I have done two keynotes recently where I have been asked to talk about the future, to look ahead at the horizon and suggest what it might look like when we reach it. Quite frankly, I would be an idiot to try and do that beyond what we know already, and even more so if I tried to guess within the time allotted for doing a keynote! But one thing I am sure about: educators are looking to the future to prepare and vendors who are talking to educators about the future are often selling something (possibly their version of the future).
My purpose for both keynotes was to talk about staff, to find a way to highlight how focus on their own development, there own use of digital, would give them both the capacity and capability to deal with future technology, and how it is used in Higher Education.
Two themes that I did want to come through were ubiquity and blurring.
So even though I didn’t want to talk too much about the future, I was asked to think about it, and it would have been disingenuous not to say something. So I made points about the ubiquity of technology, and how costs of technology are falling and that in higher education it is unusual to have students who have no devices. But at the same time we need to check our privilege: the ubiquity of technology is one that we see the through lens of a university, it is not necessarily reflected across society, and some students will be excluded.
The other ubiquity is that of change. Change is a constant across most sectors now, both in the private and public sectors. It is essential that staff are able to respond to to change, to have the skills and attributes to adapt to new situations, and also model that behavior for students as they embark on their life after university.
The other key point about the future I wanted to make was around blurring. We have seen a lot written about the impact of technology on work-life balance, how the boundaries of our lives are blurring. In education we also see the boundaries of, for example, formal and informal learning spaces blurring, where more recognition of the role of social media in learning and teaching (and student support generally) is becoming more established. But the way in which staff and students are present in the physical and digital is also blurring. As a colleague said to me recently as we said goodbye for what will be several months, “see you in twitter or skype”. The perception of digital spaces is for some people moving toward a sense of place, a sense of being present at spatial or temporal distance.
When I worked in the disability and technology field, running workshops for staff, I used to talk about changing the culture of universities. The chair of my steering group for that work, a Deputy Vice Chancellor, sat me down one day and said “universities have been working for hundreds of years, and we work here because we like the culture. I like the culture and who are to tell me to change.” So, understandably, I am cautious when it comes to the term “Culture Change”. More than that, when an external comes in and say you all need to change your culture, it seem arrogant. But when we are talking about technology and practice, it is hard to argue that there hasn’t been a culture change, and indeed that change is still occurring, but that change is coming from within, from the institution’s own staff and students. And that is the key thing to remember about digital; digital is about people and people are culture
— Chris Wilson (@ChrisWilson101) July 4, 2016
“Digital is about People”
This is the area of my work that I enjoy most. I may have business card in my pocket that makes reference to technology and digital, and people often look at that and say “oh, you work with computers?” Well, yes, and so does everyone else in the sector. I work with people. Digital is all about people. And the thing that is changing fastest in the education sector when we talk about technology, is behaviours.