Speculative Futures Essay

Education is not neutral but it perpetuates the illusion of neutrality. It is this illusory capacity of education that has allowed various interests to manipulate its discourse to their ends. The danger lies in the power of the illusion, because not only does it transcend time, it manifests society’s needs and consequences. These systems produce inequities by their very existence, inequities manifest by omission, by overt and subliminal oppression, inequities that have existed for as long as education has existed. These consequences have far-reaching impacts that remain entrenched, sustaining old narratives of oppression in spite of concerted efforts. Education has been gifted a veil of ignorance in that it exists under an assumption that it is good for all.

By 2030, the equity policies of the early 2020s became entrenched in educational policy but they were not the idealized versions of those who had envisioned them. As a catalyst, COVID-19 proved change was possible as it positioned technology as the tool to make equitable educational change. COVID-19 allowed for educational think tanks, academics, and stakeholders to reenvision a better, more inclusive future, one propelled by Black Lives Matter and Idle No More movements of the late 2010s. But in 2030, these grand ideas were never seen through to fruition. Once the next triggering event, or crisis, took place, assumptions that education would be easier to manage were proven false, as divisive politics compounded into post-democratic ideologies fostered by corporate views of education and for-profiteering. Proving once again, that colonial systems such as education would never learn from the past. The policies that unfolded were veiled with appropriate catchphrases that appeased the masses, but much like progressive pushes for change before it, a look back at the decade following 2020 revealed nothing more than the interplay of the ideation of change. 

Over these ten years of education, two critical causalities were at play in constant juxtaposition: technology as equalizer or potential liberator versus technology as for-profit and fundamentally reductionist. In a systematic review of educational technology research patterns, Bozkurt (2020) notes that every innovation triggers socio-economic change (Bozkurt, 2020). As a result, education became innovative and was reframed for an ever-evolving economic framework. In 2015, Bates argued the necessity of soft skills such as critical thinking, digital fluency, and active learning; skills developed over time through intentional teaching and programming that would differentiate the humans from automation that could replace us (Bates, 2015). These skills would equip students with marketable attributes but they would simultaneously be systematically repeating historical colonial understandings of the educational system. And while we engaged in this conversation, what would the data reveal? Some theorists argued that the tech we were using as a tool to prepare students for the future, was also inequitably measuring their ability (Prescott, 2021).

What if this socioeconomic view of education was the barrier to its own progress? At Lakeside, Selwyn et al. (2020), speculate a future of educational technology through the mundane, day-to-day happenstance of school life. In this future, Selwyn et al. employ an implicit belief in progress. While optimistic futures are propelled to progress by crises (Sewlyn, 2021), this progress requires an underpinning of substantial urgency that has historically been reserved for labour movements (Motta, 2013). In 2030, these forms of resistance had branched out from grassroots and policy initiatives to fundamental retheorizing of educational systems and structures. Lakeside would be a warning of the dangers of dataveillance and commercialized education (Sewlyn et al., 2020), but would require further consideration for inclusionary change. Macglichrist (2019), on the other hand, subverts these narratives for their cruel optimism implicit in all of these futures, naming these futures as dependent on a deficit mindset or deficit discourse (Macglichrist, 2019). 

The tangible and measurable changes that have taken place to combat systemic oppressions such as updating curriculum and pedagogy, and providing access to technologies to narrow the digital divide, were but bandaid solutions. This is where explicitly transformative activist agendas (Stetsenko, 2020) enter the narrative. Macglichrist argues for the centring of historically excluded voices and the urgency for change to include representation and inclusion in educational technology innovations (Monarch Education, 2020). The transformative work is in constant dialogue with social movements (Motta, 2013) such as Idle No More and Black Lives Matter, as resisting colonial conceptualizations of educational discourse. Framing design through an anti-colonial transformative activist lens affords educational innovations to be implemented at a faster pace: they are trustworthy, they are holistic, they centre the student and the well-being of members of education systems. This epistemological shift propels design frameworks that empower students and teachers in a bottom-up effect counter to traditional trickle-down thinking. For education, the consequences include a revealing of systemic failings that made for, gave, created, manifested proactive policy which would guide curriculum, pedagogy, and design.

