Thinking about 2015: some issues for HE and EdTech

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 16 October 2009

I heard the excellent and inspiring Keri Facer at a JISC Curriculum Design and Delivery Programme event on Wednesday. There were three areas that made me sit up and think.

The pre-HE learner and their context

Keri described some recent work on the pre-HE learner and their context that is highlighting:

  • the impact of ”play” in its many forms;
  • the cultural context outside school, and the role of mentors or coaches rather than experts, who can engage learners individually or as members of social groups in developing their engagement with digital technologies in order to adapt it to their needs; and
  • sources of frustration, lack of skills and lack of opportunity that separate many other learners from the benefits of the same new technologies.

Keri went on to discuss an *idealised* view of children born in 1997, who would enter HE in 2015. She argued that the value of schools often existed in their ability to offer spaces that develop maths and critical literacy/evaluation, alongside safety, routine etc.. She also raised the issue of children having dual identities, between home/personal and school/performance/delivery. However, schools offer technology that is not the same as home technology, reflecting the fact that in the debate around personalisation and curriculum design and delivery, disconnections or dislocations might be amplified.

This may also be impacted by socio-economic differences, social justice and inclusion agendas. What does it say about our society if children and learners of any age or background get left behind? We do well to reflect on that term “left behind” because it points towards abandonment.

A recent summary of OfSTED reports on the importance of ICT noted that pupils’ achievement in ICT was good in over half Primary Schools, but that children in secondary schools were not being stretched; rather a consolidation of skills was the norm. Whether further collaboration between schools and pupils, in distributing the development of personalisation and engagement with ICT would shake things up to develop higher-level evaluative skills, is a moot point. This does have implications for learners entering HE.

However, the development of skills that frame agency, autonomy and decision-making is perhaps more pressing give the availability of alternative models for information gathering and *schooling*, like 5min.com, 12sec.tv, school of everything, home-schooling and Steiner education. The value given by coaches, mentors and teachers is now vital throughout life. Keri pointed to the huge demographic changes that are shifting towards an older and longer-lived population. At issue here is how a homogenised view of a Google generation within institutions tallies with a demand for later-life education, and intergenerational learning, and a focus on personalisation. These tensions then need to be squared with the implications of social learning.

A curriculum for human-machine relations, and a focus on the Self

One intriguing point Keri raised was our need to get used to working and living alongside machines, and outsourcing some activities to machines. She mentioned “a curriculum for human-machine relations”, and this got me thinking about a mash-up between Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics to provide governance and an approach for developing an integrated, educating self. I argue for the latter because one thing that Web 2.0 or the read/write web screams at me is who am I? What do I stand for? Who is my Self?

I need to do more work integrating Bloom and Winnicott with Illich, Wenger and Barnett, in order to make sense of this for my Self. In part this is because we have the opportunity [which might also be a risk over overload and #brainfail] to know more stuff about more stuff. The key is integrating this stuff within a secure self, as well as within a secure space. This becomes more resonant for me in the context of discussions around the development of a personal cloud. I interpret this to be a space, context or frame-of-reference that enables the learner to exist, learn, be and do. It is organised around the learner and not the HEI/organisation. A secure Self can then engage with this development. How do our curricula enable this to emerge?

Challenging economic narratives

Keri’s final point focussed upon addressing the challenges to the education and knowledge economy narrative. She highlighted how a polarisation of workforces may be in-train, with high and low-skilled workers and outsourced systems/services impacting the ability of specific individuals and groups to develop autonomy and make decisions. Keri asked “how does education respond”? This made me think about the value of education beyond the economy and beyond the formal economy – to focus upon collaboration and local social engagement, and demonstrating values of social enterprise.

She left us with 3 big questions that all JISC projects need to grapple with. Moreover, we need some collective aggregation of the outputs of our projects to see whether there are ways forward for the sector in addressing them.

  1. What sorts of relationships between people are we encouraging? What are our negotiated roles/responsibilities in a differentiated curriculum and beyond? Should we migrate our focus to coaching and mentoring? Who gets left behind if we do?
  2. What sorts of knowledge/understanding do these learners need to be effective agents in society?
  3. Can the curriculum work for a mixed demographic, with some networked, mobile learners, operating in information-rich environments and preparing for highly-polarised workplaces? If not how do we respond?

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