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.