Category: speculative fiction Page 1 of 2

New publication: How do Canadian Faculty Members Imagine Future Teaching and Learning Modalities?

What do future learning environments look like? Is online learning “the new normal?” Or, are we back to the “old normal?” What does the “new normal” look like? Never mind concepts of “normal,”… what do learners and faculty imagine future learning environments, technologies, and modalities looking like? Colleagues and I completed and are planning a series of studies around these ideas, bringing together threads in our research that examines online learning, emerging technologies, challenges facing higher education, and speculative methods. We recently published one of these and I am sharing the pre-print below.

When I prompted ChatGPT to generate an image depicting this paper it generated the image below. This image provides an interesting juxtaposition to our findings, because our findings highlight the relative persistence of the status quo and reveal a lack of more radical futures.

Here’s the paper: Veletsianos, G., Johnson, N., & Houlden, S. (in press). How do Canadian Faculty Members Imagine Future Teaching and Learning Modalities? Educational Technology Research & Development. The final version is available at https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-024-10350-4 but here is a public pre-print version.

Abstract

This study, originally prompted by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on educational practices, examined Canadian faculty members’ expectations of teaching and learning modalities in the year 2026. Employing a speculative methodology and thematic analysis, interview responses of 34 faculty members led to the construction of three hypothetical scenarios for future teaching and learning modalities: a hybrid work model, a high tech and flexible learning model, and a pre-pandemic status quo model. In contrast to radical education futures described in the literature, the findings do not depart significantly from dominant modes of teaching and learning. Nevertheless, these findings offer insights into the expectations that Canadian faculty members have with respect to future teaching and learning modalities, the contextual issues and concerns that they face, the use of speculative methodologies in educational technology research, and the potential impacts remote learning trends have on the future of education in Canada.

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).

Abstract

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. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-022-00348-7 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.

 

New paper: Focusing on the ecological aspects of online and distance learning

As part of a special issue on Systemic Implications for Online Education, colleagues and I wrote a commentary highlighting the ways in which online teaching and learning are more than individual and social practices. They’re situated in environments with particular people, in particular contexts, with particular technologies, within particular institutions. To make this more concrete, we described a near-future speculative scenario of a student’s experience, as a way to help individuals – both at our institution and elsewhere – consider technology use in higher education beyond the pedagogical level.  You can download a preprint (pdf) or the final version (which isn’t that different than the preprint) from https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2022.2064827

Person in environment: Focusing on the ecological aspects of online and distance learning

Abstract
Online and distance learning is a practice situated in environments—places, spaces, and times, with particular people, in particular contexts, with particular technologies, within particular institutions. In other words, the practice of online and distance learning is not wholly individual: it is situated within broader environments. In this reflective article, we argue that to understand learning in online contexts, it is important for researchers to understand the broader environments in which learners are located. We illustrate this argument by presenting a narrative of a fictitious learner pursuing a degree in decentralized finance.

Veletsianos, G., Childs, E., Cox, R., Cordua-von Specht , I., Grundy, S., Hughes, J., Karleen, D., & Wilson, A. (2022). Person in environment: Ecological aspects of online and distance learning. Distance Education, 43(2), 318-324.

Learning futures and queer futuring

Our efforts to study and produce learning futures have led us to thinking about the following question: what are some just and ethical approaches that we can use toward creating more imaginative, hopeful, and powerful learning futures? In other words, how do we approach the work of generating learning futures with humility, openness, and recognition of the various ways in which various systems limit who participates in this conversation. For instance, there’s a dearth of instructional design models that account for equity, diversity, inclusion and justice, (OK, there’s maybe 2), and Stephanie Moore notes that the “models have are not the models we need.”

One approach specifically tied to learning futures that I came across comes from Fleener, M.J. and Coble, C. (2022), “Queer futuring: an approach to critical futuring strategies for adult learners”, On the Horizon, Vol. 30 No. 1, pp. 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1108/OTH-03-2021-0049

Extended abstract in case others find it interesting is below.

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to develop queer futuring strategies that take into consideration adult learners’ needs in support of transformational and sustainable change for social justice and equity.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper develops the construct of queer futuring, which engages queer theory perspectives in a critical futures framework. Adult learning theory informs queer futuring strategies to support adults and inform education to sustain transformational changes for social justice and equity.

