The future is new – the future is now!

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Wikisource logo, no text variant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the opening of the Ascilite conference 2012 (Te Papa, Wellington), Neil Selwyn opened by explaining that his aim was to make the audience feel uncomfortable – to ask questions about some of our assumptions. Ed-tech is often seen as a positive project. There is little doubt between the inherent connection between learning and technology. The default role of the ed-tech person is making decisions and trialling things that will make things better. There is also the issue of the ‘allure of the new’. We are desperate to find out what the new, and this is closely allied to the allure of speed. Technology promises speed, as well as the promise of substantial change – social, political and economic.

Neil is concerned that we are continually looking toward the future, The stuff at the moment really isn’t working very well- we are just stuck in a cycle of hype and hope, and then things don’t work out. Why are we stuck in this cheerleading cycle. The future and the new have become a weakness in this area of academic research. This focus limits our questions and what we have done so far. We have a tendency to be limited to small case studies. We are interested in ‘what if scenarios’, looking for a way to support the statement that ed-tech makes things better.

The idea of history is one of the most important things we should be looking at was posed – the historical perspective can give us a long view for the technologies we currently have. There is a tendency to over-estimate the short-term impacts of ed-tech. The future is incredibly difficult to predict, and we often get it wrong. Both pessimists and the optimist have got the future wrong. There are lots of examples of this. Even when we get the technology ‘right’ we often get the ‘education’ wrong.

We pretty much know what the technology is going to be, but how can we do better around how they are used. We need to tell the stories around these that have depth and richness. Nick Zepke (2008) talks about the science of the probably, the art of the possible, and the politics of the preferable. And Nick argues that ed-technologists tend to focus on the third one, but should rather be looking at the first two. “The basic premise is that what happened in the past is no longer a highly reliable guide to the future – Nick however, believes that this should be turned on its head. He is not sure how disruptive or tranformative the technology and approaches in the conference actually are.Is technology just doing old things in different ways…has it been used to re-enforce old practice? There is a big concern that formal education is being made ubiquitous, with its focus on assessments and qualifications. Technology is also exacerbating the provision of education via corporations and big business.George Simens and Stephen Downes’ connectivism ideas that captured in the MOOC focus, have now been adopted by big business to make a profit.

Digital divides remain. There are big disparities in terms of social class and backgrounds, and there are big gaps.

Technology is likely to make individual much more responsible for their own education, and whether they succeed or fail. Where does education as a collective ‘good’ then become placed?

Beware anyone who says they are certain about the future. Deep down, we are not looking at things being really different, but things staying the same. The question to ask is ‘what is technology doing that is making things truly different’ here?


About ictenhancedlearningandteaching

I am a director and consultant at Ethos Consultancy NZ ( I have a keen interest in all aspects of ICT Enhanced Learning and Teaching (ICTELT) where the focus lies on ways of scaffolding and empowering learners. In particular, I am interested in the way that creative, blended approached to Academic Professional Development can create trust, rapport and encourage reflective practice. As such, ICTELT is approached from facilitation, design, evaluation and assessment as opposed to the tools and what they can offer. I am a strong advocate of the potential of Web 2.0 to empower learners from all walks of life and cultures, especially after my experiences working for 6 years in the Middle East. In particular, I am interested how ePortfolios can be used in the VET sector (especially where Literacy and Language challenges are faced), in Recognition of Prior Learning, and in authentic, applied assessment. I have been involved with designing and developing ICTELT approaches and programmes for ten years. Following research informed approaches and design, I apply a qualitative, iterative process to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, programmes and tools, encouraging learners' voices and input from all stakeholders.
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