How will teachers make a living in the future?

When I was ten years old, I had a brilliant, inspiring teacher. She used to ask us: “Why do you go to school?” After a series of answers, she would give hers: “To learn how to learn”. I knew Miss Blencow (I don’t know the spelling) was a good teacher, because I liked her and we did all sorts of interesting, creative activities. It took me until somewhere around the start of my PhD though to understand fully what she was telling us.

I was reminded of this today when I read a blog post by Damien Walter entitled “How will writers make a living in the future?”. The basic premise is that the increasing availability of free information on the internet is devaluing the written work to a possible future where writers will not earn money from writing anymore, with a comparison to the Dark Ages where reading aloud was a good career for “…the priest who read from the bible only he could translate to his Dark Ages congregation.”

As more and more information fills the internet a proportion of that is well presented and easily used for self-directed learning. It is becoming less and less necessary to go somewhere and be “taught”. Learning how to learn – the new learning to read.

So what future for teaching? The future, surely, must lie in teaching children how to be self-directed learners, and in inspiring, motivating and supporting them as they learn.

I do hope that Miss Blencow, once of Stimpson Avenue Junior School, is around to see the future she helped create.

Paul Rudman, BDRA

The icy winds of change

Social networking seems quite good at providing random, but surprisingly serendipitous, information.  Recently, told me that someone had searched for a book chapter I co-authored a few years ago (Rudman et al. 2008). It included a paragraph of predictions for the future of elearning, and I began wondering how accurate our predictions were, even after only three years.

At the time, I was thinking some 10 years ahead. In fact, the future has arrived faster than I expected. We predicted two areas of technological development that would impact on learning. The first was the growth of personal, mobile technologies; we described a number of functionalities – communication by audio and text, sharing of media, GPS – and we were on the right path. What we didn’t see was  how effectively these functions would all be joined together in one device (i- and Android- phone) through the “App”. The second prediction was of data storage moving from individual devices to centralised servers (or “clouds”). This is happening too. I have, for example, recently redirected my personal email to a new gmail account, rather than the previous combination of hired server and Outlook, and now have access to email on my mobile too.

With hindsight, I would say that we were correct in our predictions, albeit a little conservative. My work here at the BDRA in creating and evaluating a learning space in the virtual world of Second Life suggests that the future is much more exciting than we had dared hope! We were, in fact, closer with an earlier paper (Vavoula et al. 2007) where we used part of a science fiction story from the 1960s to illustrate the future possibilities for technology-enhanced learning. The story is by Brian Aldiss and was written for a children’s science annual about a world, thirty years in the future, where children learn through guided project work rather than formal education.

The winter of 1963 - suitable year for an Antarctic experience. . . (© Copyright Richard Johnson - see link)

“…It was a simple thing to do. Many of the parts of the miniputer were synthetic bio-chemical units, their ‘controls’ built into Jed’s aural cavity; he ‘switched on’ by simple neural impulse. At once the mighty resources of the machine, equal to the libraries of the world, billowed like a curtain on the fringes of his brain…Its ‘voice’ came into his mind, filling it with relevant words, figures, and pictures. … ‘Of all continents, the Antarctic has been hardest hit by ice.’ As it spoke, it flashed one of its staggeringly vivid pictures into Jed’s mind. Howling through great forests, slicing through grasslands, came cold winds. The landscape grew darker, more barren; snow fell.” (Aldiss, B. 1963)

What we are finding with virtual worlds is that the “user’s” experience is remarkably real, setting in play relevant emotional responses and remaining in memory in many ways as though the experience had been real. Aldriss’s portrait of a virtual trip to Antarctica could be achieved today using virtual world technology.

“Bio-chemical” elements aside, if you were to take today’s virtual worlds back in time to 1963, I venture to suggest that Aldiss would agree we have already achieved his vision.

Paul Rudman, BDRA

Aldiss, B. (1963) The thing under the glacier. C. Pincher (ed.) Daily Express Science Annual No. 2, Norwich: Beaverbrook Newspapers Ltd.

Rudman, P. D., M. Sharples,  P. Lonsdale, J. Meek (2008). Cross-context learning. in Digital Technologies and the Museum Experience: Handheld guides and other media. L. Tallon and K. Walker. Lanham, MD, Alta Mira Press.

Vavoula, G. N., M. Sharples, P.D. Rudman, P. Lonsdale, J. Meek (2007). Learning Bridges: a role for mobile learning in education. Educational Technology Magazine. New Jersey, Educational Technology Publications, Inc. XLVII: 33-36.