Findings

With social justice in mind, queer futuring opens spaces and supports opportunities for adults to engage in learning activities that address historical and layered forms of oppression. Building on learning needs of adults to create meaning and make a difference in the world around them, queer futuring strategies provide tools for activism, advocacy and building new relationships and ways of being-with.

Research limitations/implications

The sustainability of our current system of growth and financial well-being has already been called into question, and the current pandemic provides tangible evidence of values for contribution, connection and concern for others, even in the midst of political strife and conspiracy theories. These shifting values and values conflict of society point to the questions of equity and narrative inclusivity, challenging and disrupting dominant paradigms and structures that have perpetuated power and authority “over” rather than social participation “with” and harmony. Queer futuring is just the beginning of a bigger conversation about transforming society.

Practical implications

Queering spaces from the perspective of queer futuring keeps the adult learner and queering processes in mind with an emphasis on affiliation and belonging, identity and resistance and politics and change.

Social implications

The authors suggest queer futuring makes room for opening spaces of creativity and insight as traditional and reified rationality is problematized, further supporting development of emergentist relationships with the future as spaces of possibility and innovation.

Originality/value

Queer futuring connects ethical and pragmatic approaches to futuring for creating the kinds of futures needed to decolonize, delegitimize and disrupt hegemonic and categorical thinking and social structures. It builds on queer theory’s critical perspective, engaging critical futures strategies with adult learners at the forefront.

 

How should we respond to the life-altering crises that education is facing?

Below is the the pre-published version of a short reflection I wrote for Distance Education, published here for posterity. The paper is Veletsianos, G. (2020). How should we respond to the life-altering crises that education is facing? Distance Education, 41(4), 1-3. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2020.1825066

Abstract

Prior literature suggests that to address the problems facing education, researchers and practitioners of online and flexible learning should avoid placing too much emphasis on the potential of technology and consult the history and literature of the field. In this reflective article, I argue that in addition to these activities, we should expand our efforts to broaden the reach and impact of our field and engage in speculative work that asks: What should the future of digital, online, and flexible education look like?

Introduction

“In this increasingly unstable world, crises potentially impact our education systems. This will be true whether the crisis is caused by the circulation of a new pathogen, or something else entirely: hurricanes, flooding or wildfire, now more common due to climate change. We have before us a stark reminder that we should approach the promises of technological solutions with caution. Flexible and resilient educational systems require more than tools. They demand collaboration, care, preparation, expertise, resources and learning lessons from the past. (Houlden & Veletsianos, 2020)”

We wrote the sentences above in March 2020, 2 weeks before educational institutions in North America transitioned to remote education in an attempt to influence practitioners’ and researchers’ responses to the life-altering crises that education is facing. We were hoping to convince readers that even though technology may enable institutions of education to engage in some semblance of educational continuity, technology will not fix the crises facing our educational systems. Such reasoning flows from a long line of scholarship that details the problems of technological determinism and solutionism in our field (e.g., Bayne, 2015; Oliver, 2011; Tennyson 1994), urges researchers and practitioners to avoid placing too much emphasis on the potential of technology (e.g., Selwyn, 2011), and encourages us to heed the lessons embedded in the history of the field (e.g., Watters, 2014; Weller, 2020). Similar arguments are included in this issue of Distance Education as well. Baggaley, for instance, argues that “the surest way to make online learning effective is to consult the decades of practical experience in the distance education literature.” But what may be some additional responses to such life-altering crises as COVID-19 and climate change?

One possible response may include efforts to broaden the reach and impact of the distance and flexible education literature, as well as literature present in related fields, such as instructional design and technology, learning analytics, and the learning sciences. Such efforts may address limitations that restrict the literature’s helpfulness, applicability, and accessibility. For instance, the literature suffers from a problem of access. Much of our literature, like the literature of other fields, is written for researchers rather than practitioners, and much of it is locked behind paywalls (like this reflection). One set of responses, therefore, may be to refine and rethink the ways our own scholarship is accessed. For instance, at an individual level, we might strive to make our own articles available in open ways, expand our public outreach, engage in more practice-oriented scholarship, write for broader audiences, and address inequities in knowledge production, dissemination, and consumption (cf Czerniewicz, 2013; Scharber et al., 2019). At a systemic level, we may question practices like top-tier publishing, rankings, impact factors, and the various practices that sustain and encourage these, such as institutional policies on promotion and advancement and grant-funding decisions.