In 2030, digital learning environments have evolved to include design justice, where technological innovations are designed to holistically acknowledge the intersectional factors students face (Costanza-Chock, 2020). This shift to intentional holistic design afforded authentic transformative learning experiences to take place (Veletsianos, 2016), and student well-being thrived. We would go on to see transformational learning in all educational paradigms from K-12 and higher education, public and private, and its permanence is a testament to the insurmountable desire for student success, mental health, and well-being. COVID-19 demonstrated the speed at which change was possible while highlighting those who would benefit from this change, their anticipatory behaviours (Selwyn, 2021), and the consequential impacts.

Education systems are a microcosm of the sociological state of communities, a consistent reflection or co-construction of societal norms and values (Macglichrist et al., 2020). In 2020, Ben Williamson warns of the outsourcing of education by corporations and notes the pushback from resistance groups (Monarch Education, 2020). Push back by resistance movements represent a major failing of these systems. The actors leading this progressive educational movement sought a future of education informed by scholar-academics rather than for-profit organizations because they could see within these systems the harm being caused. The conceptualization of a pushback would depend, with urgency, on those who would labour equity policy into existence. A centring of the perspectives of marginalized, underserved, and underrepresented groups (Selwyn, 2021), would be necessary to resist the dangerous consequences of corporate views of education.

Another lesson from 2020 was the danger of theorizing without meaningful action, ultimately perpetuating a cycle of cruel optimism (Macgilchrist, 2019). Concepts such as Critical Race Theory continued to be reenvisioned or manipulated for various narratives (Lantz, 2021), often without substantial action. This tokenism is problematic not only to the grassroots movements working to rewrite oppressive narratives, but it also causes harm to students, educators, and communities, who must navigate these narratives. It is harmful when it limits student engagement, creates unsafe learning environments, centres educator biases and ineptitude, based on the illusion of change.

The reframing of education in the 2020s wasn’t large enough and it would take years for the illusion of equity to be revealed, dismantled, and reconciled. Evidenced by systemic oppressions from curriculum to teacher biases, social movements resisted and won. The issues, like microaggressions, existed in plain sight, hidden in the mundane, working to subvert progress. It would take transformative agendas to unpack the details that when combined reveal systemic injustices, injustices that work reciprocally in a society that maintains the structures that sustain these oppressions, structures such as systems of education. 


References

Bates, A. W. (2021). Do we need a theory for blended learning? Vancouver, BC: Tony Bates Associates Ltd. Retrieved from https://www.tonybates.ca/2021/10/19/do-we-need-a-theory-for-blended-learning/

Bates, A. W. (2018). 2018 review: 21st century knowledge and skills. Vancouver, BC: Tony Bates Associates Ltd. Retrieved from https://www.tonybates.ca/2018/12/27/2018-review-21st-century-knowledge-and-skills

Bozkurt, A. (2020). Educational technology research patterns in the realm of the digital knowledge age. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2020(1), 1-18. DOI:
http://doi.org/10.5334/jime.570

Costanza-Chock, S. (2020). Design justice: community-led practices to build the worlds we need (Ser. Information policy series). MIT Press. Retrieved October 28, 2021, from https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/43542

Lantz, P.M. (2021). The tenets of critical race theory have a long-standing and important role in population health science. Milbank Quarterly Opinion. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1599/mqop.2021.0714

Macgilchrist, F. (2019). Cruel optimism in edtech: When the digital data practices of educational
technology providers inadvertently hinder educational equity. Learning, Media and Technology, 44(1), 77–86. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2018.1556217  

Macgilchrist, F., Allert, H., & Bruch, A. (2020). Students and society in the 2020s. Three future ‘histories’ of education and technology, Learning, Media and Technology, 45(1), 76-89.  DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2019.1656235

Monash Education. (2020, June 24). Digital Education after COVID-19 Symposium [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmvN7V9dqCg

Motta, S. C. (2013). Reinventing the lefts in Latin America: Critical perspectives from below. Latin American Perspectives, 40(4), 5–18. DOI:
https://doi.org/10.1177/0094582X13489665

Selwyn, N. (2021). Ed-Tech Within Limits: Anticipating educational technology in times of environmental crisis. E-Learning and Digital Media, 18(5), 496–510. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/20427530211022951

Selwyn, N., Pangrazio, L., Nemorin, S., & Perrotta, C. (2020). What might the school of 2030 be
like? An exercise in social science fiction. Learning, Media and Technology, 45(1), 90-106. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2020.1694944

Stetsenko, A. (2020). Hope, political imagination, and agency in marxism and beyond:
Explicating the transformative worldview and ethico-ontoepistemology. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 52(7), 726–737. DOI:
https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2019.1654373

Veletsianos, G. (2016). Digital learning environments. In N. Rushby & D. Surry (Eds),
Handbook of Learning Technologies (pp. 242-260). UK: John Wiley & Sons. 

