Predicting is hard, and we can get it wrong. Actually, most of the time we do get it wrong.
It is hard, almost impossible to predict the future as there are too many variables and dependencies. Who would have predicted the covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown? Who would have foreseen the growth of smartphones?
I have many times on this blog talked about the future. Back on the 2nd October 2009 I was at the ULCC Event, The Future of Technology in Education and I presented on the future of learning.
But the point of the presentation wasn’t necessarily about being delivering an accurate prediction of the future but talking about the possibilities of the future.
In my 2009 talk, I spoke about connectivity. Back then it was either slightly haphazard, or expensive, or both. We had 3G, but it wasn’t widespread, it would be another three years before we saw 4G. As for 5G, that wouldn’t arrive until 2016.
Wi-Fi was there, but it didn’t always work, and network congestion would often cause the Wi-Fi to fail. This happened with frequent regularity at events and conferences I attended back then, as delegates killed the Wi-Fi with too many connections. The Wi-Fi which was being made available was based on the assumption that there would only be a few delegates with wireless devices. Of course, I was attending events with loads of people in the field of educational technology, who would arrive at events with generally at least two devices. Everyone would connect to the conference Wi-Fi, and it would fall over. So much so, that for many years I would never use conference Wi-Fi and would use my own 3G connection.
At the time I was working at Gloucestershire College and though we had had staff Wi-Fi in our new building which opened in 2007, it was another year before we expanded the Wi-Fi to allow students to connect. What we did plan, was to ensure that the Wi-Fi would be able to handle not just the demand at that point in time but would be able to handle the future Wi-Fi needs of students going forward (and could be extended and expanded if required).
In 2009 I said about the future, that I felt connectivity wouldn’t just be important, it would be critical for the future of learning. Though we would have no idea about what devices the students would be using, we could prepare for the possible future by ensuring the infrastructure was in place ready for that uncertain future.
Here in 2022, thirteen years later, students have devices that depend on ubiquitous connectivity for a seamless experience. Do we have the infrastructure to support this, or are we playing catch-up? What we may not have predicted is the importance of localised connectivity and off-campus connectivity and the dependency on this by students who might not be able to, or want to travel to campus.
Today we can also talk about possibilities and what it could mean for the student experience in the future.
The purpose of this is not to predict what the university of the future will be but provide an envelope of possibilities that would allow us to plan for that potential future and build in appropriate resilience and responsiveness.
We did some of that with Jisc’s Learning and Teaching Reimagined where we set some future visions from across sector.
We’re building a collection of possible future scenarios, created by experts to inspire (and possibly scare) us into thinking about what a preferable future for higher education might look like.
These visions are not going to happen but are there to help us think about how we might plan for an uncertain future. What will happen? What could happen? What won’t happen? What should happen? What must happen?
Over the weekend there was a huge amount of anti-university press in relation to Covid-19. I did think last week that this was just the beginning, when I posted my blog post about the uncertainty that the higher education sector was facing, when I noted a few stories about social distancing and isolation that was being reported in the press. I didn’t think that the story would blow up so soon! So much so that I wrote another blog post about all the stories that were coming in.
Radio 4’s Today programme made the mistake of thinking online was somehow cheaper and inferior.
Dear @BBCr4today why on earth do you assume that Online or blended learning should be cheaper? we have 100+ hours of interviews of university staff, they're working longer,harder to get that experience online & ready for the start of semester. And you think it should be cheaper!
This perspective of what was happening to students was an insightful read, to be failed and abandoned time and time again, at first by an algorithm, then by institutions is draining and hurtful, writes student Kimi Chaddah.
Imagine having overcome a reformed and rigid GCSE system. Next, your A-levels are cancelled and you have to forcibly fight your way to a university place. Then, you’re forced into social isolation in a new place with people you don’t know, all the while being told to “not kill granny” by a man who discharged hospital patients into care homes. Meet the students of 2020.
The anti-student sentiment continued, so much so, that Johnson in his Wednesday press conference actually was quite sympathetic towards the student situation.
What we do know is that virtually all students are attempting to stick to the rules, but it doesn’t require very many students to be infected to infect many more in halls and residences. They are using the same kitchens, the same hallways, the same doors. They are in the same shops, the same bars and coffee places and visiting the same places across campus. Continue reading The future is… – Weeknote #83 – 2nd October 2020→
With institutions re-evaluating their teaching and thinking how best to invest, it’s a great time to consider whether we really understand how students are using informal educational spaces outside of the classroom. The student perspective combined with novel use of occupancy data is bringing us closer to answering that conundrum.