A second possible response may involve reflecting on our own scholarship and the scholarship we support, reward, and encourage. Reeves and Lin (2020) argue that to make a real difference in the lives of learners we should be studying and solving problems, rather than studying tools and technologies. In effect, these authors urge us to ask whether our particular work, the work of our students, and the work of our colleagues contributes to better educational futures. My intent here is not to draw demarcation lines between appropriate and inappropriate scholarship. Instead, if higher education is facing the very real possibility that the post-pandemic era may be radically different than our earlier “normal” (Cox et al., 2020), this may be a good time to ask: What should the future of digital, online, and flexible education look like?

This is not a call for more hopeful writing of the possibilities of online education or educational technology. Instead, it is a call for more critical and speculative writing and practice. Such critical efforts are gaining broader visibility and interest and can be found in recent work in both this journal (e.g., Valcarlos et al., 2020) and elsewhere (e.g., Lambert, 2018). To imagine possible educational futures, some researchers are turning to speculative methods as “research approaches that explore and create possible futures under conditions of complexity and uncertainty” (Ross, 2018, p. 197). Envisioning such futures does not solely mean employing fiction in our writing. Rather, speculative methods “inform us about what matters now in the field, what issues and problems we have inherited, and what debates define what can or cannot be currently thought about or imagined” (Ross, 2017, p. 220). Considering that the current state of education, at all levels, is situated within a context of ever-evolving social, cultural, political, and technological shifts, we face an urgent need to engage with uncertainty on multiple levels.

The use of speculative methods, therefore, may enable us to offer guidance when making current decisions related to the future of higher education, and to explore what may or may not be possible in different contexts. In a special issue of Learning, Media and Technology (Selwyn et al., 2019) for example, colleagues examined near-future educational scenarios and critically contemplated the use of technology in education. To use an example of present activities to speculate about desirable and undesirable educational futures, consider the now-broader use of proctoring tools, which were largely adopted to maintain the continuity of such familiar practices as invigilated exams. Now consider a future in which proctoring tools are as pervasive as the use of learning management systems or even email. Are proctoring tools consistent with desirable future educational systems? Asking this question forces us to deal with the ethics of our work. What if, in the process of asking this question, we realize that adopting proctoring software may not only become a barrier to alternative assessments but may also foster a culture of surveillance and mistrust (e.g., Fawns & Ross, 2020; Swauger, 2020)?

Conclusion

Clearly, technology alone will be unable to provide a solution to such a complicated problem as responding to the complex challenges that educational systems worldwide are facing. The two possible responses I offer—broadening the reach and impact of our scholarship and engaging in more imaginative, speculative, and critical work—are not panaceas either. Unlike technological solutionism though, these actions respond to calls by Facer and Sanford (2010), Ross (2017), Staley (2019), and Alexander (2020) to develop scenarios for the future of higher education as a way to address current challenges and work toward desirable outcomes. I imagine such futures to be inclusive, equitable, and just; to serve all of our learners; to prioritize collaboration over competition; to be flexible to learners’ needs; to exhibit care and trust for our students; and to be free of systems of oppression and injustice that operate within our own institutions.

References

Alexander, B. (2020). Academia next: The futures of higher education . Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Bayne, S. (2015). What’s the matter with ‘technology-enhanced learning’? Learning, Media and Technology , 40(1), 5–20. 

Cox, R. , Slick, J. , & Dixon, T. (2020). Surviving, thriving, or radical revisioning: Scenarios and considerations for pandemic recovery and response planning . Royal Roads University. 

Czerniewicz, L. (2013, April 29). Inequitable power dynamics of global knowledge production and exchange must be confronted head on. Impact of Social Science. https://press.rebus.community/openatthemargins/chapter/repost-inequitable-power-knowledge/  

Facer, K. , & Sandford, R. (2010). The next 25 years? Future scenarios and future directions for education and technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning , 26(1), 74–93. 

Fawns, T. , & Ross, J. (2020, June 3). Spotlight on alternative assessment methods: Alternatives to exams. Teaching Matters . https://www.teaching-matters-blog.ed.ac.uk/spotlight-on-alternative-assessment-methods-alternatives-to-exams/  

Houlden, S. , & Veletsianos, G. (2020, March 13). COVID-19 pushes universities to switch to online classes—but are they ready? The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/covid-19-pushes-universities-to-switch-to-online-classes-but-are-they-ready-132728  

Lambert, S. R. (2018). Changing our (dis)course: A distinctive social justice aligned definition of open education. Journal of Learning for Development , 5(3), 225–244. https://jl4d.org/index.php/ejl4d/article/view/290/334  

Oliver, M. (2011). Technological determinism in educational technology research: some alternative ways of thinking about the relationship between learning and technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning , 27(5), 373–384.

