As I have mentioned a few times by this point (and ad nauseum to wife, friends, and family), I am working on several futures-oriented projects at the University of Edinburgh, all of which, in some small part, look to shape strategy and teaching for years and decades to come. I am and have been on air for some time now, and working behind the scenes on all those things that researchers do: data collection, analysis, research, engagement. Good times.

A big part of this is my work on the Near Future Teaching project. Near Future Teaching is a university-wide series of events and consultations focused on developing a strong, creative vision for digital education which can inform strategy, policy and planning for the coming decade or more. The project takes an approach to consultation which is open-ended, inclusive and focused on the development of innovative educational responses to the big, new problems and possibilities of a digital society.

We are sincere about co-collaborating this entire process and have used a series of Vox Pops and events to begin to explore this future. The events attempt to critically and creatively stimulate thinking around future directions and teaching, how and if technology enters into it, and what values need to be associated with this future university going forward. The values part particularly endeared me to the project as I have come slowly around to the opinion that a value-less (or value-neutral) approach is tantamount to some sort of neoliberal decay. The shifting center that has no center as none was ever defined at its inception. History plays a part here, at least for me, as I draw strength from the University of Edinburgh’s motto of Nec temere, nec timide (Neither rashly nor timidly): we will not be timid, nor rash in our appraisal and design of the future, we will do so with compassion, creativity, rigour, and inclusiveness.

The functional end of all of this are the events we run, a few of which I wanted to highlight here. The topics themselves are as broad as possible but all are designed to stimulate creative thinking around the future of the university: AI, blockchain, future fictions, medical education, memory, and more.

Hands-on the Future of Teaching

Tuesday, 24 October, 2017-16:00 to 18:00: uCreate Studio, Main Library

Come along to learn more about digital making and the makerspace movement at the uCreate Studio, try out some of the equipment and to and contribute your own ideas to a collective vision of our teaching futures. It is a collaboration between the Near Future Teaching project and the uCreate Studio where students and staff can get experimental with kit to explore and build their digital maker skills.

Near Future Teaching Think Tank: Medicine

Wednesday, 25 October, 2017 – 14:30 to 16:30
01M.473 Teaching Room 13 – Doorway 3 of the old medical school at Teviot Place.

All staff and students with an interest in Medicine are invited to help shape the future of teaching at Edinburgh in this Think Tank session. Your voices will directly inform how we design and grow digital education at the University of Edinburgh. What will the future of medical teaching at the University of Edinburgh look like? Will analytics help you measure your progress and position in class? Will teachers, or dissection subjects for that matter, become virtual rather than physical entities? 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. In the face of data and computationally-driven social change, what values should drive the way we teach and learn in Medicine?

Brief provocations will be delivered on competition, analytics and student league tables – an imagined future; augmented memory and the future of learning; and the future of medical education as AI. Participants will be asked to consider these provocations in groups, and produce collective responses to share during the final part of the session.

Future Fictions

Thursday, 26 October, 2017 – 15:00 to 17:00

A creative writing workshop on the theme of future teaching led by the poet JL Williams. Come along and write (in prose or poetry) your visions for the future of our university. All levels of writing experience and academic backgrounds welcome. JL Williams has published many volumes including After Economy (Shearsman Books, 2017), exploring the fine line between abundance and apocalypse, House of the Tragic Poet (If A Leaf Falls Press, 2016) and Our Real Red Selves (Vagabond Poets, 2015). She is interested in expanding dialogues through poetry across languages, perspectives and cultures and in cross-form work, visual art, dance, opera and theatre. This session will give you the opportunity to respond to writing exercises and produce your own future-themed poetry or prose, to discuss your work and questions and ideas about writing, editing and publishing, and to learn more about the Near Future Teaching project and contribute your own ideas to the collective vision of our future.

Blockchain: Designing the Future of University Degrees

Friday, 27 October, 2017-10:00 to 12:00: 1.37 Paterson’s Land

Blockchain technology has opened up the prospect of significant changes to the ways in which we record, share and exchange value. It has some potentially profound implications for the ways in which universities might organise and assign credit, and their function as trusted gatekeepers of academic value. For a quick overview of what these might look like, see this OEB Insights piece.

Blockchain can be complex and challenging to understand, but this workshop will make it easy for you to explore some of the basic principles of how it works, and to anticipate the social, technical and economic opportunities that these Distributed Ledger Technologies may offer to society, and to education in particular. No technical expertise required though tech experts are of course welcome!  The workshop provides a light overview of the concepts in a video presentation and uses Lego bricks to make tangible the very intangible aspects of how the Blockchain works. Participants will use the Lego to experiment with peer-to-peer trading and create a tangible blockchain to record their trades in a game-like activity played out in 3 stages. It culminates with a session on innovating and presenting new ideas in this area.

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.

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