Reminded me of this blog post that I wrote this back in 2017 on designing informal learning spaces that would encourage informal learning.
Well the key really is to think about what actually facilitates and encourages informal learning.
It’s a combination of factors and can include design of learning spaces and the learning activities undertaken by the learners.
Creating the right contexts and environments for informal learning, will ensure that the concept of learn anywhere and anytime is encouraged and enhanced.
Though I wouldn’t have called it ethnography (and I certainly wouldn’t call it ethnography today) my blog post was based on my experiences in designing and running libraries, as well as developing the use of digital and virtual learning. I would spend a lot of time observing how learners would use our spaces, what they were doing in those spaces and I felt importantly what they weren’t doing as well. I would talk to learners, more importantly I would listen to learners. We would also measure space utilisation and activity in our spaces and all this would inform how we would design and change the space.
When we originally designed the spaces, an important aspect to me was flexibility, being able to change the space as demands on that space changed, in how people wanted to use it and how many wanted to use it. All our shelving for example was on wheels, could be moved easily and quickly around. So following observation and listening, we would adjust the space accordingly.
The premise of that article was you couldn’t design informal learning (as that would formalise it) but what you could do is create spaces that would encourage informal learning.
It is more challenging to create learning spaces that encourage informal and social learning. As demands on space continues to grow and demand for more learner-led learning, it is important that institutions consider much more how their spaces can be used for informal learning.
Monday I was into the office in Bristol for various meetings and some training on culture. One of the things I did finalise was my performance objectives for the year ahead. One thing which I ensured was that my objectives were derived from the strategic objectives of the organisation. This way everything I do is contributing to the organisational strategic priorities. This process was something we did on the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme and I also illustrated in this sketchnote.
I also had a discussion about writing an article about Education 4.0, but with a copyright lens. At this time we’ve not really looked into the copyright implications of the changes that could happen in the world of education.
Alas when leaving the office later that day, it was pouring rain and I got rather damp walking back to my car. I realised my waterproof coat was in fact no longer waterproof.
Illness in others and terrible rain, meant that meetings were changed, so I was able to change my plans from going into the Bristol office to working from home on Tuesday and avoid the rain.
I saw a video in the Twitter on the fourth industrial revolution which I thought was rather good so I blogged about it.
Wednesday saw an interesting anniversary, as ten years ago on the 2nd October, I was at the ULCC Event, The Future of Technology in Education.
Little did I know the impact that this presentation would have on me, my future career and education in general. I wrote a nostalgic blog post looking back at the event, my presentation and the impact it had.
I spent a lot of time on Thursday interviewing prospective student partners for Jisc. We like to know what is important to students regarding their use of technology in education and research. What skills they think they need and how they want to learn. So every year we get a group of students from across HE and FE and work with them in a variety of different ways. Some attend our meetings, others our events, they participate in podcasts, panel sessions and workshops. I have always felt it was important to listen to the student voice to inform my work.
Friday I had various meetings, but managed to make a lot of progress on our Learning Technologist technical career pathway. We will be piloting this with individuals over the next twelve months.
My top tweet this week was this one.
It was on this day sixteen years ago that I was at Bristol Zoo and I took this photograph of a meerkat. Four years later I needed a picture for an avatar and the rest is, as they say, history. pic.twitter.com/Ax6jfyOFKE
On the 2nd October 2009 I was at the ULCC Event, The Future of Technology in Education.
Little did I know the impact that this presentation would have on me, my future career and education in general.
I felt a little intimidated to be invited to talk at the event, we wouldn’t have called it imposter syndrome back then, but I did wonder if I was the right person to talk at such an interesting conference. It certainly had a TED talk feel to it. I must thank Frank Steiner and Tim Bush from ULCC for their support and help and inviting me to talk at this FOTE and future FOTE events.
2009 was quite a year for me, I had won the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year award that year. It was also the year of “The VLE is Dead” debate at the ALT Conference.
The event took place at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington, which I remember wasn’t the easiest place to get to via the underground. Knowing London better now I think I would probably have just walked across Hyde Park from Paddington to get there. From about 2001 I started going to London a lot for work, well a few times a year, which was considerably more than when I was a lecturer in Bristol. I use to go to London, arrive at Paddington, take the underground, pop up somewhere, go to a meeting or an event, before popping back down into the underground on my way home. These days I visit London a lot more and have spent a lot more time walking around London, so have a much better grasp of the geography of the place. I remember being quite impressed with the place, and that you could see the nearby Albert Hall.
