Blue Underlay

Near Future Teaching Event Video

Near Future Teaching Event Video

We were lucky enough to have the Media Services team at the University of Edinburgh craft this video summarising the recent Near Future Teaching event on 26 March 2019 at InSpace.

The event brought together a really diverse grouping of students, staff and friends from across and beyond the university to launch the final report from the project.

Testing the Near Future Teaching vision with school children

Throughout October 2018, the Near Future Teaching team tested a preferable future vision for digital higher education, and a draft strategy for reaching that vision, with staff and students from the University.

— From Zoë Prosser and Santini Basra

The following four values were recognised within current staff members and students during the early stages of research, and throughout the project had been used as a measure of preferability to determine what the vision of digital education should be.

However, these values represent the beliefs and opinions of staff and students now, so it was important to ask how they might change in the future. As such, school children were included in the study to investigate the following questions:

  • Will a future generation of students hold the same values?
  • What new values, opinions, and needs towards digital higher education might emerge in the future?

Since the school children were far removed from University experiences, testing questions were more abstractly focused on learning in general and we remained open to understanding the contexts that affected their learning beyond school.

Five 90 minute sessions were conducted with school children from two schools near Edinburgh: one primary and one secondary. Two of the sessions were with 16 to 17 year olds, engaging a total of 14 students, and three sessions were conducted with 8 to 10 year olds, engaging a total of 43 students.

To encourage everyone to think about learning as an activity that happens beyond just the school walls, we kicked the sessions off with a general discussion about where we learn, how we learn, and who from. Drawing sheets were used to help the children capture their ideas and for the NFT team’s data collection. Information captured during this activity helped us determine how the children perceived their experiences of learning, along with recurring positive and negative responses to their school education.

In pairs, the children were then asked to design their dream school of the future using a mixture of drawing and collage. Special attention was given to the following prompts: what is happening in your dream school; who is there and what are they doing; what does a typical school day look like; what things are learnt there, and how are they being taught?

As the students negotiated their ideal learning scenarios, the NFT team sparked conversations with them individually and asked each pair to expand on points that had reference to any of the four values. When responses conflicted with the four values, or when new values were suggested, they were captured by the team using post it notes and subsequently discussed and synthesised into recommended changes to the values, strategy, and vision.

Near Future Teaching methods: values within worlds

— From Zoë Prosser and Santini Basra

Using the education futures that were created in the first task group workshop, we ran a second workshop in which participants were challenged to create a vision of a University of Edinburgh that would exist within their worlds.

In each instance, they had to consider what the University might do to embrace the values and opinions that emerged from the community scoping phase of the project (for more on these, see the previous post — NFT methods: community scoping and crafting worlds), while still flourishing in each future world.

A series of diverse, yet possible future University of Edinburghs emerged from this workshop. Consolidating these, we captured them as annotated illustrations (fig.1  below).

These future Universities will function within this project as thought experiments; instead of serving as any kind of ‘preferable vision,’ they will be used as source material to inform a discussion around various probable futures and their respective risks and opportunities.

In addition, we can use the aforementioned values as a way to qualify what ‘preferable’ looks like to the staff and students at the University. Cross referencing these values with the material captured in the future University of Edinburghs will help us start to develop a rich understanding of what a ‘preferable’ future vision of digital education at the University might look like.

Near Future Teaching Workshop #2: a summary

Following on from the first Near Future Teaching workshop last month, we gathered again recently to continue our design of the future of digital education.

Here, our focus was on convergence with the core values the university community would like to see defining our future teaching. The 19 opinion cards that were created from the interviews and insights from staff and students over the last year were summarised into 4 core values:

  1. Experience over Measurement
  2. Exchange over Instruction
  3. Diverse and Inclusive
  4. Participatory and Transparent

The workshop was again designed and led by Santini and Zoe from Andthen, a studio specialising in futures thinking and design research. We began by reviewing the four future world scenarios we developed through the first workshop. Briefly, these were:

In groups, the workshop began mapping the four core values to each of these worlds, trying to understand how they might be played out in each.

