Thinking about the future

This video from a 2017 event at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, about the future of technology in Scotland, helps to illustrate the power of stories to evoke not only ideas, but also feelings, about the future. Scottish musician and storyteller Karine Polwart was one of the keynote speakers, and here she offers three stories from the future (2030)::

(if you can’t see the video embedded above, the direct link is: )

Suggested readings:

Facer, K. (2016) ‘Using the Future in Education: Creating Space for Openness, Hope and Novelty’, in Lees, H. E. and Noddings, N. (eds) The Palgrave International Handbook of Alternative Education. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, pp. 63–78. Facer’s chapter has much to say about our current preoccupations with the future of education, and how we can theorise these in critical and also hopeful ways. She highlights the tendencies of education to “treat the future as a landscape for rational choice making; … attempt to colonise the future by producing more “correct” visions of that landscape; [and to conceptualise] education as a distinctive means of protection against unknown and hence frightening futures” (p.65). Working against these tendencies, she argues, is necessary if we want to keep open the possibility of difference and novelty in the future.

Near Future Teaching report. The Near Future Teaching project ran between 2017 and 2019, with the goal to develop a values-based vision for the future of digital education at the University of Edinburgh. It used futures-thinking and design-based methodologies to work with more than 400 students, staff and other stakeholders in the production of this vision. This final report from the project explains its rationale and design, detailing the approach it took to mapping and understanding the future of digital education within the University. It shows how the project engaged widely with the University community in developing core values to guide us, and then sets out a vision and aims for a near future of teaching.

Pew reports on the Future of the Internet, Pew Research Center. Pew reports are released on a variety of topics each year, asking “experts and Internet stakeholders” to respond to sets of statements (“tension pairs”) about possible digital futures. These reports are interesting not only for the range of opinions they generate, but in helping us think through the effect that asking certain kinds of questions, in certain ways, of certain people, might have on the ‘futures’ that are produced as a result.

Selwyn, N., Hillman, T., Eynon, R., Ferreira, G., Knox, J., Macgilchrist, F., and Sancho-Gil, J. (2020) ‘What’s next for Ed-Tech? Critical hopes and concerns for the 2020s’, Learning, Media and Technology. 45(1), pp. 1–6. This editorial introduces a special issue on “education and technology into the 2020s: speculative futures”, and six challenges for educational technology in the coming decade: inclusion, platforms and AI, the nature of learning (and who or what does it), the IT industry’s role, sustainability and finding alternatives.

Discussion questions

What does Facer mean by ‘colonising’ the future through education, and why does she consider this to be problematic?

Do you agree that Facer’s ‘pedagogy of the present’ is a promising and hopeful approach to education?

What aims might appear in your preferred future for digital education? How do these relate to or differ from those in the Near Future Teaching report?

Choose a quote from one of the PEW ‘Future of the Internet’ reports, and start a discussion about it with someone!

Reviewing Selwyn et al’s editorial, consider the other challenges you see on the horizon, and how you might respond to one or more of the ones listed here.