Edfutures – How to collaborate and not lead.

I’ve written about 20 short pieces over on the http://edfutures.com site, and figured i would carry one over here… crosspost alert.

* note: i just noticed after posting that the title is not quite what i meant. I mean that collaboration does not always require a FULL investment… one can, i guess, peripherally participate :p hey. that sounds good, peripheral participation.

Not everyone is going to be a leader in every situation. There are four scenarios currently posted and, I expect, we might get a few more before we get to the end of this very interesting experiment. But, lets say, you don’t feel like you’ve been engaged enough to really start your own. You don’t, maybe, have the kind of time to put in to do the reading and work out what exactly it is you’re supposed to do.

But you still want to do something.

Here’s your invitation to join in. The first and most simple rule is

“Add don’t take away” –
Feel free to jump into a scenario and add a few points at a given line, add a sentence on the end (or in the middle) or a paragraph, create a new section or fill out one of the blank ones. Do not feel free to delete the work done by someone else. If you think something is out of place, or should be deleted, leave a note explaining your reasons. You can add to a scenario, but don’t take away from it.

“contribute what isn’t there” –
One of the great things about working with other people who care about the same things as you do is that you get things that aren’t expected. I’ve seen many people look at work and think “oh, they are doing something else” and not contribute to a certain place because they feel like their idea is too different or doesn’t fit it. Please. This is EXACTLY the kind of contribution that is the most valuable. Surprise is a very important part of learning. Also… it is a great testimony to people’s work that their contribution made you think of something else and caused you to go off in another direction.

“Do the grunt work” –
If you’re not feeling up to engaging at a high creative level, jump in and do some of the grunt work. Any piece of work is going to be well served by cleaner sentences, more organized bullets, good spacing… that kind of thing. I can tell you from experience that it is a very happy feeling to come back to your work and find things more tidy than when you left them.

“Leave feedback” –
not sure where your idea fits in? Create a new section, call it ‘feedback’ or something and just write out what it made you think. That kind of feedback is very helpful for others trying to think through the work that they are doing. It might also get you to the point where you’re going to be doing more work later.

“wear the skin of the idea” –
maybe the most important part of collaboration. Lord Russell has a great quote (which i can’t seem to get my hands on) that says that any time you approach new thinking its important to first get an idea what it would be like to walk a day wearing the idea as a skin. What would it be like to think this way? What kinds of things come out of it. Simply reading a scenario should be an learning experience… try to follow it’s thinking before criticising it. This is the hardest thing for me to remember… but i keep trying.

“cheer” –
if all else fails… just tell people about what you liked. Critical feedback is better than Ra! Ra! Ra! feedback… but often people read things and think “wow… that was really interesting” and never leave that because they feel they have nothing to add. Just add that. Just say “you know, i really enjoyed reading that”.

Scenarios I know about





Day 5 futures education – sealing the deal

The last day of a very interesting course. It can be a challenge to have a successful second to last day to any course. The results that we came to at the end of thursday’s class would have been more than acceptable for the event and I encouraged the team to commit to something further… we committed to creating a publishable document.

Wiki page http://nafutures.wikispaces.com

We started off the morning by doing a course review. I have had bad luck with leaving a course review until the last minute of the last day (or after the last day) so i took some time in the morning to check with the students as to how they felt about the course… I asked three questions and two of them produced results that will be a useful reflection on the course… the other was badly worded/explained by me and led to 5 identical statements from the students.

Points of clarity – things that worked or helped encourage moments of understanding

  • the methodology for the freamework was helpful, a comment, really on the course design actually working (thankfully)
  • collaboration. Students really enjoyed creating the curriculum together.
  • OECD document to provide a model for creating a scenarios. I waited ’till day three to show it, but it provided valuable structure given the short timeframe
  • Course gave them an idea of what pressures will hold us back for the future
  • distinction of prediction and futures thinking
  • what we did here was shared online and we got responses from other people doing the same kind of work
  • no homework 🙂
  • role playing exercises where we took scenarios and built skits
  • the blog updates day 1-5 offered a reminder of the day before and many students suggested reading the blog post was a very useful way to start the day
  • the positiveness in the chaos model. They felt comfortable with the iterative nature of the course
  • hurray for rhizomes. They really did like the community curriculum model. this makes me tres happy.

Room for Improvements

  • Trends from other countries would be useful to provide context for Singapore
  • Working through the iterative mapping exercise was confusing for some students while others suggested that it offered room for a different perspective
  • Course is very compressed in four days, something we all agreed on.
  • More links out to other places to jump off with futures thinking. Even though we didn’t have alot of time to cover those resources these would have provided an opportunity for independent study
  • More collaboration with other groups maybe a concurrent course
  • More look at the nature of trends. how they start, how they die.
  • more switching of groups? I decided to stay with the same groups throughout the course. A decision with benefits and drawbacks

We watched Martin for encouragement and inspiration and…

I then had the students create a series of stories related to their given scenario. It was only the second time where each student was responsible for their own work (something we didn’t have a terrible amount of time for) but a useful activity. They were to be stories from the years 2015/2020/2025/2030 giving some context to the way that learning would be conducted in that time period.

We spent the afternoon creating a solid model that each of the scenarios were to follow in order to make the wiki make sense, and going over bits and pieces of the scenarios in order to make them as coherent as possible.

I’m going to take the work that’s been done over the last five days and build it into one massive document that people can take a look at both the way that the course was constructed but also to hopefully take the work done by the students here to help them in their own thinking about the future of education.

