Digital Education Futures
On Tuesday evening, 24 January, 2017, I arrived at St Leonard’s Hall at the University of Edinburgh’s Pollock Halls buzzing with anticipation. I was delighted to encounter Professor Sian Bayne, Assistant Principal Digital Education, Institute for Education, Community and Society, as I was descending from the taxi with my ‘box of fun’. In the box was a set of materials including glitter, Play-doh, glue sticks, coloured paper, pens and markers, finger paint, tape, robot bugs and much more. Apart from the robot bugs, it might not sound like the right box of fun for a workshop all about envisioning what digital technology might be in use at the University of Edinburgh in the year 2030, but it turns out that a little glitter and finger paint is just what is required for getting into a time-travelling frame of mind. We also decorated the room with some provocative posters, as well as some of the design ideas by Dave McNaughton for the Envisioning Edinburgh: Digital Education Futures project (now called Near Future Teaching) which will take place over the next year and a half.
Here is a recording of the workshop introduction, which was delivered by Dr Jon Turner, Director of the Institute for Academic Development and also by Sian, who gave us a run down of some of the technologies being tested today for use in future university classrooms. Keep your ears peeled for the technological interruption that tickled us during the intro!
Sian explained that technologies that may be commonplace in future (and some which are already being used in classrooms today) include face recognition software that can track an audience/class and give live feedback data to the lecturer, AI tutors who could assist teachers and students both inside and outside of the classroom and analytics tracking that could help with many aspects of how students interact with the University offerings and the campus itself.
Here is a video of Sian talking about face recognition software and its uses in the classroom:
We had fascinating conversations with the student workshop participants, who didn’t always answer our questions in the ways we would have expected. This is exactly what we are hoping for in this series of pilot workshops. We want our assumptions to be challenged, so that we get a sense of what students and staff really think about technology. Ultimately we aim to propose a vision of Edinburgh’s digital future that is person-led rather than technology-led.
Here are some of the insights we came away with after talking to our student workshop participants:
– Use a range of technologies to make the individual learning experience more flexible and tailored.
With lecturers being recorded make it possible to place a digital bookmark or post it in your personal digital record of the lecture to go back to later.
To have the potential to explore topics or ideas in more detail on the fly (accessing extra explanations or further information on specific topics as they come up in a lecture).
To be able to use technology to make it possible to explore connections between different courses and course content, and to be able to switch back and forth between digging into a topic in more detail and zooming out to see its broader context.
– Very interesting discussion about the potential benefits of robot personal tutors. Efficient in being able to answer common questions, also less intimidating for students and may reduce inhibition linked to concern about appearing stupid.
– Some discussion about use of advanced visualisation (eg to explore topics in 3D, to see how things have changed through time, to explore the impact of changing parameters in experiments, equations etc)
– Continuing desire for personal contact with academics and teachers – but perhaps more as guides and mentors – than as didactic lecturers
– We want to go to lectures, we want real teachers! Still lecture capture is good for reviewing, but don’t make it accessible until after the live lecture. You build a relationship with your lecturer – there is an exchange, this is important.
– The facial expression technology could be dangerous, sometimes I look tired or bored even when I’m concentrating! And it could make the lecturer’s job really difficult, if they are looking at live negative feedback.
– We love the idea of knowing how busy the library is before we even get there, saves us a wasted journey.
– We come to university to have our first taste of independence, and if we’re always watched and tracked we’ll never know what it is to be free.
– Before first year, it would be great to have an AI who could answer our ‘frequently asked questions’, so we don’t feel stupid, and also to have chat rooms where we can learn from current students.
– Everything feels so modern nowadays, I just want everything to be normal and to get on with it. (1st year student)
– I hope the University doesn’t look too different in 2030 because this is Edinburgh and it is beautiful!
– Some future ideas: option to Skype tutors, online classes, greater eBook resources, individual eBook tablets in the library, giant plasma screens around the University like Times Square
Thanks for thinking about the future with us!
Jennifer Williams, Institute for Academic Development