I delivered a keynote at an eTwinning workshop being held in Reykjavík, Iceland this weekend. My slides are below. The context (i.e. what I said as opposed to only what’s in the slides) is that knowledge creation is dependent on our ability to traverse conceptual, virtual and real spaces. information technologies allow us to smooth whatever terrain we find ourselves in to increase our capacity for collaboration, knowledge creation and innovation and emerging technologies have the ability to take us places that we’ve never been before.
The College Development Network in Scotland hosted a “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” on education a couple of weeks ago (see also the festival blog here). As per their website, the goal of the festival was to:
“to re-establish the importance of dangerous ideas as agents of change in education – to shift the axis of what is possible!”
Great idea, great initiative! But, concerning the message being delivered, what are the real “dangerous ideas” in education today? Are the ideas that are intended to produce change the dangerous ones? I would suggest that the truly dangerous ideas are the ones that hold us back – the ones that reinforce the status quo in times of increasingly rapid change. Are we helping ourselves if we promote what we feel is the appropriate way forward as “dangerous”?
I know, I’m being a bit nitpicky but this just got me thinking…
There’s been a lot of interest in the future of education in recent years. We see this in the “schools of the future”, “classrooms of the future”, funding opportunities to develop “Education for Tomorrow” and numerous foresight programs focusing on education and workforce preparation. Futuring is about anticipation; anticipating developments and issues before they become problematic to be able to make them into opportunities for positive change, or if that’s impossible, to prepare contingency plans. However, when we peel back the layers of rhetoric it turns out that few, if any, current initiatives that purport to focus on the “future of education” actually have anything to do with the future. Their focus is primarily on past and current issues; in many cases, issues that we have been dealing with for years. How do you construct an optimal future when your eyes are fixed firmly on the past? Continue reading
The Internet Archive has made available several, if not all, issues of OMNI Magazine which was first published in 1978 and continued with some breaks and, eventually, as an online magazine til 1998. OMNI Magazine published a unique blend of articles on science, technological development, technology forecasts and science fiction stories. I remember the magazine very well, although I was but a tyke more likely to be out terrorizing my town on my banana-seat bicycle than reading heady stuff like OMNI Magazine. I suspect that my father may have had a subscription or he would buy the magazines at the bookstore. However they ended up in our house, they are something that I clearly remember browsing and being fascinated by the pictures and topics in the magazine.
I wouldn’t have been aware of it then, but I realize now what a unique concept it is to include in one publication science and technology past, present and future. What better way to inspire the types of forward-looking thought leaders that our current increasingly dynamic times require. I know of no publication, past or present/electronic or physical, that accomplishes the same thing with the level of depth that OMNI Magazine achieved.
Please, correct me if I’m wrong. I’d love to know…
Iain (M.) Banks, creator of one of the grandest and most provocative contemporary visions of the future, has announced that he has terminal cancer. Banks is a well-known Scottish writer who publishes under both Iain Banks (his own brand of fiction) and Iain M. Banks (his own brand of science fiction). I first came across Banks when I read his first book, The Wasp Factory, while living in Scotland in the mid 1990s. It is a stunningly eerie tale of youth and identity with quite a shocker of an ending and was quite controversial when it was published. It was, however, Banks’ science fiction, in particular his “Culture” series, that ultimately got me hooked. The Culture novels are a series of so-called “hard sci-fi” stories that take place in a distant future where humanoids have relegated the task of their governance to advanced artificial intelligence machines that operate as enormous spaceships that traverse the vast regions of space creating problems, solving problems and seeking out new colonies.
One of the things that I have enjoyed most about Banks’ writing is his ability to construct new ways of referring to things pertaining to the future that one always wanted to be able to say, but didn’t have the right words to do so. My favorite example is Banks’ notion of an “outside context problem” (OCP) that he explores in the Culture novel, Excession. It’s worth quoting Banks at length here because he explains the concept himself better than anyone has:
The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you’d tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbors were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass… when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you’ve just been discovered, you’re all subjects of the Emperor now, he’s keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.
Essentially an OCP is a problem that goes undetected because it is so far beyond the context into which it is introduced. With the increasingly rapid rate of technological development, I see the potential for many OCPs. In fact, in regards to my favorite topic, education, I would suggest that much of the technological development that has taken place over the past two decades has been one big OCP. This is why we are currently dealing with an expanding divide between the technological and social realities that youth encounter in their personal lives and that which they encounter in educational institutions.
The loss of an influential and thought-provoking writer of Banks’ caliber will be greatly felt (weird talking about it in future tense, but strangely fitting as well…). He has, however, left us a legacy to work with in his more than 20 novels plus several short stories. He has promised one more novel that he expects to finish in the time he has left titled, The Quarry. I know nothing about the book other than that Amazon has it for pre-order under Iain Banks, suggesting that it will not be a sci-fi story. But, even knowing nothing about it, I feel confident in recommending it based solely on past experience.
Friends of Iain Banks have set up a website where fans can leave messages at friends.banksophilia.com. Let’s all stop by and say “bye”.
Image is © 2012 Joel Meadows with Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.
I came across a video recently about a program offered at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, MA, a public school where high school students have the option of completing their final year with an independent study program. The participants in the program design their own courses of study, focusing on things that interest them and work collaboratively with their fellow students. One of the things that I find interesting is how seamlessly the students integrate technology into their learning. One notices in the video that technology is always present but never obtrusive or forced into the learning context. We could learn a lot about how to integrate technology into learning from these young people.