach and learn? This collider will bring together professionals associated with the field of higher education to open discussion and a set of creative solutions for near future teaching.


  • Michael Rovatsos (AI/Informatics at University of Edinburgh): discussed using hybrid systems of AI and human intelligence. Research in areas of vast numbers and ultimately the complexity of vast number of combinations in scenarios where often users’ preferences are unknown and contextual factors hard to capture. Pointed to the more simplistic yet ubiquitous options like Uber, Airbnb, and so forth. Highlighted the algorithmic limitations (or perhaps more specifically their potential for inaccuracies) involved, suggesting the need for hybrid systems fielded with human intelligence as well. Interesting point: when confronted with what the algorithm did, participants changed their mind and realigned with algorithms that more supported their existing beliefs. Note: some suggestion here that exposing algorithm or making it fully transparent causes a renegotiation of its use (further note: factors beyond utility affect adoption; value systems still at work here but algorithms are often proprietary and decidedly lack transparency).
  • Jo Holtan (Mastercard Foundation Scholars programme, University of Edinburgh): discussed the scholars programme and highlighted the opportunities provided by the programme, drawing attention specifically to the new-ish construct of support. Emphasized the co-design of the learning space, participant empowerment, etc.Takeaway seemed to be the need for empowerment and human relationships in the journey. Note: takeaway seemed to be need for ownership and co-creation, particularly for those without generational models or cultural contexts to drawn on.
  • Fionn Tynan-O’Mahoney (Open Experience Centre at Royal Bank of Scotland): discussed technological innovation at RBS, their design process, etc. However, the discussion that proved most potent was the open banking discussion and the use of APIs to tailor banking interaction in other services, potentially leading to further development of services. Further discussion around use of data, developments in technology (blockchain, for example), and roadmap planning. Note: important lesson here on the ethos of the stakeholder involved. Banking and much of the commercial sector have different perceptions of activity and value and even identity. Need for intensive value renegotiation if projects involve partners outside the public sector.

Sian Bayne challenged us with the issue for the day, which was how do we design university teaching for a creative, risk-taking, values-led digital future? To flesh this out a bit, she showed us a series of questions including

  • Will there be a campus?
  • Will peers accredit peers?
  • What values should shape how we change?
  • Will there still be exams? Essays?

And more. Participants then got into groups to brainstorm and design a solution of sorts to one of these pressing questions. These were presented at the end of the session and some common characteristics seemingly emerged across all the groups. The first was an implicit or explicit values-centered design. Many of the groups emphasized values rather overtly. Second was the emphasis, for the most part, on intimacy or development of relationships towards, presumably, resilience and identity formation. Many of the groups chose interactions at the beginnings of the student lifecycle (matriculating, adapting to different social environments, preparation). Third was the repeated emphasis on identity formation. Most of the groups seemed to favor approaches that allowed for the formation of an identity through personalisation and exposure to an evolving set of inputs (curriculum, for example). Technologically, many favored personalisation, such as AI assistants to help broker relationships, make students aware of opportunity, or provide a kit they choose to create a sense of ownership and engagement.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

6 thoughts on “Near Future Teaching Collider: What should the future of teaching in universities look like?”
  1. It feels challenging and scary at the same time. The intensive use of technology brings in so much that is not necessarily evident…In my view one needs to carefully and critically address the use of technology with students, interrogating tools with them so they become aware of the hidden power dynamics implicit in the design of each tool. The project looks thrilling and challenging!

  2. Thanks Caroline! Agreed that the power dynamics in the technologies going forward and even in the university structure itself. I hope all is well with your research!

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