I spent a fair bit of time putting my presentation together, in the end it comprised 82 slides… and I only had twenty minutes to deliver my talk. A challenge that took some doing.
My presentation was entitled The future of learning… The aim of my presentation was to discuss how learning would and could change with the affordances of technological change.
So what of my predictions?
Well we know predicting the future is hard and generally most people get it wrong.
You will no doubt not be surprised that I got a lot of things wrong…
One thing I feel I did get right was that mobile was going to be big and important. I said how I felt mobile was the future. The audience did have a range of mobile devices themselves, but most phones were nothing more than phones that could do SMS and the Snake game. There were a few smartphones out there, but if my experience was to go by, they were clunky and difficult to use. We had the iPhone, but it hadn’t quite had the impact that it has had by today.
We didn’t have the iPad, that would arrive the following year. So no surprise that in my talk at FOTE I didn’t mention tablets
My talk actually started off talking about the past, how we are still impacted and embedded by the past, which makes change challenging and difficult.
I then talked about the present and some of the issues and problems that technology was causing in classrooms and lecture theatres. PAT testing was a real concern for many back then, don’t hear much about it these days in relation to BYOD or learner devices.
One of the challenges I saw back then was how academics and educationalists wanted to categorise learning, so we had e-learning, m-learning, mobile learning, online learning, digital learning, etc….
I said that I thought categorising learning and putting it into different boxes was restricting and that really we should focus on learning and blur the boxes, blur the boundaries.
It was fine to talk about the “boxes” at conferences and in papers, but experience has shown that categorising learning into boxes caused confusion for teachers and academics, who rightly focussed on the word before the learning as a problem to be solved and then found it challenging.
However back then I said, and I still stand by this today, is that learners and academics need to understand the potential of technology and digital to better understand the affordances and opportunities that it can provide for learning. You don’t need to be ab le to do the technology, but you do need to know what it can do.
I also brought in scepticism about technological advances, something I would draw upon in future talks and presentations.
Video (and film) had been used for learning for years, but people were sceptical and convinced that video (ie lecture capture) would stop traditional learning activities. However we know that television didn’t destroy radio, we know that radio didn’t kill newspaper, books didn’t replace folk stories. When we have a new technological development, often the result is a negative impact on existing technologies, but often the result is affordances about the potential of the new technology, enabling access that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
I also talked about the potential of video on mobile devices. Video cameras were getting smaller and cheaper, the quality was getting better as well. You could buy video cameras which could record HD video, even if it was a challenge to capture and edit it on standard computers of the time. This was before the concept of streaming became mainstream. I showed a Sanyo Xacti camera which was waterproof and dropped it in a jug of water. These cameras could be used in dirty and dusty environments and the washed under the tap!
Mobile phone video has become so much better now. I am still impressed that my iPhone can record 4K video… If only we could get people to record video in landscape!
GPS was usually an option on devices back then, today it is more prevalent in the devices we buy. I saw this as an opportunity, the concept of geo-location based learning was something that felt quite magical at the time. Your device knows where you are, so personalises the learning based on your location. What I missed was how location tracking and would become a very big issue for people.
There was a bit of a backlash against e-Books back in 2009, as people felt that they weren’t as good as “real” books. For me they weren’t a replacement for books, they enabled different ways of reading. For many e-Books and e-book readers enabled a new way to access books and content, that otherwise would mean they wouldn’t have access. I presented on the future of reading at #FOTE10 the following year. I became a bit of an expert on e-books as as result. I presented on e-books at many different events and conferences, as well as writing a chapter in a book, and finally a book on Preparing for Effective Adoption and Use of Ebooks in Education in 2012.
Today e-books are part and parcel off education with easier access to books by students from academic libraries. As I did predict, we didn’t see the end of physical books, we still have bookstores and people still buy physical books.
Back then in 2009 connectivity was either slightly haphazard, or expensive, or both. We had 3G, but it wasn’t widespread, it would be another three years before we saw 4G.
WiFi was there, but it didn’t always work and network congestion would often cause the WiFi to fail. This happened with frequent regularity at events and conferences I attended back then, as delegates killed the WiFi with too many connections.
In the future I felt connectivity wouldn’t just be important, it would be critical for the future of learning.