Using a blank jigsaw manufactured by Zoe and Santini, each group built layers around one of these worlds. The first encapsulated how the four values might be manifested, based on group discussion.

The second layer provided speculative examples of what digital education specifically might look like for each of these ‘value’ quartiles. Sian provided a brief brain dump trying to encapsulate something of what we mean when we talk about ‘digital education’:

Finally, we used props to begin to illustrate the speculative examples of digital education devised by each group: using playdoh, toy robots and plastic fruit we attempted to bring these worlds to life. The groups narrated their scenarios to one another and the workshop concluded, taking us another step closer to the co-design of a values-based approach to our digital education futures.

Near Future Teaching- methods and a progress report

Now that Near Future Teaching is well underway, it seems like a good time to write a short blog post on our project methodology, how it’s going, and what we hope we will achieve by the time the project finishes toward the end of the year.

The project has the over-arching aim to design the future of digital education at Edinburgh. Our objectives:

  1. To conduct a participative, institution-wide conversation about digital education and its trajectory at Edinburgh
  2. To focus on values, curriculum and pedagogy,  not only on technological change
  3. To surface conversations on the open web, foregrounding student voices through high quality media and building awareness of the project across the sector
  4. To synthesise project findings into an actionable design for the future of digital education, usable by Schools and Colleges

It took us a while to work out how best to build a participative vision in such a large, complex university. At the moment Edinburgh has almost 40,000 thousand students, a staff count of just under 10,000, three Colleges, 20 Schools with many, many sub-units, plus of course our support services. It’s probably fair to say that nothing quite like this project has been attempted before here.

In the end, the process we devised was adapted from the work Keri Facer and colleagues conducted a few years ago as part of a large project looking at long-term sociotechnical futures for education (and published most accessibly in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. Our version has five stages:

  1. Foresight:
    1. Taking the community pulse
    2. Mapping in the form of two foresight reviews focusing on factors likely to influence change in education over the coming years:
      1. scientific and technical trends
      2. social and educational factors
  2. Scenario development:
    1. Scoping plausible future worlds
    2. Designing educational futures for each
  3. Testing ideas and designs
    1. Student panel
    2. Academic expert panel
    3. Children’s panel
  4. Surfacing insights and recommendations
  5. Translation into policy and action

At this point we have just about reached the end of stage 1., having run and written up a series of events and done short interviews with input from around 300 students and staff. These latter we’ve edited thematically and made available here on the website, with write-ups from each of the events also surfaced here in our blog. We’ll be publishing the reviews here shortly too.

It’s important to the project that we surface as much of our process as possible, trying to show our workings rather than just producing a final report which obscures how it was produced.

Internet of (Teaching) Things

Dr Jeremy Knox of the Centre for Research in Digital Education and I conducted a Near Future Teaching session called Internet of (Teaching) Things. The purpose was to stimulate thinking around how IoT technology can be used to proactively build community or improve teaching or research practices using configurations of data being generated by the university itself.

Most IoT technology that we might know is of the commercial and domestic variety: fridges that can automatically order fresh milk when you run out, or toothbrushes that can count how many times children brush their teeth). We wanted to look beyond those a bit and explore how these types of data and technology configurations can be used to attend to university work. This connected world of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) has potential to shape future teaching in creative ways by drawing on the potential for increased communication, not just between people but between the objects and spaces that surround our educational activities.

The event was held in Kings Buildings and attendees were staff ranging from Geosciences, Social and Political Science, Global Health, and more. Some had teaching duties, some were instructional designers, and some researchers. The workshop itself started with a presentation establishing first the domain of IoT: how it is about a sensor collecting data and using the data to port into some technology to do some activity. We discussed how we are a distributed university already: 30,000 on campus students scattered in various campuses around the city, 2600 distance students scattered globally, 2.2 million participating in MOOCs and in some way a part of this larger community.