Reeves, T. C. , & Lin, L. (2020). The research we have is not the research we need. Educational Technology Research and Development , 68(4), 1991–2001.

Ross, J. (2017). Speculative method in digital education research. Learning, Media and Technology , 42(2), 214–229.

Ross, J. , (2018). Speculative method as an approach to researching emerging educational issues and technologies. In L. Hamilton & J. Ravenscroft (Eds,), Building research design in education (pp. 197–212). Bloomsbury. 

Scharber, C. , Pazurek, A. , & Ouyang, F. (2019). Illuminating the (in)visibility of female scholars: A gendered analysis of publishing rates within educational technology journals from 2004 to 2015. Gender and Education , 31(1), 33–61.

Selwyn, N. (2011). In praise of pessimism—the need for negativity in educational technology. British Journal of Educational Technology , 42(5), 713–718.

Selwyn, N. , Hillman, T. , Eynon, R. , Ferreira, G. , Knox, J. , Macgilchrist, F. , & Sancho-Gil, J. M. (Eds.). (2019). Education and technology into the 2020s: Speculative futures [Special issue]. Learning, Media and Technology , 45(1). 

Staley, D. J. (2019). Alternative universities: Speculative design for innovation in higher education . Johns Hopkins University Press.  

Swauger, S. (2020). Our bodies encoded: Algorithmic test proctoring in higher education. In J. Stommel, C. Friend, & S. M. Morris (Eds.), Critical digital pedagogy: A collection. Pressbooks. https://cdpcollection.pressbooks.com/chapter/our-bodies-encoded-algorithmic-test-proctoring-in-higher-education/  

Tennyson, R. D. (1994). The big wrench vs. integrated approaches: The great media debate. Educational Technology Research and Development , 42(3), 15–28.

Valcarlos, M. M. , Wolgemuth, J. R. , Haraf, S. , & Fisk, N. (2020). Anti-oppressive pedagogies in online learning: A critical review. Distance Education , 41(3), 345–360. 

Watters, A. (2014). The monsters of education technology. Tech Gypsies Publishing. http://monsters.hackeducation.com   

Weller, M. (2020). 25 years of ed tech . Athabasca University Press.

Speculative futures: Social media surveillance at higher education institutions

In continuing to explore speculative futures (see Gig Profs) it seems important to note that what I am posting are by no means predictions of the futures. Rather, they’re extensions of events, news, practices, and technologies that comes across my desk. To this end, I’ll include some footnotes at the end of each artifact to highlight the connections between artifact and events/news/etc. I hope to use these futures not only to highlight dystopian and utopian futures, but to explore ways for universities to aim towards better, richer, and more equitable futures.

Here’s today’s artifact. It’s a fictitious email sent from a risk and brand management company providing services to a university.

Future email describing negative sentiment toward institution and stating which individuals are related to it

Footnotes

  1. See 3/4 down the page of this news item showing a similar email from a media relations team pertaining to a SOGI event at UBC.
  2. Fama.io is a software that purports to screen for “toxic workplace behaviour.” Here’s an example of an individual whose background check included a report from this (heads up: extensive swearing).
  3. After analyzing university social media guidelines, Lough & Samek (2014) write: “Across the guidelines, framing of social media use by academic staff (even for personal use) as representative of the university assumes academic staff should have an undying loyalty to their institution. The guidelines are read as obvious attempts to control rather than merely guide, and speak to the nature of institutional over-reach in the related names of reputation (brand), responsibility (authoritarianism), safety (paternalistically understood and enforced), and the free marketplace of [the right] ideas.” — Lough, T., & Samek, T. (2014). Canadian university social software guidelines and academic freedom: An alarming labour trend. The Digital Future of Education, 21, 45-56.

Speculative futures: Gig Profs

The future that Tim Maughan describes in Zero Hours – involving zero contact hours, bidding on multiple contracts with multiple employers, pitting workers against each other, lack of transparency, unknown work hours, and so on – is one that (unfortunately) isn’t too far off from the current path that sessional and adjunct faculty are currently placed on.

In imaging what the current situation may look like in the near future, I came up with the dystopia shown below. I’d love to hear your reactions to this. Is such a future far-fetched?


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