Introducing the Six `Follow the Sun´ Keynote Speakers

Beyond Distance’s sixth annual international conference, the Learning Futures Festival Online 2011, will soon be upon this, entitled and themed “Follow the Sun.” This year, Beyond Distance will be joined as hosts by the Australian Digital Futures Institute of the University of Queensland. Beginning at 9:00 am BST on 13th April 2011, the conference will run continuously until 9:00 am BST on 15th April, 2011, entirely online, in platforms including Adobe Connect Pro 8, Second Life, and Moodle.

We’d like to introduce you to the six keynote speakers:

1. Sugata Mitra Professor of Educational Technology, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, Newcastle University, UK One of the world’s most invited keynote speakers on education, Sugata Mitra is best known for his Hole in the Wall experiment, in which a computer was installed in the wall of a public building in Kalkaji, Delhi, and was used by local children to teach themselves a variety of topics and skills to unexpectedly high levels.
2. Charles JenningsFormer Chief Learning Officer for Reuters and Thomas Reuters, currently Managing Director of Duntroon Associates In his role at Reuters, Charles Jennings was responsible for the training and development of over 18,000 employees worldwide, developing managerial effectiveness through innovative online training with measurable benefits to the company’s bottom-line.
3. Terry AndersonProfessor and Canada Research Chair in Distance Education, Athabasca University – “Canada’s Open University” Terry has published widely in the area of distance education and educational technology and is active in provincial, national, and international distance education associations. He is also the director of the Canadian Institute for Distance Education Research, as well as Editor of the International Review of Research on Distance and Open Learning.
4. Gardner Campbell – Director, Academy for Teaching and Learning, and Associate Professor of Literature, Media, and Learning, Honors College, Baylor University, USA As written in the Chronicle of Higher Education ProfHacker blog: “… Baylor’s Gardner Campbell… is so electrically inspiring in conversation that he should be tattooed with a warning label.” With a background in Renaissance literature and film, Gardner Campbell is a leading authority of the use of technology in higher education.
5. Ron Oliver -Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Teaching and Learning) at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia Ron was an early winner of the Australian Award for University Teaching, and is an Australian Learning and Teaching Council Fellow. His particular interests include authentic learning and task-based learning and the sharing and reuse of technology-facilitated learning activities. Among his research outputs are the National Flexible Toolbox Project and the Technology-Supported Learning Database.
6. Gilly SalmonProfessor of Learning Futures and Executive Director of the Australian Digital Futures Institute at the University of Southern Queensland Until the end of 2010, Gilly was Professor of E-learning and Learning Technologies at the University of Leicester and head of the Beyond Distance Research Alliance and the Media Zoos. Gilly’s research interests span strategies for enhancing learning with and through new technologies, the future for learning in Higher Education and innovation through learning design. She is a Senior Fellow and a National Teaching Fellow of the UK Higher Education Academy, Trustee of EDEN, and chair of the UK’s Association of Learning Technologies. 

Registration is open – don’t miss ‘Follow the Sun!’

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist and Assistant Keeper of the Media Zoo

RE: A literature review of the use of Web 2.0 tools in Higher Education

Thanks to multiple-retweeting, I recently discovered the Higher Education Academy (who fund SWIFT)-commissioned “A literature review of the use of Web 2.0 tools in Higher Education” and it has an interesting section on Virtual Worlds (VWs).

Overall, the report [pg. 40, somewhat reworded] sums up the challenge of benefiting from VWs as:

1. Understanding that “traditional” pedagogic approaches are not always the best

The thing is, university teaching could be much more effective if we were to design it from scratch (see Laurillard, 2002). The VW environments have features that the real world does not have and allow more teaching approaches, but given that we are not utilising much of what we already have, it’s not surprising that too many projects have simply taken traditional teaching and replicated it in VWs. So, when people ask “What’s the point of a lecture hall in a VW?”, my reply tends to be “What’s the point of a lecture hall in real life?”.

2. Finding the most effective way to use this new tool

Virtual worlds are a physical environment that can provide a practical learning experience in context. With reference to my last post, the learner can interact with modelled real world spaces (e.g. Genetics Island, 1920’s Berlin), explore social situations (role play) in the context of those spaces (e.g. virtual hospital, language school) and learn directly from experience (e.g. virtual hallucinations).

3. Developing new VWs

Moodle and Blackboard both benefit from having the other as competitor. The VW of Second Life has benefitted from others such as OpenSim, and vice versa. This should, and will, continue. But really, I see a different type of VW emerging. It needs to be more iPad app style.

