On Speculative Design in Education

For the last decade, I’ve been involved in creating new directions for education and for the last 4–5 years, I have been using forms of speculative design (called design fiction, often) to start conversations and inspire direct action in educational change. Speculative design is one phase of creating new directions in education and an important one. Suspending disbelief that new directions in education are possible only happens if we can imagine and enact catalyst projects which may lead to pathways of innovation.

We have a dearth of prototypes to point to as new directions in education. There are some promising school ventures representing significant and now well-highlighted success stories — and sure there is a raft of new technology flooding the market and a buzz of sorts. These motions are not enough and in the case of technology, likely to reinforce 20th-century practices instead of transform. One of the best keynotes on education I have ever seen, captured here with sketchnotes, is John Seely Brown’s 2012 DML talk. JSB posits “technology is the easy part…the hard part is how to invent new institutional forms, social practices and skills….” He then illuminates the elephant in the room for education, “in 5–10 years, if our schools and university’s look the same as they do now….we’ve got problems”. We are now at 5 years in from the talk.

We need to reimagine education. I know you have heard this before, and I also know that many of you are where you are because of the system I am asking to be reimagined — not a small cultural imprint. Yet we should all be thinking about this daily. Global schooling is becoming ever more ubiquitous and our children, again with the exception of improvements to schools are not moving in new directions.

We are living in a world of unprecedented complexity that will only grow more complex. Our children likely can’t wait for their undergraduate years to start experiencing life through learning — it will need to start happening, now. How will they live in today’s world, a world of “Trillons” as Micky McManus coined, trillions of microchips and connections to be made…. and unbounded complexity? Will they have the dispositions to create and connect in this world?

So perhaps a foray into speculative design over your weekend is in order? Take this video that Microsoft’s Future Vision team created as product design fiction. If we applied this diegetic prototype to our thinking and action towards imagining new directions, schools and/or educational ecologies created to cultivate the necessary dispositions for students to actively learn and live in a world of unprecedented complexity. What questions might we ask ourselves, our communities and if in schools our teams? I have listed a few prompts below and I would love to hear your thoughts, questions and about the new directions you are taking.

What pedagogical/structural changes are necessary for students and teachers to find the opening “school scene” normal for their core learning, every day across the school — interdisciplinary learning, prototyping, connected (to the real world) and networked interaction and research….? (start to m.1:08)

What skillsets and mindsets make this young woman (our children in the near future) successful? What kind of work is she doing and how is it blending with her life? 1:08–2:13)

What kinds of projects will companies be engaged in? How are the featured employers finding employees? What are they looking for? (2:13–3:00)

What does balance in life and work look like for this young woman (our children in the near future)? What skills does she possess to deal with balance and ambiguity? 3:00–4:16

Ultimately, how is she successful? How is she connected? How does she find and define success? (4:39–6:28)….

How will our schools need to mutate to cultivate these new dispositions…..?

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