From there, we discussed some bespoke IoT projects that have provided some inspiration for how we explore this with IoT. The first, Light Reminders, explores social interaction and home lighting: each light representing a person in the designer’s life, and each light’s power level is determined by how long it’s been since the designer has seen that person. The more they see their friends, the brighter the home. Another, AirPlay: Smog Music translates air quality data over a three year period in Beijing into music based on how it approaches and often exceeds hazardous levels. Living Light in Seoul is a building facade that displays air quality (drawing on open data) and public interest (defined by online activity) in the environment to brighten or dim lights. eCloud is a dynamic sculpture inspired by the volume and behavior of an idealized cloud at San Jose Airport; made from unique polycarbonate tiles that can fade between transparent and opaque states, its patterns are transformed periodically by real time weather from around the world. Listen to Wikipedia is just that: an attempt to transform edits or additions to Wikipedia to musical form. Bells indicate additions and string plucks indicate subtractions. Pitch changes according to the size of the edit; the larger the edit, the deeper the note. Green circles show edits from unregistered contributors, purple circles mark edits performed by automated bots.

You may see announcements for new users as they join the site, punctuated by a string swell. You can welcome him or her by clicking the blue banner and adding a note on their talk page. There are many more to choose from but we were looking to explore projects that had with them a sense of presence, of place, and of some emotional or aesthetic connection. Jeremy then discussed the Pulse project, This project will develop wearable technologies that will enhance our awareness of student communities in an era of increasing online provision, where students ‘attend’ the university but not necessarily the campus itself.

This project will develop wearable technologies that will enhance our awareness of student communities in an era of increasing online provision, where students ‘attend’ the university but not necessarily the campus itself.

Digital Education

As for data, Jeremy explained that there are rivers of data flowing through the university already: environmental data (air and sound quality, etc.), university events (graduations, matriculations, seminars, and more), online activity (logins, discussion board posts), bodies (footfalls on campus, ID entries into the library), and more. To frame the discussion a bit, we then presented personas, or students we were designing for, some distance and some in Edinburgh, all with different takes on the university experience. Personas move the discussion away from the abstraction a bit: how unlimited choices of data and things might lead to some decontextualization of the event so we wanted to frame it this way. Jeremy and I explained that the personas could be about teaching, research, or community based improvements: distance to distance, distance to campus, campus to distance, all of the above. Groups discussed the personas, discussed data points to use and configurations to explore. Groups presented their IoT configurations.

Configuration #1

A configuration taking data from three distinct yet entirely representative aspects of university life: administration (EUCLID data), social (coffee data), and more. ODL students would get wearable devices that change colour depending on what is the dominant mode of activity on campus. Colour spectrum would be from red (intense learning activity) to green (leisure activity) and data would be drawn to represent each. For the reverse, there would be physical maps on campus representing the ODL campus: a live feed from ODL students’ activity globally with detail if interested. For example, Rebecca from Australia is drinking coffee (leisure) as am I in Edinburgh. A good use of non-scholarly data to support community and connections.

Configuration #2

The second group presented an emotional dashboard which was about making human connections. Within the course page, students use colours to describe their mood over the course. It useful for students to know I am not alone or what their peers feel in general. It is useful for staff to know when students are struggling and how they might help. They emphasised that such an approach could be layered so can just use colour to suggest mood or can expand on that by adding an image or some other media to make a connection. Discussion boards could feed off this dashboard.

Configuration #3

Full disclaimer: this was Jeremy Knox, Lucy Kendra’s and my (Michael Gallagher) group. We designed for one of the personas (Gossy) who struggled to explain the university in meaningful ways to his family home in Nigeria. We explicitly saw this family and these extended connections as part of the larger university community. Our configuration involved Gossy collecting his social data (physical proximity with others, social media, and more) and using that to brighten or dim a lamp in his mother’s house. A simple connection. Another one was to take both Gossy and his mother, map their daily movements through Edinburgh and Lagos, respectively. To collect data along those walks and curate postcards at intervals through an application.

All of these configurations were about strengthening connections and community which for an increasingly distributed university is critical to ensure that all are involved are the community.

Future Fictions Texts: Works Emerging from a Recent Workshop Imagining the Future of the University

As a result of a recent workshop on Future Fictions for Near Future Teaching, we have been fortunate enough to receive some of the work emerging from that event by several of the participants.

