So, JISC is asking for those of us in the field of edtech to envision what the next digital learning environment will look like.
I don’t usually respond to these kind of things. I’m always cautious about futures, I love to imagine but I also know the power of giving voice to things and I feel a huge responsibility in such projections. Ripples, ya know? But maybe it is time to dive in – encountering many things that are influencing my thinking around this kind of thing in just the last few weeks.
I’m having concerns about the word “connection” lately (just the last few days) and it is very strange for me because this is a word I have felt very drawn to in the past. My concern is that in just the last few days it has begun to feel too clean. Too neutral. Too much like a pipe or a line simply linking two things together. This presents as a problem as I’m considering the next generation digital learning environment. It comes as a problem because I’m considering the connection between humans and systems and it feels anything but clean and neutral.
Humans use systems – we hear this all the time and even call humans “users” when referring to their connection to the system. I wonder if we should ask how systems use humans…. How are humans part system themselves… How is the system a part of the humans… and dare I ask… how human is the system?
Could we start by thinking about and looking at the relationship we have to the digital learning environments that we currently have. Not the environments, mind you, but the relationships. Oh wait. There. Relationship. Perhaps that is the word I’ve been looking for – relationships are messy.
I’ve been thinking about digital citizenship a lot lately. Making plans and putting out content around the subject. Asking people to talk to me about this. Poking and prodding. Cause I want to discover. I’m not sure anyone has really figured this out and I want to talk to other people that want to discover with me. I use public social networks which are public in the sense that anyone can see. I also use ones where I control, a little more, who sees what. I also pay money to have my “own” spaces. I learn this way and it is in the public. I have dreams of teaching students how to do this for themselves.
So what will the next generation learning environment do for me, my students, and others? I gotta ask – what is the relationship of this system to the public systems? Is it a public system itself with a secure backchannel? If it is not in itself a public system then how does it relate to the public social networks that are used as learning systems? Maybe it is not a system but rather systemS. Maybe it is a way of creating relationships between already established formal and informal learning systems. Maybe we think of public systems in which we learn as a part of the next generation learning system. In that case where is our voice in those systems? To influence their direction in terms of hard interface changes. Is a petition for a voice in such changes a part of the system’s development?
The final two questions from JISC in this call give me particular pause.
With the prevalence of analytics in education, can data be used to create a learning environment that is more responsive to student and staff needs?
Can the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) type tools enhance learning environments?
As I write this I’m attending #OpenEd16 and on my way I was able to attend the panel discussion at University of Mary Washington surrounding ethics in online learning. Prior to the event they posted this article from 2013 about failures in online learning and noted the lack of liminal spaces in online environments. Environments that encourage acausal experiences. The article points out that in a physical campus environment these are often the library, a bit of nature outside, or in the coffee shop. It goes on to say:
How can we facilitate the interdisciplinary dialogues that bring a campus to life? What spaces can we build online that aren’t quantified, tracked, scored, graded, assessed, and accredited?
This kind of environment seems important and seems to have been missing for so long in the formal learning systems that we have had in the past. So when I see these questions about analytics in relation to the question of what the next gen learning system will do for me and my students – yes pause. Learning would be happening there and I’m sure we are gonna want to show that to justify the system. But wouldn’t it be kind of creepy if we were tracking that. In a physical environment this would be like the teacher following you to the coffee shop and listening in on your informal conversations. So yeah, I pause.
And in that pause something comes to me (nod to Gardner Campbell’s keynote from #OpenEd16 for recognition of the pause). Maybe the next generation learning system has some tracked spaces and some free spaces. Perhaps this is facilitated by a kind of radical transparency in the data that is being tacked and not being tracked with a heavy point directed at the student having complete ownership over their data. Now we are teaching students what it looks like to be tracked. They can see what is being tracked, they can export their own data and look at it in a variety of ways. They can imagine how other systems might be tracking them in less transparent ways. And there is a safe space where there is no tracking happening – but I suppose that will require something more complex to build – trust.