Author: George Veletsianos Page 5 of 75

Speculative fiction articles in Post-digital science and education

Post-digital science and education has recently been publishing short education fiction focused on education futures. There’s a wide diversity of articles there, with plenty of topics to explore, and lots of food for thought. The collection includes an article from my colleague Shandell Houlden, focused on coming together and finding community.

And together, the human listeners and the flesh-tech wanderers, these were the people who became the teachers, after the collapse. And with prayers in their hearts, they went out together into the storms, so that we could all find each other and listen and sing together again.

Comments: Exploring speculative approaches to digital education futures

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!

Critical Digital Pedagogy in Higher Education & collaborating with Suzan and Chris

Critical Digital Pedagogy in Higher Education will be published in January 2023. Suzan Köseoğlu, Chris Rowell, and I started working on this open access book <checks notes> around October 2019. It’s an edited volume that includes research and scholarship from many wonderful colleagues from around the world who have stuck with us and entrusted us with the process of trying to publish a book during a pandemic. I’ll be posting about each chapter in January, but here I wanted to share a note of appreciation for my co-editors.

It takes some perseverance to publish a book. But it takes a special of dedication and patience to edit and publish a book consisting of thirteen chapters written by more than 20 colleagues, while in a pandemic, while navigating life, while switching institutions, like both Cover for the book critical digital pedagogy in higher educationSuzan and Chris did.

Suzan is sharp, thoughtful, supportive, and approaches this work with the critical mindset it deserves. She read through every single manuscript (and countless submissions that did not end up being included in the final version of the book) with an eye to detail and in consideration of the broader work that is being done in the area.

Chris is equally sharp and reliable. He approaches this work with a keen understanding of practice, and that lens adds volumes to this work. He is equally dedicated to critical pedagogy, as well as to mobilizing knowledge in diverse ways (including through a podcast he’s been experimenting with for the book).

While working with them I appreciated their kindness and dedication. I knew I could rely on them, and I know that this work is better because of them.

Editing a book is a lot of hard work, and I don’t know of any academics who do it for the money, because frankly, there’s very little of it in scholarly publishing. Perhaps you might consider inviting Suzan or Chris to speak at your next event?

Thoughts: Canadian Campus Wellbeing Survey

Deploying the same survey at multiple institutions takes a lot of time and effort. It was therefore very valuable to see the resources that the folks at the Canadian Campus Wellbeing Survey share to support participation in their survey (source).

Thoughts on: Teachers’ Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A new study in Educational Researcher examines US Teachers’ Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Using a large national data set, the current study compares mental health outcomes during the pandemic between pre-K–12 teachers and professionals in other occupations. Further, we compare the prevalence of mental health outcomes between in-person and remote teachers (N = 134,693). Findings indicate that teachers reported a greater prevalence of anxiety symptoms than did those in other professions and that remote teachers reported significantly higher levels of distress than did those teaching in person

A few thoughts

  • It’s great to see more data in this area, on a topic that is of nterest and importance to many
  • The data source is interesting: a daily survey of a random sample of Facebook users.
  • The data were  repurposed to study the topic, which is a wonderful example of how large-scale surveys can fulfill multiple needs, but points to salient issues around definitions that may muddy our understanding of the results. e.g.,  “The distinction between in-person and remote modality is made by using each respondent’s answer to the survey question of whether they had worked outside their home during that same period”
  • This is an important finding to delve more into: “relative to teachers, healthcare workers (odds ratio [OR] = 0.70, d = −0.20)…were significantly less likely to report anxiety symptoms..[and] less likely to report depression symptoms (OR = 0.95, d = −0.03) and feelings of isolation (OR = 0.96, d = −0.02), although we note that the effect sizes may be considered “small.” “
  • Always worth emphasizing: “Notably, the cross-sectional nature of the data precludes any comparison of baseline measures of pre-pandemic mental health outcomes to current measures”
  • The study does not state or suggest a causal relationship between remote education and teacher mental health, but this is the kind of study that those who believe that such a relationship exists may refer to make that claim. TBD.