We present these here, four works imagining, in their own way, the future of the University of Edinburgh. Many thanks to Daphne Loads, JL Williams, David Creighton-Offord, and Anon for contributing their work here.

I’m a Beautician

I’m a beautician.
I studied language beauty for seven years at Edinburgh
I knew as soon as my dissertation sac started to grow
When it was just a little bluish pimple on my forehead, on the left side.
I knew then what I wanted to do.

I suppose I was about 8 when the words started to appear.
Pieces of declensions floating in the blue liquid.
If people came up close they could hear scraps of lamentations.

When I got to that awkward stage, when it was just dangling there,
I kept thinking it was going to burst or drop off.
But if I used a mirror, I could see the strange fragments
Of a bigger picture,
The whole sound.

People always say, it will happen when its’s ready.
But I thought it would never crystallise.

Then three days before I was due to graduate,
It started to change.
It went cloudy, then clear, then as hard as glass
And it came off in my hand.

And then, at graduation
When all the dissertations were piled up,
And they fused together
That sound, the Music of the Spheres

Daphne Loads

there was no time and time itself

don’t we always swallow a little more when the breath massages the spine

here in this classroom there is a notion that the nation exists

grasping toward the past it was the future held the coral chalice up to the light (poor coral whitened as the sea waves unto death)

what you will teach is

you broke that notion with your greedful mining time it was always and anyway

that golden classroom when the light pierced the beaker her glass a trembling concatenation of quantum realities as when the first burning torch was raised as now the first equation which makes light possible always always always is

a whole nation’s notion exists the gulf was crystal when we were kids diving to kiss on the banks of this nymph grotto weighted with tyres now floating polystyrene the green bottles blue bottles clear bottles holding my breath

what you will teach is what you believe

waving flinging the keyboard popping the button on your shirt shining desk pounding wet heads with first person second person third person south against north against east against man against woman against computer against robot i want to lift up without needing any tools

what you will teach is a dream no reality a notion no a nation

holding my breath forever is the same as breathing into the endless utopia of space

you will open your hand and (gold wire diamond glass plastic silver laser)

data is water time is light

JL Williams


The wikitech access lockdown field clicked in as I strolled into the McEwan-examspace™ for my final exam for the Humanidata Googlebasics Bachelors programme. I started to feel the ‘exam pill’ surge, a burning, brain-swelling, actioning sensation and an opening up of memory – a creativity blast designed to optimise exam performance but also – and this cost me a fortune – to bypass the drug checker scan routinely implemented now at the entrance to the McEwan-examspace™.

At the exam consoles it was notable that many students – or their parents – had forked out on the CTD headwear which the Stangoogle analytics team had uncontestably demonstrated, in a paper published the previous month, were effective in boosting exam performance by 32%. This kit costs thousands. The University Enhancement Tribunal just can’t stay ahead of the advances Stangoogle are making in the enhancement space.

Justice, poetry, philosophy and history personificationsclustered on ceiling of the McEwan-examspace™, interspersed by the Googlebasics Centaur logo, as though we – the examinees – needed to remember and respect the privilege associated with being a member of the elite Centaur group of Googlebasic City-Universities. If I can kill this exam, my future as a Humanidata researcher and academic is pretty much in the bag. I click open the exam console and begin to address the question.


Empty Halls:

The room echoed, its emptiness expressed as resonance
The lines of chairs caked in dust and soft sibilance
The hiss of the lone mature student sitting down, the rustle of their bag
As they unpack, connect, buffer, and adjust for lag
They slide their glasses on, insert their ear pieces delicately
As the dark lecture hall now fills with ghosts awakened electronically
Connected now, the space is more illusion than reality
The students flicker in and out, avatars without integrity
False identities configured from vanity
Amalgams of fashion, celebrity, monstrosity
As the loading bar spins they watch the lecturer refresh
“Was she ever human?” They gossip. “Has she ever known flesh?”
Information is imparted, man’s input still audio visual
But with API and SQL this became residual
A habit from a time before we became maths, a time of individuals
As our dying bodies were left behind, our children became virtual
Leaving empty lecture halls and one joker’s faded desk inscription
New man is new algorithm.”