 

What If? Exploring Possible Futures

By 2030, the equity policies of the early 2020s became entrenched in educational policy. COVID was the catalyst that proved change was possible and it positioned technology as the tool to make this change happen. COVID allowed for educational think tanks, academics, and stakeholders to dream of a better, more inclusive future, propelled by the Black Lives Matter and Idle No More movements. The next triggering event, or crisis, would be much easier to manage because systems of education would have learned from the past. In this future, learning would be boundaryless because it crossed geopolitical borders as satellites gave school systems unfettered access to the internet for any place any time learning, while policy regulated dangers such as data-driven learning analytics that infringed on human rights and student-well being. Education would become a cyclical process of give-and-take, a balancing of student-centred customizable learning filtered through international standards of holistic equity policy governed by non-partisan councils. Learning would benefit the student, no matter their socioeconomic background or geographical location. Land-based learning in one remote blended learning environment was live-streamed to a densely populated smart school in a country on the other side of the planet to bring students closer together, toward empathy, one of the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

EQUITY?

Bozkurt (2020), through a systematic review of educational technology research patterns, notes that every innovation triggers socio-economic change (Bozkurt, 2020). These findings reveal critical research of concerns such as: datafication, justice and equality (Macgilchrist, 2019), ethics and privacy (Ifenthaler & Tracey, 2016; Regan, & Jesse, 2018) ongoing optimistic predictions and hypes (Cuban, & Jandrić, 2015). Bozkurt contends a shift is taking place from technological determinism to centre issues of ethics and equity (Bozkurt, 2020).

SO WHAT?

Davidson (2021) relies on W.E.B. Du Bois’s ugly progress to highlight the twisted journey that discourses travel throughout history, or “a looping conception of time that involves shuffling between the disappointments of the past and utopian hopes for the future” (Davidson, 2021). We can examine our recent history and reactionary policy as examples of the narrative failing the discourse of equity. It’s time to envision a predictive education system rather than a reactionary one.

HOW? (a few ideas)

  • A critical look at the expansionist mindset (Selwyn et al., 2020) where we can theorize a subversion of the ‘any place, any time’ assumptions of virtual education to consider digital tech allowing ‘space’ to infinitely expand to the sharing of learning and experiences on a global scale.
  • Naming the tensions that exist, highlighting broader issues in contemporary society, and questioning data practices and datafication. (Macgilchrist, 2019)
  • Consider Alternative Pathways to Education (2020 Horizon report, p.11) and Flexible Entry Points through Blended/Hybrid Modes of Education (2021 Horizon Report, p.42)
  • Use of technology from a holistic perspective to develop student competencies: Becoming a Smart School: A Holistic View of Technology Integration
  • In Digital Education after COVID Symposium, Selwyn notes a few predictions of the aftermath of COVID, while in the midst of it; while Macgilchrist describes a design justice agenda: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmvN7V9dqCg

 

References:
Bozkurt, A., 2020. Educational Technology Research Patterns in the Realm of the Digital Knowledge Age. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2020(1), p.18. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/jime.570

Davidson, J. P. L. (2021). Ugly progress: W. E. B. Du Bois’s sociology of the future. The Sociological Review, 69(2), 382–395. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038026120954330

Selwyn, N. (2021). Ed-Tech Within Limits: Anticipating educational technology in times of environmental crisis. E-Learning and Digital Media, 18(5), 496–510. https://doi.org/10.1177/20427530211022951

Selwyn, N., Pangrazio, L., Nemorin, S., & Perrotta, C. (2020). What might the school of 2030 be like? An exercise in social science fiction. Learning, Media and Technology, 45(1), 90-106.

Macgilchrist, F. 2019. Cruel optimism in edtech: When the digital data practices of educational technology providers inadvertently hinder educational equity. Learning, Media and Technology, 44(1): 77–86.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2018.1556217