4. Removing technical and social barriers to VW use

In 1995, I was studying Psychology and the AI tutor announced that “There’s something new in the library that you should go and see. It will be important. It’s called the World Wide Web.” 15 years later, we can all have that in our pockets. The same, I’m sure, will happen for VWs.

5. Adjusting institutional policies to allow teaching with VWs to be as mainstream as VLEs like Blackboard and Moodle

VWs are easily dismissed as “just a game”, because they look like that at first glance, and first glance is all that some people give them. The technology will always be inferior to the real world that we are used to. Yet what we have in VWs is quite capable of doing what we need. It’s like being used to a bus, wanting a car, and being dismissive of the offer of a bike, when the task is visiting the corner shop on a sunny day.

Institutional policies do not usually change easily. In fact, it may take until we change the way Universities teach in real life before it suddenly becomes helpful to teach with VWs. Maybe the painful process of budget cuts will have this change as a silver lining. Or maybe it won’t. But there are better ways of teaching than simply standing on a stage and lecturing. Sooner or later, change will come.

Paul Rudman, BDRA

Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking University Teaching: a conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.

Creating Academic Learning Futures: Alternative approaches

At Beyond Distance Research Alliance, creating academic learning futures is firmly grounded in the CALF project, which is making good progress, Sandra Romenska tells me, since her report on the medical students taking a course about the future of medical education – see Congratulations to the September 2010 Futurists. She’s been running more workshops this week during which people help by generating their own ideas about the future of universities while examining the university’s own Learning and Teaching Strategy.

I’ve just heard about a new search engine called Recorded Future, that claims to predict coming events by monitoring ‘buzz’ on the Internet. It has financial backing from Google and the CIA (!). Recorded Future tracks information published online to establish links between people, companies, places and events and put it on a time-scale. It uses everything from news articles to Twitter updates and employs linguistic analysis for its predictions.

So far the company, based in Boston, USA, has a few corporate clients who pay monthly subscriptions to use the tool. A consumer version may follow. Christopher Ahlberg, Recorded Future’s founder, claims: “We found that our momentum metric that indicates the strength of activity around an event or entity predicts future events that correlate with the volume of market activity”.

I asked Sandra what she thought of Recorded Future, which she hadn’t yet come across, and she replied (what a fascinating reply) as follows:

For Recorded Future’s approach to work, they need to have events for which web chatter already exists, so that they can “trend” it. That is, someone (like CALF) has already come up with the vision for what might be possible and Recorded Future will estimate whether it is also probable. It is definitely useful and very interesting, but it is missing the exciting first step in futures work – to imagine things or events which are not in existence yet.

To illustrate it, I’d paraphrase a favourite quote of mine from Donald Norman at Northwestern University that futurists shouldn’t only predict the automobile but also the traffic jam – without projects like CALF enabling people to imagine the automobile, Recorded Futures cannot predict the likelihood of traffic jams.

CALF’s approach is inclusive, in that academics, university managers and administrators and students work together to imagine a future. I would think that Recorded Future captures a rather narrower range of sources since younger people are probably more active on the web than those in full time jobs or those who don’t use technology that much.

Recorded Future’s approach  (wisdom of the crowd) works because it meets Surowiecki’s rules of a wise crowd: Diversity of opinion (yes), Independence (some opinions may be determined by others, but not everyone follows everyone else), Decentralization (yes) and Aggregation (available).

To sum up, when CALF has finished imagining a range of futures, we would be happy to see what Recorded Future can say about the likelihood of our ideas becoming reality.

What chance that Recorded Future could predict the future of British universities? Personally, I’d rather put my money on Sandra Romenska and CALF – and on Gilly Salmon in her new post, as from January, as Professor of Learning Futures at the University of Southern Queensland!

David Hawkridge

PS: Sandra says that good resources on using social media for future predictions can be found from the Hewlett-Packard research labs here  and explained here.

You say goodbye….

My time at Beyond Distance is coming to an end and I felt this was a good time to look back at some achievements during my work with DUCKLING, OTTER and the entire Beyond Distance team that I value most.

  • DUCKLING in an eggshell.   This poster an attempt to crack out of the typical ‘research project-poster’ style and is one of the deliverables of the DUCKLING project.
  • Being an award winning OTTER. I previously blogged about this but winning the virtual poster competition, but the chance to caricature all the OTTER team stands out for me. One team member even used his picture in his Facebook profile picture!
  • Producing 438 credits worth of OERs (with the OTTER team).  The team went above and beyond the call of duty (i.e funder’s requirements) by producing such an impressive amount of credits.  Take a look through our repository and let us know what you think!
  • A new Media Zoo banner and logo.  The Media Zoo website has moved into Plone (our content management system) and with it comes a new banner and logo.  I’m pleased with my attempt at capturing the feel of the physical zoo with the array animals that ‘live’ there.
  • Learning Futures Festival Online 2010.  To be part of an 8 day 24/7 online conference was a huge achievement during a snowy January that brought the UK to a standstill.  What makes this an even greater achievement is that we released over 75% of the keynotes, workshops and paper presentations as OERs.

