Near Future Teaching: our vision in summary

The Near Future Teaching project is nearing its completion, and we have produced our final report. Over the two years of the project we have worked with over 400 students, staff, and other stakeholders in the co-production the values we want to shape our preferred future for digital education. In this post, we explain our vision is and give a sense of some of the actions we will collectively take to make it real.

Here is what we did

The Near Future Teaching project employed futures-thinking and design-based methodologies in the coproduction of a vision and a set of values. We built insight by running workshops across the university community and reviewing global trends in digital and higher education. We co-developed a set of community values and preferences for the future of digital education. And finally we developed a broad set of aims for a preferred future, and define a set of actions to help us build this preferred future.

Our community values

The project advocated for the idea that the university community should take stock and actively shape a preferred future for teaching based on shared values, at a time when technological change is accelerating and often assumed to be driving the future of learning. It opened space for reflection and the application of collective agency to the question of the future of teaching and learning at this university. The values distilled from our work acroos the community were that we should emphasise:

1: Experience over Assessment: Learning should not be over-assessed and instrumentalised. Teaching should share a focus on employability and success with an understanding of the value of rich experience, creativity, curiosity and – sometimes – failure.

2: Diversity and Justice: Education should design-in meaningful diversity and real inclusion across all areas of activity. All near future teaching should further social responsibility and global justice.

3: Relationships First: Relationships, dialogues and personal exchanges between students and staff build understanding in a way that is not possible via transmissive forms of teaching. Teaching should be designed to provide the time and space for proper relationships and meaningful human exchange.

4: Participation and Flexibility: The university community should cooperatively shape how – and what – it learns and teaches. Flexibility for individuals, fluency across disciplines and cooperative responsibility for curricula should shape near future teaching.

Our vision for a preferred future

The vision and aims for a preferred future based on these values. We have assigned many actions to these aims, which are viewable in the full report. Here, we just give a few examples.

1: Community-focused: digital education with the university community at its heart

Objectives: Prioritising human contact and relationships; Connecting our community of scholarship in new and diverse ways; Committing to technology which makes the university accessible and welcoming

Example Action #1: Provide easily accessible training to staff and students focused on social media skills specifically for teaching, and develop support frameworks for those experiencing toxicity, trolling and victimisation online.

Example Action #2: Use technology to build relationships between students and staff based on trust, resisting logics of surveillance and unnecessary monitoring.]

2: Post-digital: education which recognises that technology is now fully embedded within daily life

Objectives: Re-working the concept of ‘contact time’ to reflect contemporary practice; Breaking down the boundaries between on and off campus; Re-thinking what it means to be ‘here’ at Edinburgh; Offering more flexible ways to be part of the university community

Example Action #1: Define and embed a re-worked understanding of ‘contact time’ into workload models and course descriptors, which takes account of student mobility, distance education and flexible patterns of study.

Example Action #2: Plan for the introduction of technological capacity to teach online and on-campus students together in joint cohorts.

3: Data fluent: digital education that understands data, data skills and the data society

Objectives: Taking a research-led approach to education and data; Understanding the possibilities and problems surrounding the datafication of education; Addressing automation with an emphasis on human skills; Engaging creatively and responsibly with learning data

Example Action #1: Create specialist academic development opportunities for staff to fully understand how to analyse and interpret learning and engagement analytics, within an understanding that the datafication of teaching is likely to accelerate and intensify in the coming decades.

Example Action #2: Embed critical understanding of data ethics and algorithmic accountability within academic development and staff training.

4: Playful and experimental: enabling creative academic and student-led R&D for digital education

Objectives: Confidently opening our teaching practice to technological change; Being energetic in designing new, creative ways of teaching digitally; Using our academic expertise to develop and scale up new forms of digital education; Making access to technical development expertise easier for staff and students

Example Action #1: Provide teaching staff and students with central access to programmers and developers for joint prototyping and trialling of new ways of doing digital education. Support associated pedagogic research via Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme and other channels.

Example Action #2: Fund a cross-institutional programme of work to scope and develop new virtual and augmented realities for teaching

5: Assessment-oriented: digital education with a focus on assessment and feedback

Objectives: Diversifying assessment practice; Making the assessment more engaging for students and academics; Supporting new kinds of feedback

Example Action #1

Launch a cross-university, discipline-sensitive programme of work to increase diversity in forms of assessment, including multimodal (video, audio, image, making) and experiential forms (projects, blogs, reflections, reports).

Example Action #2

Build a culture – supported by technology as appropriate – in which students have greater choice over the form of their assessments. Enable risk-taking by, for example, giving students greater choice over which assignments count toward final marks.

6: Boundary-challenging: digital education that is lifelong, open and transdisciplinary

Objectives: Building a culture of lifelong learning; Supporting teaching which transcends disciplines; Committing to openness; Connecting to the city and region

Example Action #1: Build capacity for individuals to develop a lifelong relationship with the university regardless of their geographical location or career stage, via open and digital education. Make it easy for local people to be part of the university community through informal as well as formal learning.

Example Action #2: Invest to develop transdisciplinary, university-wide courses in key areas, bringing together the best of our online and on campus teaching.

Our task now is to put all this into action!

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