A good day and a nice ending to what has been an excellent learning experience. Sometimes we get offered the privilege to be part of something very special… this is one of those time for me. Thanks muchly to each and everyone one of the 19 of you. You brought me into your work, introduced me to your lives and trusted me to help guide us through. 🙂 I think we did pretty well

Student Scenarios

  1. To infinity and Beyond
  2. Common Room Learning
  3. The Network is the Class
  4. Market-Driven Credentialization
  5. Business as Usual (TableThree)

And now… back to Canada.

Day 4 of futures of education – The scenarios

Holy wow. What a day. We started our day by watching the youtube response to our work by Nancy White (more reinforcement of our participation in a larger conversation… not that it was needed) all the while knowing we were going to have to move on to the dreaded discussion. We needed to refine our trends discussion to two continuums of trendishness… So i dodged and started working with the OECD document

The OECD document is a futures of education scenario planning explanatory document that is one of the four that i leaned on for the creation of this course. It’s a complete front to back look at scenario planning using futures… and while there are a few issues that i have with the document, it is a fabulous place to start to get people thinking about education futures. Thanks OECD.

We took the OECD suggested scenarios as a nice easy place to start. These offer a chance to see what completed scenarios might look like. We first took a look at scenario number one, walked through it together and, shame of shame, I asked them to read through it in class. We explored the five dimensions that OECD uses for each scenario. These scenarios are about education more broadly than we are looking at it, but they offered us an opportunity to explore the idea of scenario, the extreme way in which they reflect the world and how that can be helpful.

This has been mentioned before, but it is critical that we understand what a futures thinking scenario is not. They are ideal paths… they should not be expected to occur in pure form in the real world. They are not predictions seeking to forecast futures accurately. Prediction is doomed to failure. The value of futures thinking is in opening minds to consider new possibilities and to deal with change. They should not be seen as visions of where an organization might go. These particular OECD documents don’t spell out the steps of the process by which these possible futures were reached, but rather they give us a broad sense of what a scenario might look like.

I then gave the remaining samples to each group and gave them an hour or two to work through the process of building a skit to represent what that possible future would look like. I wanted them to FEEL the future from their scenario, desperately hoping that it would influence a positive discussion on the building of our own scenarios. It really couldn’t have worked any better. Following are three of the five skits from my students. We laughed ourselves silly.

By the end of this process, other than a sore belly… we also had a pretty good grasp of what we were looking for in a scenario. You want substance. You want something that is rich enough that you can feel what it would be like to live in a world where that scenario was true. The next step in the process was picking an axes of tension in order to find new scenarios. We used a 2×2 matrix.

So we ended up with five scenarios… the four described in the image and a fifth ‘wild card’ where UV rays can be converted into enough energy to provide unlimitted power. That is what we got accomplished in the 2 1/2 hours before lunch.

After lunch the work began in ernest. I had each group choose one of the scenarios and attempt to write it out in accord with the work done by the OECD. You can see the results of the early part of our work at our wiki http://nafutures.wikispaces.com. I took a look being the work being done and suggested to my students that we could try and publish this document in some format or other. The work was already that good.

If you persuse the wiki, you’ll get a sense of their early work. We took that and did a cross examination session near the end of the day and talked about keeping people firmly in their quadrant to allow the overall structure to hold firm. There were a couple of instances where people were backsliding into what ‘they believed’ rather than what the scenario was tellling them, but the group self corrected. Which is cool.

The Pad – Trends, drivers and a scenario from 1998

I’m still playing with the formats for this kind of post, but as my course starts next week, i thought i would get this started.

In 1998, Stephen Downes wrote a document looking into the future of technology and education. This is the first set piece that I’ve put together for the education futures course. It’s a neat document from Stephen Downes from a dozen years ago written to explain the reason for his work. It makes for compelling reading while reflecting on the last 12 years of our fields and offers us the benefit of seeing the work with the historical context. We also have the benefit of stephen having reflected on that earlier document in 2008. While it is certainly interesting reading, I’m hoping it will serve as a simple introduction to thinking about the future. It should also serve to start the process of establishing shared meanings for the words that we’ll be using.

This snippet and the audio discussion attached are meant to introduce us to the basic ideas of thinking about the future. Why should we look at trends? Why should we be thinking about the future? What is a trend? What are drivers? What’s the difference between scenario planning/futures thinking and a ‘prediction’ about the future?

To identify trends in education, perhaps the best methodology is to identify trends which work well today, whether technologically-based or not. In other words, identify the tools people actually use today, and examine how computers of the future will evolve these tools for use in the future.

And the tools most widely used in education today are remarkably simple, having remained unchanged for the last several centuries. They include books, notepads or paper, writing implements, blackboards, and teachers. Of these, obviously, the role of the teacher is the most complex and will have to be discussed in detail. The remaining tools, however, will be absorbed by the new technology in a very straightforward fashion: the PAD.

The PAD (Personal Access Device) will become the dominant tool for online education, combining the function of book, notebook, and pen. Think of the PAD as a lightweight notebook computer with touchscreen functions and high speed wireless internet access. The PAD will look like a contemporary clipboard and will weigh about as much. Its high-resolution screen will deliver easy-to-read text, video and multimedia. The PAD will accept voice commands, recognize your handwriting, or accept input via a touch-screen keyboard. From the future of online learning http://www.westga.edu/%7Edistance/downes13.html

I recorded this discussion with Stephen on March 17th, 2010. It starts out with a discussion of the context from which the paper was written… where he was working and why he felt the need to write the document. I’m hoping that this will help all of us to think about where we are in our own professional lives and to start asking ourselves about why we might want to think about the future of education.

Audio from The Pad Discussion with Stephen Downes

Discussion for this topic? Shared meanings of some of the initial language and to start thinking about why we as individuals may want to start thinking about the future.

Feel free to talk about the content, ways to improve the exercise or anything else that comes to mind.

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