A call for more work and scholarship focused on hopeful learning futures

Education systems worldwide are facing enormous challenges, and many individuals and organizations urge for the re-imagining of these systems. One of the ways education researchers have responded to such calls is to use speculative research methods, and more specifically by writing speculative fictions. Such work is exciting for many reasons, and has recently expanded rapidly. For a variety of reasons, a lot of this work is pessimistic and dystopian. While such work is important, and indeed a necessary antidote to the technosolutionist narratives, dystopian and pessimist stories limit us, our imaginations, and our responses. They typically focus on things to fight against, rather than things to fight/strive towards.

A DALL·E 2-generated image in response to the prompt “hopeful education future in the style of solarpunk”

In the most recent paper that my colleague Shandell Houlden and I wrote, we call for a greater number of and more diverse stories of hopeful learning futures. Recently, I read an article about the climate films that society needs, and the sentiment expressed in it fits well with our argument: We need to imagine not only “what could go wrong… but also what could go right.”

I hope this paper is valuable. There’s a lot of ideas that we’re still unraveling and grappling with, and as always we’d appreciate any feedback on it. Below is the abstract and links to the preprint (open) and published version (behind a paywall).


In this paper we grapple with the possibility of rethinking education futures by arguing for the continued use of speculative education fiction in critical education studies, a method which has the potential for radical imagination. However, we note that as a research method such fictions need to rely less on what we identify as pessimistic visions of the future, which are visions exploring themes such as disconnection, lack of autonomy and sovereignty, and technological, corporate, state and/or authoritarian control, as these visions and themes are currently over-represented in recent publications using this method. We further demonstrate the limits of these thematic visions by tracing the relationship between the ways in which pessimistic storytelling, related as it is to apocalyptic storytelling, risks reinforcing inequality, especially with respect to settler colonial injustice. Alternatively, we propose using this method to help develop hopeful futures. These are futures shaped by themes such as connection, agency, and community and individual flourishment, and suggest a turn to the genres of hopepunk, solarpunk, and visionary fiction as models of storytelling grounded in hope which imagines more liberatory education and learning futures.

Houlden, S. & Veletsianos, G. (2022). Impossible dreaming: On speculative education fiction and hopeful learning futures. Postdigital Science and Education. or preprint (pdf).


…a couple of “behind the curtains” comments:

We wouldn’t have written this paper if it wasn’t for Shandell’s expertise in narrative, which to me highlights once again the value of interdisciplinary collaborations. We wouldn’t have published it if it weren’t for journals which are open to creative work, and the editors who support it (e.g., Petar Jandrić at Postdigital Science and Education, the editors of Learning Media and Technology). The tendency of very many edtech/ID/DistanceEd/HigherEd journals to narrowly define what is and isn’t permissible restricts the futures that we can imagine and the scholarship which we can produce. Yet, peer-reviewed journals are just one way to do this work, so stay tuned: We are working on a podcast.


Time *with* people, online learning, and feeling ridiculous

I really enjoyed the quote below from John Warner, who is writing about graduate programs in writing and pursuing writing as a career. It strikes me that it also seems to capture some aspects of online learning which takes place in community with people vis-a-vis the independent, self-paced, and autodidactic approaches. Group dynamics and being in community are powerful, but even then, does being in community necessarily mean feeling not ridiculous? Perhaps the emphasis is on the “not so.”

Spending so much time immersed in a group of people that are interested in the same things you are, and want the same things you do can be incredibly nourishing. Being alone, and believing you want to write can honestly feel like a kind of madness. For sure there’s some writers who have a kind of self-belief and inner fortitude that buoys them, but the rest of us are like any other human being walking around wondering if what you think, what you believe, what you want, is ridiculous, and you are therefore a ridiculous person.

Basically, being surrounded by others who are similarly oriented makes you feel not so ridiculous. (emphasis mine)

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