And one more thing that I’m proud of is the small amount of photos of me that exist during my time here, to which my colleagues can testify!  As someone who does npot enjoy getting their photo taken this is definitely an achievement.

Finally could I take this opportunity to wish everyone at Beyond Distance and other colleagues at the University of Leicester the very best for the future while I (hopefully) say ‘hello’ to new opportunities.

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

The Travelator Paradox

Educators, have you got a travelator under your belt?

A travelator is an automated moving walkway. If you think you have never seen one, think again – at some point one must have carried you and your luggage from one departure gate to another at an airport or a train station. There is one at the Bank Tube Station in London and at a number of other locations around the world. The fact is, however, that they feature more in old science-fiction visions of the future than in present day reality. H.G. Wells imagined moving walkways in his 1897 novel A Story of the Days To Come, and Fritz Lang put them in his dystopian 1927 film Metropolis. So did Isaac Asimov in The Caves of Steel and Arthur C Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night. Why did the “rolling pavement” from the retro futurist stories never really catch on and remained a feature of a handful of airports and train stations?

Two separate studies, reported last week by the BBC, set out in 2009 to look for an answer. What the researchers at Princeton and Ohio State universities found out was quite interesting. It turns out that travelator passengers tend to slow their pace or stop walking altogether once they step on the machines, defeating the purpose which the travelators are supposed to achieve – to save time.

People standing on a travellator instead of walking

I think of this as the travelator paradox and the story fascinates me. It has prompted me to think of the possibility of similar travelator paradoxes hidden in our arsenal of learning and teaching practices which we expect to carry us into the future of learning and teaching. It seems to me that part of the reason for the “rolling pavement” to fail is that it changes the role of people from travellers-navigators to passengers. Once they get onto the machine, people are guaranteed to reach their destination, even if they remain passive and put no effort. They do not need to interact with the others around them or even notice them. Also, the destination is unexciting, because the route is predetermined, obvious and uniform for everyone on the travelator – there is neither mystery nor adventure so again, there is no reason for people to be alert or take action.

Once I extended the analogy into the domain of education, travelators started emerging. An e-learning course, for example, can turn into a travelator if all it contains is text, posted online in a way in which learners can go through it without having to engage with the material or with each other, with only a single route leading them to the planned learning outcomes. Students, coming in for a lecture, knowing that their lecturer is going to tell them exactly what he or she has been saying to the students in the previous year and the year before, and exactly in the same way, are in for a travelator – they will get to their destination, but the journey will be one of boredom and dullness.


Students in a boring VLE or passengers on the trottoire roulant at the 1900 Paris Expo?

If I were to find myself 20 years in the future from now, I would want to see which of the learning technologies of great promise today will have remained sidelined like travelators, instead of changing the world of learning. Whichever these learning technologies turn out to be, I think their failure will brought by a lack of supporting pedagogies which could have helped learners to create their own learning journey rather than just be there for the ride.

Sandra Romenska

Creating Academic Learning Futures (CALF) Project

BDRA, 7 October 2010

Updating E-moderating

Gilly Salmon’s classic book, E-moderating: the key to teaching and learning online, is being revised for its third edition. As I had the pleasure of contributing to the first edition (2000), I’ve been quite fascinated by advising and working with Gilly on the updating.

What struck me when I re-opened my own copy of the 2000 edition was how immensely valuable the five-stage model has been, but also out-of-date some of the 1990s references looked and how obsolete the conferencing software (FirstClass) had become, to say nothing of the case studies and examples. That edition was reprinted three times. The second edition, which appeared in 2004 with new research and references, was reprinted four times, but today certainly needs updating. The research and practice have moved on again.

It was easy enough for me to compile two lists of the references, before and after 2000, for Gilly to go through. About half needed updating. Chasing updates proved difficult in a few cases, but most authors responded quickly and fully to my enquiries, sending relevant new material for possible inclusion. Inevitably, some authors had retired or moved on to other fields. A few had died.

I compiled another list of all the inserts and quotes, and we worked through those too. Again, about half must be changed, usually because there’s new software now, or the online course has been updated. Some will come from the same sources and institutions as before, others from new ones. Notably, most examples drawn from Gilly’s 1990s experience in training, online, hundreds of e-moderators for the Open University Business School will be replaced by ones from current training programmes elsewhere.

