Preparing for a Thaw – Seven Questions to Make Sense of the Future

“Preparing for a Thaw – Seven Questions to Make Sense of the Future” is the title of a workshop at ALT-C 2011. The idea of the workshop was to use a simple conversational technique to capture perspectives on where Learning Technology might be going, hopes and fears and views on where education and educational technology should be going. The abstract for the workshop (ALT-C CrowdVine site) gives a little more information and background and there is also a handout available that extends this. The workshop had two purposes: to introduce participants to the technique with a view to possible use in their organisations; to gather some interesting information on the issues and forces shaping the future of learning technology. All materials have Creative Commons licences.

The short version of the Seven Questions used in the session (it is usual to use variants of one form or another) are:

  • Questions for the Oracle about 2025 [what would you ask?]
  • What would be a  favourable outcome by 2025?
  • What would be an unfavourable outcome?
  • How will culture and institutions need to change?
  • What lessons can we learn from the past?
  • Which decisions need to be made and actions taken?
  • If you had a “Magic Wand”, what would you do?

Fourteen people, predominantly from Higher Education, attended the workshop; their responses to the “Seven Questions” are all online at http://is.gd/7QResponses and there is an online form to collect further responses at http://is.gd/7Questions that is now open to all. This blog post is a first reaction to the responses made during the workshop, where a peer-interviewing approach was used. A more considered analysis will be conducted on September 14th, taking account of any further responses gathered by then.

Wordle of all responses to the "Seven Questions" that were made during the ALT-C 2011 workshop. (NB: four words have been eliminated - "learning", "education", "technology", "technologies")
Wordle of all responses to the “Seven Questions” that were made during the ALT-C 2011 workshop. Click image to open full-size.
(NB: four words have been eliminated – “learning”, “education”, “technology”, “technologies”)

My quick take on the responses is that there are about half a dozen themes that recur and a few surprising ideas. These appear to be:

  • Universal and affordable access to education and the avoidance of a situation where access to technological advances favours one section of society (or region) was a concern. There was support for ensuring access to connectivity and hardware for everyone, that this should be an entitlement. This was a very strong theme in the “if you had a magic wand” responses.
  • The need for improved digital literacies amongst teaching staff but also across the institution as a whole came out several times. Similarly (but distinct from this) is a desire to be more effective with teacher education and staff development.
  • There were questions about whether there would be “learning technologies” in 2025 and whether there would still be “learning technologists”, at least as defined by their current role.
  • The transformation of assessment and accreditation was also drawn out as an uncertainty.
  • Several responses wondered about the dominant devices that would be used in 2025 and the kind of interface (mouse, gesture,… what next?).
  • An increasing potential role for using data was tempered by concerns about unethical or exploitative use of collected data.
  • There was interest in multi-direction, collaborative education and the role of technology in that.
  • The risk of educational institutions holding onto established (old) models came out several times.
  • I wasn’t the only person to mention “interoperability”.

The workshop participants seemed to enjoy the approach and I was pleased at how well the peer interviewing worked, although I can see that this might not be right for all groups. I’ll also be watching out for differences in response that might be present between peer interview and solo completion of the online form. 1 hour for introduction, reciprocal interviews and closing discussion was rather restrictive but it seems to have surfaced some good materials and it certainly gave a good indication of what could be achieved with a little more time.

A more considered and detailed write-up will be published soon; I’ll add a comment.