Today, the good folks at the University of Edinburgh held a book launch for Dr. Jen Ross’ new book, ‘Digital Futures for Learning’ (Routledge, 2022), and led a discussion about “how speculative methods and pedagogies can allow digital education researchers, educators and students to engage creatively with the sociotechnical imaginaries that underpin policy, practice and innovation in our field.” I was asked to offer some comments, so I thought I would post them below (Dec 8, 2022 update: The recording for the event is now also available).

A beach at night time, with five big flowers standing up

Book cover: Digital Futures for Learning

Hi everyone,

I live on the traditional and unceded territories of the lək̓ʷəŋən, Songhees, Esquimalt, and W̱SÁNEĆ peoples who have lived here for thousands of years. These territories are now known as Victoria, British Columbia. To acknowledge these lands is to acknowledge the need for conciliation, and the harms that colonization has had on Indigenous people both here and around the world.

I am grateful to be here with you today. And I am happy because we are celebrating my friend and colleague Dr. Jen Ross and her new book. I was told I didn’t have to talk about the book. But how can I not talk about it? Digital Futures for Learning is a prime example of scholarship that stands to carve new and exciting paths for field. It’s engaging, critical, and invites us to open our minds, and hearts, to the possibilities. What if education, digital or not, were otherwise? What could it look like? If you haven’t already, you should buy yourself a copy. Or ask your library to buy a couple of copies.

I’m also happy to be here because it’s such a pleasure to see many of you again here today. I’m grateful that technology allows us to gather and have this event. But as our education systems face economic, demographic, political, environmental, and social challenges, I can’t help but wonder what our gatherings may look like in, say, the year 2040.

Speculative approaches to research enable us to explore beyond the question of “what is happening.” They allow us to imagine, to explore what the world could be like, perhaps even what it should be like.

So, with that, I would like you to join me in a short and simple exercise. I would like you to close your eyes – no peeking – and just listen to the sound of my voice. Go ahead, I’m waiting. Thank you.

I want you to join me in a journey. It’s now time to suspend disbelief and step into my time machine. Let me open the door here, and one by one, all 80 of you, please step over the ledge, and enter this large, specially modified plane that will take us to the future. There’s room for all of us in here, and you all get business class seats. But fasten your seatbelts, just in case something unexpected happens. I’ll set the year to 2040, close the door, and in a moment or two we’ll arrive in 2040…. Ok, here we are. See, that didn’t take long! Now that we’re here, I want you to step outside the time machine. As you step outside the machine, notice that you are now observing a different meeting happening in 2040. At that meeting we’re celebrating the fifth edition of Professor Ross’s book.

Yes, sure, we’re all a bit older, but what else do you see?

  • Where are we?
  • Are we all in the same location? Or are we participating through different means?
  • And what does a book look like in 2040?
  • Who is speaking at the event?
  • What do you hear?
  • What do you feel?

Is this a future that gives you hope, one perhaps that you want to make changes in your immediate world so that we can eventually get there?

Or is it a future that fills you with dread, one that you should be resisting right now so that we don’t end up there?

In other words: What is the future that you are seeing telling you about the present moment?

What is it telling you about the places that we gather, about the technologies we are using, about the ways that we are organizing ourselves to share, to teach, to learn?

What is it telling you about activities that we ought to continue engaging in and activities that we ought to stop engaging in?

One of the most powerful lessons of speculative methods, to me, is how they inform the present. Speculative methods may give us a glimpse about the future, but they also shine a light on what is happening right now.

Now, before you open your eyes, I want to remind you to come back into the time machine for our journey back to 2022. We need you back in 2022 to create more hopeful, more just, and more equitable learning futures for ourselves and our students! We tell a lot of dystopian stories about the future of education, so as you are coming back I want to share with you one of our own papers that builds on Jen’s work and that invites us to tell more hopeful stories about the futures of education that you can read at a different time.

Thank you very much!