BDRA researchers have already provided several sections or paragraphs about their recent research, and there are more to come. E-moderating online when using asynchronous conferencing remains the focus of the book, but of course new technologies offer new opportunities. There will be more on synchronous conferencing, for example, using Elluminate instead of Lyceum. Second Life did not feature in the first and second editions, but will in the third. And so on.

The second half of the book consists of nearly 80 pages of research-based resources for practitioners, including e-moderators in training. Most of these need little revision, a reflection on how well Gilly chose them. A few could do with updating.

Needless to say, I am not re-writing the book, merely advising on its revision. Gilly is doing the re-writing, particularly for Chapter 6, which offers four scenarios of the future. She will be drawing on BDRA’s research on learning futures and probably incorporating her hindsight, insight and foresight model. Exciting stuff!

David Hawkridge

Academia and the civil service: e-learning knowledge exchange

The Media Zoo has recently finished hosting a series of four awareness-raising workshops for training designers and providers in the civil service.

Several months ago, we were approached by the head of learning technology at the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) to offer guidance for her staff both on the future of learning and the array of current learning technologies as exemplified in our projects. This followed Gilly’s call to the corporate world to improve the quality of training for its workforce.

These workshops proved to be highly popular in the DWP and the civil service generally. They were conducted over two days. (I’ve posted a sample outline at the bottom of this blog entry.)

On Day 1, Ale and I concentrated on presenting the research output of our projects, before giving the participants the opportunity to engage with the technology – Second Life, podcasting, screen capture – in a mini CARPE DIEM.

On Day 2, Sandra and Gilly guided the participants in imagining the future of learning, culminating in the highly popular Google-opoly activity, an output of the CALF project.

We changed the balance of the days’ outlines  depending on the roles of the participants: learning technologists, learning designers or strategic managers.

Such was the success and appeal of the workshops, they had by the final one included representatives not only from the DWP, but also from the Highways Agency, Ministry of Justice, Crown Prosecution Service, Identity and Passport Office, Home Office, UK Borders, HMRC, and The Scottish Government.

For me, the real success lay in the knowledge exchange between our two groups. Here in academia, we have the privilege of researching things that interest us, and applying the results directly to the learner. As a trainer in the civil service, the learning criteria are significantly different, as much teaching/training is based on compliance: a learner must show they’ve undertaken and passed (but not necessarily learned from or even understood) a training module.

I learned a number of things as a result of the workshops:

  • There is huge variety between departments in the quality of training offered.
  • Reinventing the wheel is common, with many departments producing similar courses on identical subjects rather than pooling resources (one reason why OTTER and open educational resources proved so interesting to participants).
  • L&D 2012. This is the plan to consolidate and harmonise training across government.
  • Much training takes place in face-to-face situations. The deliverers of this training are reluctant to change or adapt to online teaching.  
  • The numbers are huge! For example, the DWP trainers are responsible for over 110,000 civil servants.

In the light of the dramatic budget cuts expected in the 22 June budget, I’m certain the workshops were able to offer our civil service counterparts ways and means for dramatically reducing costs and increasing the effectiveness of training.

Schedule_for_workshops (pdf)

Simon Kear
Keeper of the Media Zoo
13 June 2010

Announcing the Beyond Distance MSc in Innovative Education and Training

Beyond Distance Research Alliance is very pleased and excited to announce its first degree programme: MSc in Innovative Education and Training. This exciting new course will be conducted by collaborative distance learning. Students will benefit from the tutorial support of our own Professor Gilly Salmon, Dr Alejandro Armellini, and Dr Palitha Edirisingha. The programme will begin October 2010, and can be completed in only 22 months. Study will pursue the themes of learning design, technology, innovation, change, research, and futures. Planned modules include

  1. Learning Innovation
  2. Research to Practice
  3. Looking Back for Moving Forward: Hindsight and Insight
  4. Creating the Future for Learning: Foresight and Oversight
  5. Proposal Preparation and Pilot
  6. Learning Futures Project

Above image is a collage created as an online e-tivity by the international delegates to the Beyond Distance Learning Futures Festival Online 2010

Our goal in this course is to enhance practice and professional development in technology-rich educational environments, giving students the opportunity to consider and critique the developments, likely trajectory and implications of digital technologies for learning. Participants will be encouraged to identify, formulate and debate theoretical and practical insights into education and training at any level and in any country and sector.

If you have been looking for a masters programme that will not only prepare you for the future of learning and training but also to be a leader in this field, this is the course for you!

For more information and to inquire further, visit

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist

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