Near Future Teaching Collider

The first Near Future Teaching event of the year happened in partnership with Design Informatics. Led by Chris Speed, the event brought together three speakers to deliver provocations loosely aligned to the theme of near future teaching, and finished with a series of collaboratively produced design approaches to our teaching futures.

To get us going, Michael Rovatsos, who researches AI in the School of Informatics, asked us to think more about not ‘stand alone’ AI but about hybrids of artificial and human intelligence and how we might work with them. He ended with the definitely-provocative provocation: let’s get rid of universities. After all, teaching and learning requires people, knowledge and resources all of which can be sourced globally, matched and managed digitally. Michael asked, ‘can we imagine global, digital universities that are completely co-created? And what would those look like?

Jo Holtan from the Edinburgh Mastercard Scholars Programme then completely re-focused us by moving away from our tendency to ‘think big’, to think ‘small’: to consider the individual humans who join the community of scholarship represented by the university, how they benefit, and what our duty as an institution is to them. In discussing the Edinburgh programme, she emphasised the value of students co-creating and co-designing their programmes of study.

Finally, Fionn Tynan-O’Mahoney from the Open Experience Centre at the Royal Bank of Scotland came at us from the industry perspective, talking about how user engagement is designed for RBS services. To finish, he sparked a lively discussion on the benefits and threats of Open Banking and increased data-sharing between individuals and the banking services they use.

Sian Bayne then spoke as ‘problem owner’ and set the design challenge for the workshop: how do we design university teaching for a creative, risk-taking, values-led digital future?

Around 30 participants then worked in groups to address this question, designing speculative interventions in teaching for digital futures. These focused for the most part on the structural, curricular dimensions of university teaching rather than on teaching methods, and many of the ideas were genuinely inspired.

The first group designed a Random Curriculum Generator which would force students and academics out of their disciplinary silos. What if part of the first year of every university experience was a randomly selected pairing of subjects designed to shake students into new ways of thinking? Architecture with Sanskrit? Chemistry with Sociology? Public Health with History? We would place the decision with the Random Curriculum Generator and benefit from a post-disciplinary understanding of the world to take forward into our future studies.

The second group played with the idea of personalisation and intimacy of the university experience, by developing an idea based on Intimate Apparel. Buy your special VR glasses, jacket, hat and be immersed in your own, unique version of the university journey. Lectures delivered in a forest, an urban learning experience driven by music and sound, an essay built through dance….

Next, we had group three presenting a speculative mobile device called the Edinburgh Wayfinder. Designed to push students into understanding that university isn’t just about eventual employment, but about forming and building identity, the Wayfinder works as a device for connecting each individual student to a vast network of support from peers, alumni, communities within the city, and academics. Feeling lost and isolated? Ask the Edinburgh Wayfinder for help and its geosocial functionality will link you to a passing alumnus who can take you for coffee and a chat. Feeling stuck on a particular topic? Ask the Wayfinder which will link you to just-in-time support from a friendly academic. Shake the device and all the personal data associated with your exchange is erased: the Wayfinder is built upon an architecture of forgetting…

Finally, group four presented an innovative, banking-informed approach to research-led learning and micro-credit, in which all individuals – students and academics – bring their expertise to bear on pressing global, curricular, community challenges in a loosely-linked system of flow. Expertise ‘assets’ can be re-used to get funding, pay, or recognition in the form of credit.

Bringing it all together were a few themes (thanks to Michael Sean Gallagher) for these!

The first was an implicit or explicit values-centred design. Many of the groups emphasised values overtly. Second was the emphasis, for the most part, on intimacy or development of relationships towards, presumably, resilience and identity formation. Many of the groups chose interactions at the beginnings of the student lifecycle (matriculating, adapting to different social environments, preparation). Third was the repeated emphasis on identity formation. Most of the groups seemed to favour approaches that allowed for the formation of an identity through personalisation and exposure to an evolving set of inputs (curriculum, for example). Technologically, many favoured personalisation, such as AI assistants to help broker relationships, make students aware of opportunity, or provide a kit they choose to create a sense of ownership and engagement.

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