Near Future Teaching Workshop #1: Divergent Thinking

On April 30th at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI),  the first of two workshops was conducted for the Near Future Teaching project. This first workshop was largely driven by the data and the subsequent outputs from the first phase of the project: vox pop interviews with a large range of faculty, staff, and students; events and focus groups; and the thematic videos emerging as a result. The workshop was attended by the Task Group of the project as well as students from across the university. Our task was to discuss, appraise, and collaboratively build speculative future worlds that higher education will inhabit over the coming decades.

The workshop was designed and executed by Santini and Zoe of Andthen, a consultancy which marries Design Research and Futures Thinking to help companies with early-stage innovation. They will be drafting a post soon on the design methodology behind this series of workshops and we will provide subsequent posts once we have had a chance to review the data generated as a result.

Briefly though, this first workshop was largely about exploring divergent thinking. We started with discussions around values which emerged from the Near Future Teaching vox pops, events, and materials generated by the student occupations.

We then each assigned (four groups in all) future worlds we had crafted based largely in the research, four future worlds that moved on one axis between open and closed systems, and human-led and technology-led on another. These four future worlds were outputs distilling a large amount of HE futures research, implicitly a challenge to the misconception that “there is an inevitable future to which we must simply adapt or resist” (Facer & Sandford, 2010).

Each group explored one world and the themes emerging from the video that might serve to underpin it: creative learning approaches, data, lectures, AI and automation, community, humans, and more. We worked through the future worlds and these themes, identified when they aligned and when they diverged.

The second part of the activity was about developing stories that might occupy the homepage of the University of Edinburgh, complete with images, quotes, and headlines. These were at times funny, poignant, largely astute, and ultimately revealing of the values this group would want embedded in such a future world (values that will take some effort to extract!). We presented these news stories to the room and closed for the day. The next workshop scheduled for late May will revolve around how these divergent ideas converge into a possible future for the University of Edinburgh.