Today we have really good (and cheap) mobile data, 4G is more available and 5G is starting to appear. Ubiquitous WiFi is certainly there compared to ten years ago, Eduroam has made it easier for people in education to connect when travelling, but WiFi is easily found in most places. This has allowed users to do so much more when travelling and moving about, or just when drinking coffee. I certainly notice how many people are streaming video, having video chat, doing so much more, because they had the connection and the bandwidth to do so.
Mobile often means battery power, and access to charging. Everyone remembers how their Nokia phone would last days on a single charge, today, most people seem to complain how their smartphone battery doesn’t last the day. Batteries may not seem to have got better, they have, just that we demand more power for our complex devices. We have seen significant improvements in battery technology, but we have seen a huge increase in our demand for power on our devices. Streaming video requires more power than reading an e-mail. One thing that has taken time to filter through was the importance of the ability to charge devices. Since 2009 we have seen trains and buses adding power sockets, and USB ports for charging as well. Hotels have added similar sockets. Some lecture theatres now have plug sockets as well.
In my 2009 presentation I talked about the technological penknife.
This is one thing I got very wrong, I thought that the idea that a device that did everything meant it did everything badly. A penknife has multiple tools, but most of them aren’t very good doing the stuff they are designed to do. People would prefer to have specialist devices for specific activities. Why would you have rubbish video from a phone, when you could have a decent HD video camera? Why would you use the rubbish microphone on a device, when a specialist recording device would do it so much better? Well that didn’t happen, in reality we have seen devices become so much better that we don’t need to have multiple devices. We have the penknife, but it’s a really good penknife, really good at everything.
I then went on to talk about change and the importance of managing change. I talked about how change can be a series of small steps, but noted the importance of missing steps, endless steps and steps that trip you up.
These slides were really where I started to understand strategy and writing strategies much more. This certainly helped me in future roles and influenced heavily the design of certain aspects of the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme in which I was part of the research and development team led by Lawrie Phipps.
I talked about activity, technology should never be about the technology, it needed to be about how it could enhance or improve activities. Or where the affordances created new opportunities for different activities. We still have a perception that we shouldn’t talk about technology first, though sometimes I think we should.
Technology allow for flexibility, flexible curriculum, flexible approaches to delivery, flexible learning. I think we have made a little progress here, but so much more is possible these days. The technology enables flexibility, but that doesn’t mean it will just happen, there is so much more that needs to happen to enable flexibility.
Back then I felt sharing was important, not just sharing content (as in open) but also sharing ideas, concepts and approaches. Not that this didn’t happen, but it was difficult to do so. Today it is much easier to share than it was back then, so much so, I think we have forgotten about the time when this didn’t happen.
I talked about the importance of working collaboratively. Since the talk online tools have made it so much easier to collaborate. Collaboration across institutions (and countries) is so much easier these days. Tools such as Slack enable groups to talk and work together.
I talked about innovation, celebrating ideas. Innovation doesn’t always mean better, it means different or new. Following on from that I talked about experimentation and encouraging it within our institutions.
If you want innovation, then it needs to be embedded into the strategy, rewarded and not penalised when things go wrong. It needs to be done in collaboration with learners not done to them. I think we are seeing much more innovation and collaboration these days, and the student voice is helping to inform developments and ideas.
I said we need to re-think assessment, technology was going to have an impact. I think it has, but not in the way we thought it would. We try and use technology to “fix’ assessment today, rather than re-imagine how we assess.
I talked about culture and how culture can enable change, but also frustrate it. Culture is about what and who we are, it’s the sum of the people within an organisation. This was something we covered years later in the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme.
I have always seen technology as a solution to a problem. Technology in itself is not the problem needing to be solved. This was something that I wrote about in 2018.
I finished the presentation about talking about the future and how the future was about the learner, the student. It was about how they wanted to learn, where they wanted to learn, what they wanted to learn and with whom they wanted to learn. Why did we need to think about the future, it was because we needed to think about the learners, then, now and in the future.
So did I predict the future?
It certainly though had a huge impact on my future, some of which I have outlined above. As a result of this talk I was invited to speak at a range of events and conferences on the future of learning and a range of mobile learning events. I spoke the following year at FOTE 10 about the future of reading, which resulted in me doing much more in the e-book space.
So there is also a video of me (looking much younger) presenting, if you want to watch what happened…
I have been to many different conferences and events, some years I would attend a range of events and would get a feeling of déjà vu listening to some keynotes. I had heard what was been said before, sometimes it was virtually identical, other times it was a variation, but essentially the same.
