Wednesday, 6 February 2013

TELMap Feb 2013

It was great to meet with the TELMap group again, we had an expand-focus-expand-focus sort of day.
Figure 1. Working Method.

Plenty of fun with stickies, although we were trying to conceptualise how learning technologies and learning might evolve over the coming two decades we spent the majority of the day working in analogue mode. When we did move to Cmap to digitise our ideas it stubbornly refused to let us.collaborate. 

Richard provided an overview of what had been done previously as we had some new members. Below is the map that was developed in September 2012 it will open full size when double clicked. 

Figure 2. Shared vision Cmap.

Bill Oliver took us through some future aims and then set us off with 10 minutes of quiet contemplation, empty the mind and look to the future then as we approached the close of the ten mins we came back nearer the present and thought about how our ideas relate to the current state of play. 

So what did I see?

I started in what to many might be a dystopia although to me it would be a utopian future. Cities turned to dust and people moved to small scattered village locations, each family with sufficient land to cultivate a significant proportion of their own food - veg, fruit, poultry, a pig etc. supplemented by Red Dwarf style food making machines. Villages shared locally generated water, wind or earth power. That did not relate too closely to the aim but was probably a reaction to being in London - I find being in cities fairly difficult experience. 
So feeling comfortable new well outside of city life I looked at technology and its underlying function of enabling communication, these people were able to communicate with telepathic ease while wandering around their fields, I find I think best when involved in activities I love - my places to learn are; in a kayak, climbing a mountain, scrambling through a river gorge, pottering in a garden and many other non-enclosed environments. Hardware was not visible in this world and that later became a key theme in my vision of the future - liberation from hardware A word popped into mind 'Telepnology' not a very good word but one that was trying to fuse telepathy and technology. I kept wandering into thoughts about Vasiliev's Non-Aristotelian logic, Korzybski's three or more approach to logic and Zadeh's fuzzy logic, in particular how they might relate to quantum computing and the development of AI with autonomous heuristic problem solving capacity, multiple truths etc. 10 minutes is not long to look far and wide so I focused back on more practical realities but it was difficult to see in words that would be easy to express and I have ended up with an unsatisfactory diagram of what I saw. A universal pool of all knowledge that could be known, a learner moving towards graduation, a university providing access to learning and technology to link to the pool of knowledge, a university providing an assessment framework and technology to enable the assessment; a student who became a graduate. 
Figure 3. Technology supports the student with access to knowledge and learning and is integral to the assessment process.

Technology and learning - The university liberates rather than constrains, it offers open choices, the chance to change direction, it provides frameworks and pathways yet also enables the learners (student and tutor) to build their own. The pool is a pool of vast variance with infinite truths that might be 'the truth' to any individual although I do not like the notion of 'one truth' or of fixed truths. A reflection on what truth is was way outside the potential offered by the 10 mins we had; I had to mentally note some words (altruism, communal knowledge pool, variance, expertise, professional, two way interaction} and then move on. I couldn't see past a need for endorsement of learning and had to include assessment in my vision, I couldn't stay there long as I was drawn back to the nature of truth - so what do we measure - assessment of ability to construct personal knowledge, to contribute to communal knowledge, develop cogent arguments towards their truth? 

A simple traditional model is that learners get on some kind of vehicle that represents the university and they progress from A to B at which point they are endorsed as being knowledgeable. Some learners jump off and go do something else, some jump off and go join a different course. 

Figure 4. A-B journey

An alternative would be to offer diversity where there is a lot of choice and many routes to one common goal or sometimes, as below, any one of many destinations all of which are places where the learner shows their competence is commensurate with graduateness. Rather than jumping on the same train each learner is in control of their own vehicle  although tutors may offer guidance as to which choices are feasible. Modularisation limits the time at which change can be made and the number of choices that are available. That is a complex offering with many diverse modules to deliver.

Figure 5. Potential complexity of flexible modularised approach.

Ultraversity solved the complexity problem by creating a fixed set of modules but with a focus on process driven learning rather than subject or content driven learning. The complexity of delivery is attenuated by providing choice within modules rather than between modules. That was where my thoughts started from - the possibilities I 'know' can work. There were only minutes left and I was faced with feeling a shape of open learning but not having time to explore it in satisfactory manner. All i had time to see was an open topped all terrain car and a wide set of potential learning journeys with no modularisation to limit choice of route to the finishing tape although I was seeing a journey within boundaries that might be the boundary of discipline or of professional practice or whatever was the learner's intended study context. 

Figure 6. A more open and student directed journey with negotiated metrics and intended outcomes

As we started to come back to reality I had a further glimpse and of a vehicle at the centre of a field of learning, no modularisation, no boundaries to limit learning vectors just a 360 degree field and an event horizon that represents the state where institutional endorsement is attained. 

Figure 7. The open field I saw as we ran out of time. 

Somewhere in amongst that I must have had the evolution of technology in mind.
Moving from counting machines computers started to be data processing machines than to handle wider forms of information and solve more complex problems, networks developed communication capacity and that ability to handle and communicate has expanded to today's wired and wireless wi-fi, 3 and 4G that is just part of every day life. We are still linked to physical machines using mouse, trackpad or touch screen and now gesture and sound to control devices although there are animals and humans starting to control external devices with direct links to brain. There are fMRI scanners looking at active brainwaves perhaps we are going to head to a future where no gesture is needed where brain activity can be scanned at no risk and we will head towards mind and machine reaching perfect harmony.  

