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Two keynotes: from human/data interaction to scaling up Learning Technology

This year has started with two very different keynotes: the first in January I wrote for an event on scaling up Learning Technology which was chaired by Dr Michael Flavin, and the second, a joint keynote with my colleague Martin Hawksey, was written for a one day workshop organised for the Data Human Interaction Plus network.

If you’d like to have a look at the slides and references for the two talks, you can access them here:

From empowered professional practice to empowerment in the age of surveillance: opportunities for human data interaction – joint keynote with Martin Hawksey for the Human-Data Interaction Network Plus

Some common themes emerged for me from contributing to these two events:

More tech-critical voices
This year I feel I am hearing more voices that are critical towards use of technology in education and more broadly our relationship to technology as a society and as individuals. More people are questioning where the boundaries of technology and the tech industry should be, who should enforce them and how. I hear suggestions of limiting our use of technology or at least to stop proceeding unquestioningly with scaling up what we do. There are more questions being asked about ethics, policies and equality – questions that are becoming more specific and informed, not simply articulating a general, vague concern.

More wholesale digital adoption
At the sometime there is a growing number of institutions who are ‘doing digital’ across the board. The examples I come across most often are focused on systems or platforms more administrative in nature or common software packages and productivity tools. But the transformation can still be powerful and there is often a drive to up-skill and develop the workforce and the learner population at the same time. This is very much about digital skills and literacy not often about the more expert design, implementation or support of Learning Technology more specifically but this often gets conflated in the way the process is described. Whilst on the whole a very positive move, there are two challenges that I often see come up next: first, as the tools change iteratively the process of training users has to continue and fostering a culture which normalises that is hard to do. Hence there is a lot of messiness in how people use technology long term, little patches, work arounds, small idiosyncrasies which accumulate over time. Everyone has legacy systems, spreadsheets, databases and so on they don’t know what to do with. The other challenge is to find enough resources (of every kind) to continue to do Learning Technology beyond the core systems you have scaled up and to invest in the expertise you need to do that in the long run rather than to outsource innovation to private sector companies and loose that capacity.

Negativity, pace and productivity
Whilst I still meet with a lot of genuine enthusiasm for technology a lot of narratives I have come across during the start of the year are driven by negativity, primarily about the wider context. Political, social and economic factors shape our perception of technology. The pace of innovation continues to be a factor also: should we try to keep pace, and why? Will technological change keep accelerating and how does this impact upon the world we live in? Meanwhile I feel productivity has snuck into our ways of thinking about research and practice. Playful approaches, mindfulness, even time specifically set aside for ‘moon shoots’ is really all about doing ever more with less. Always contactable and on the go whilst in reality there are too many meetings in which nothing happens at all.

Resistance and hope, articulated
Against this rather bleak backdrop however, power is rising. Expertise is multiplying, action being taken and there is a drive to resist surveillance capitalism and to find alternatives that can provide hope whilst still offering functioning business models are cropping up more and more frequently.
It’s always a privilege to be invited to contribute to events as a speaker and if the first two talks of 2020 are anything to go by the resulting discussions will be extremely interesting this year.