During my professional life I have delivered many keynotes at conferences and events, most recently at LILAC 16 in Dublin. These keynotes have been on many different subjects, mobile learning, the future of learning and more recently digital capabilities.
I was often asked to deliver keynotes as a result of someone watching a keynote I had delivered and asking for something similar for their event or conference. This was fine with me as I could re-use the content, tailored (slightly) obviously for the audience, but in most respects the same presentation I had delivered previously. The audiences were usually very different and so it didn’t matter to me if the content was virtually identical, as the new audience wouldn’t have seen it before.
With watching other people’s presentations I realised that I wasn’t their typical audience, I was attending lots of conferences and events, probably more than most.
Thinking about this recently having delivered a fair few sessions on digital capability about how long you could keep delivering the same keynote before it either ran out of steam (as in topicality) or the audience came around again and had seen it before. Was there a keynote that you could use and then leave in the cupboard for a while and then bring it out again and hopefully it will have freshened up enough to be fresh for even the same audience.
I know of one individual who delivered forty eight virtually identical keynotes over a four year period across different events, I never even came close to that!
It was nice now and again to deliver something completely fresh and different. The ULCC FOTE events were often the kind of event where I would create a new keynote. Though I would often use those presentation again at another event. Looking over my slideshares I realise that there are lots of similar presentations, but there is also variety too.
One of the reasons why I always created a new presentation for FOTE was that the audience usually was made up of the same people. They wouldn’t want to see the same keynote I had delivered the previous year.
Reflecting on all of this, I did wonder if I should feel guilty or bad about doing basically the same keynote more than once? One way of looking at this, is am I just being lazy? Or am I more like the Dad’s Army repeats on BBC2, content been repeated for a new audience, who will get something from it as much as the original audience did.
I delivered a session at FOTE 2009 in October called The Future of Learning. In December of the same year I delivered a similar keynote at ASCILITE 2009 also called the Future of Learning. The following May at EdTech 2010 in Athlone in Ireland I did a keynote called Cultural Shifts, but was a version of the Future of Learning keynote. The keynotes were all very similar, but to be honest I believe that I was asked to keynote because of what people had seen before.
There is something about repeating yourself, and there are some people who will still come and listen again, more so, if they enjoyed it the first time. I know that if someone like Dave White is on the conference programme I will go and listen to his session, not saying he repeats himself, but I know he has delivered many keynotes on Visitors and Residents.
Sometimes I feel that I have a back catalogue of keynotes and that though I may want to deliver the new album, people would rather hear the classic hits from the past!
So if you deliver at conferences, have you delivered the same presentation at different events and why did you do it?
When I was at FOTE 09 a few weeks ago I stayed overnight and went out for a meal at a terrible Italian restaurant; one of the problems I have visiting different parts of London is that I am merely a visitor and unlike the local residents do not know the best places to eat. I remember visiting London a few years ago and my sister-in-law who lived in London at the time (a resident) took me to a wonderful local pub with fantastic food. The more I visit London the more confident I get with getting about (on foot and on the tube) and knowing which places to avoid and when and which places to seek out and try. First time visitors to London know it differently to those that visit more often and likewise people who live in London will know some places better than others. Visitors and residents know London in different ways and the same can be said for those who use digital and online tools and services. I really don’t want to use the term digital world as I don’t think it is a useful term.
Last year we discussed the concept coined by Dave White of Visitors and Residents and how this relates to how people interact and use the online and digital tools and services out there.
Dave has made a video of the presentation he gave at ALT-C 2009 and it makes for interesting viewing.
Most people should by now realise that the age demarcation of the digital native and digital immigrant is a flawed concept and should not be relied upon. Projects and research have again shown that young learners are not digital natives and often have issues with digital and online technologies.
The experiences of several MoLeNET projects suggests that not all young people are the “digital natives”…
“We came to this project with an unspoken belief that young learners would innately understand how these devices worked, we quickly came to understand that, while they can use them well on a superficial level, more demanding tasks stretched their knowledge of the technology”.
The key lessons to remember is that you can’t assume that younger learners will be confident in how to use new technologies, likewise also don’t assume that older learners will not know how to use technologies.
If you are an online resident it can sometimes be difficult to remember that a lot of people are merely visitors and that they may not fully undertstand the local customs, practices or best places to go.