David Creighton-Offord

DIY Filmmaking at the University of Edinburgh: Imagining future teaching through a smartphone

Notes from a recent Near Future Teaching event at the University of Edinburgh

I had been looking forward to the Near Future Teaching DIY Film School event since I first saw Stephen Donnelly give a demonstration of some of the very cool mo-jo (aka mobile journalism) kit that Media Services at the University of Edinburgh have invested in for staff and students to make use of in their work and study, and play.

The equipment generally allows a mobile phone to magically morph into a pimped-up fully functional hand-held video camera. Items such as the BEASTGRIP give you a more stable base and allow you, if you wish, to attach to a tripod, and then you can pop on a RODEVideoMic and a portable Commlightand you’re ready to go.

I had been looking forward to the Near Future Teaching DIY Film School event since I first saw Stephen Donnelly give a demonstration of some of the very cool mo-jo (aka mobile journalism) kit that Media Services at the University of Edinburgh have invested in for staff and students to make use of in their work and study, and play.

The equipment generally allows a mobile phone to magically morph into a pimped-up fully functional hand-held video camera. Items such as the BEASTGRIP give you a more stable base and allow you, if you wish, to attach to a tripod, and then you can pop on a RODEVideoMic and a portable Commlightand you’re ready to go.

Stephen talked us through all the equipment, some top tips for how to get started on your first videos, and showed us some examples of really stunning short films made with iPhones such as this beautiful film commissioned by Bentley Motors.

Then the teams were sent out with the equipment and they each had about an hour to make their first film. To our surprise one group even managed to do some editing of their interview, and you can take a look at it here.

We were so impressed by the participants who jumped right into the process and not only explored this remarkable, empowering and accessible high/lo-tech equipment, but who also managed to incorporate Near Future Teaching-inspired questions about the future into their vox pop interview.

If you work or study at the University of Edinburgh and are interested to learn more about and use this equipment and to get involved in the Near Future Teaching vox pop conversation, get in touch!

Near Future Teaching Pilot Workshop 2

Festival of Creative Learning 2017

For our second Near Future Teaching Pilot Workshop, we hooked up with the Festival of Creative Learning.

The model was similar to our first, though we decided to skip the intros to digital technologies at the beginning and instead to have prompt cards on each table that the participants could read and react to at various points in the workshop if they needed inspiration.

Some responses that came out of our final discussions included the following:

  • The University of Edinburgh is very research-focused, maybe a broad educational model isn’t useful for Edinburgh?
  • How do we address discussion across disciplines in a university like Edinburgh?
  • If computers are doing the marking, feedback could be quite challenging.+
  • Global collaboration with other universities to fund the implementation of expensive technologies?
  • Always being online and available, students have less separation between university and home.
  • The University should be teaching students how to separate work and non-work time, and time management skills.
  • Design space, technology and curriculum to support learning.
  • Green screen and hologram teacher, students have massaging seats and sofas.
  • Lecturer using visualisations, material can move around in 3 dimensions, physical interaction with things is still important.

So, quite a lot was raised that was provocative and fascinating, and will help us going forward with the project as we try to get a sense of what staff and students might want from digital learning technologies in the future. Here are some of the conclusions that we discussed at the close of the session:

  • What are the values and what is the purpose of the University?
  • What sort of education do we want to provide?
  • What should a University be?
  • Focus on the individual student and consider mental health.
  • How do you create an environment that supports students throughout their entire journey?
  • How can technology help students to be more comfortable and visualise concepts?
  • How can technology be helpful and personalise the learning experience?

Overall, it was a stimulating and intriguing workshop, where we learned a lot about not only what students think about technology but also about how we might develop our Near Future Teaching sessions as we continue with the project.

Join the Near Future Teaching conversation by responding to any of these topics here and/or on Twitter by using our hashtag: #UoE_NFT and our Twitter handle @NearFutureTeach.