This convergent gravity sink image keeps finding its way into our conversations.
Figure 8. Gravity sink

 I have not been comfortable with it, although it has a lot of resonance and the concept of everything getting closer together is interesting I think learning is often a case of developing greater expertise in specific areas of understanding rather than developing convergence towards universal expertise. A quote from an academic that I read as a child in something like the Reader's Digest suggested he felt that as he had moved towards PhD then professor he was moving from knowing a little about everything towards knowing everything about a little. I feel that we are moving well way from that concept of what it means to be an expert academic, cultural and technological changes require experts to have wider knowledge. The growing acceptance that creative and artistic thinking can very valuable in developing ideas in scientific fields is one example of that.

In the version below time is not gravitating towards the bottom, quite the reverse, as time passes the field of knowledge expands upwards and outwards.  Knowledge is never perfect, there are always patches and threads of unknowing or uncertainty. Individual expertise is focused in specific areas although understanding spreads across a wide range of areas. As time passes, some aspects or what was thought to be known are shown to be incorrect or are developed further. 
Figure 9. Unsatisfactory mapping of knowledge expansion onto gravity diagram.

After a visualising session we had a few minutes to make notes and Bill asked for us to write up a record of our experience - hence the account above. 

The next session split the whole group into 2 to make discussion manageable and perhaps find stimulation through divergence then convergence. A long but stimulating and lively discussion process lead to us narrowing down on concepts and starting to look for patterns and relationships. below Li and Richard are getting very hands on with the initial sticky mapping. 

Figure 10. Li and Richard mapping sticky notes

This was the sticky assembly our group came up with. We were sort of satisfied with it, the task of fitting a complex and potentially multidimensional future onto a 2 dimensional page was bound to have limitations but the dialogue we had during the process generated meaningful inner images for me and I think for others as well. 

Figure 11. Sticky notes assembled with time (near - medium - far) across the bottom and categories up the side. 

One of the key aspects our group discussed was the evolution towards openness and choice - a learning journey that is directed by the learner with the university providing a wide scope of opportunity and endorsement of achievement. This links to the idea of Heutagogy by Stewart Hase and Chris Kenyon (2001) and recently covered by Lisa Marie Blaschke 2012

Amongst our key concepts were: Personalised, flexible, open, choice, self direction, tutor as guide, people and AI machines learning together in professional communities. Collaborative work and assessment of collaborative tasks, technology becoming more capable of diagnostics and less intrusive, technology evolving to be more ambient and life like or like life. 

The current vector of digital technological evolution is one of becoming both more powerful, less intrusive and more life like. Even in the very near future the development of powerful wearable devices that are multimedia capable, internet connected and powered by clothing or other independent sources will provide opportunity for significant changes in the "Who - Why - What - How and When" associated with learning processes in many contexts. 

Our vision converged on an overarching desired evolution towards flexible and affordable learning systems with technology playing an increasingly deep and pervasive role. it was also seen as desirable to maintain the tutor as a guide. This lead to a scenario of student, tutor and intelligent machines learning together in geographically remote, but socially connected, professional communities. 

Having idealised some potential future scenarios we needed to consider the perspective of the happy student we discussed at the previous meeting. By happy student we did not just see happiness in the sense of delight or laughter, although they are components of happiness we also acknowledge the importance of context and that would include some of the fundamental needs such as feeling satisfaction with the learning journey and the level of intellectual stimulation, awareness of developing expertise and developing employability skills - a set of states that would lead to a bright future. 

After lunch Bill took us through some of the findings from the previous meeting and and we discussed the maps that had been finished off by some of the team in the intervening time between then and this meeting. 

Figure 12. Bill summarising high impact drivers.

The next step was to re-examine what we had done via stickies and collaboratively transfer the concepts onto a digital map. Permissions caused some problems so we ended up with one Cmap scribe being assisted variously by members of our group in developing the map. As it stands the map is not yet finished. There is some more divergence potential as we have the ability to make copies of the original and modify the copy to our own personal vision of how the future might look. 

We are in exciting times where the application of technologies is starting to have major impact, fMRI scans allow insight into brain activity in detail that was not possible just a few years ago Mind is being used to control prosthetics and remote devices. Today I read that within two years all new cars will be internet connected The logical projection is that we are evolving towards man and machine in symbiosis or at the least harmony.

What would I like to see in hard/software over the coming year?

A link between my phone and smart glasses so I can see a heads up display while still being able to type, record etc. via the device.

A way of projecting an image from phone / tablet / laptop onto a horizontal or vertical surface (micro data projector) so others can share my view.

Better voice to text. A more robust phone with a great aerial and long battery life; slim is not better.

I started mapping some possible evolution scenarios based on some of the ideas discussed in our group,  we had limited time so were unable to go much further than identifying some key components in a fairly simplistic landscape. 

Figure 13. Themed summary of possible future evolution over the 5, 10, and 15+ year bands.

As far as technology goes we are only gazing from within the limits of what we know of and can dream of, the history of the recent expansion of digital and other technologies is littered with surprises and unexpected leaps. The overall trend towards increasing connectivity via powerful mobile / wearable/ integrated devices and the internet of things may sound unnatural but as our interaction with technologies becomes more sophisticated it is also becoming more nature like and so more natural feeling. There seems to technically be a future potential for a deep machine / man symbiosis - in our discussions we assumed benevolence but acknowledged that we may soon need to address some critical questions in that respect. 

The 'Economics' thread across the bottom of the table aspires towards a future of international equality and altruism, this was an ideal shared by all. Another trend was learning moving away from built space and into professional environments and international online places.

Note March 1st - There we were speculating about smart devices with built in projectors and when they might arrive - a month later and they are starting to emerge.

Jinha Lee is doing wonderful things with 3D Check out also the floating globe - ZeroN project a planet surface on it and float it.