It’s just not evenly distributed

The observation attributed to William Gibson that “the future has already arrived – it’s just not evenly distributed” rang particularly true over the last week or so.

I spent a couple of days at what may turn out to be the last conference organised by the government-funded Office of Learning and Teaching. This is the office that has funded and organised national Teaching Awards and Grants for the last few years, and Macquarie has had some solid engagement with both the Awards and the Grants. But this quick post isn’t about the politics of funding support for University Learning and Teaching but about the conference just past. It’s theme was Learning and Teaching 2030. Which is both absurd (it’s so far away) and eminently sensible (it’s not that far away). In a range of presentations to a large number of delegates, the topics covered the usual challenges. Massification, technology, different student expectations.

The other event I attended was the Brian Johns Lecture run by Macquarie’s Centre for Media History.  Professor Julianne Schulz presented engagingly on the future of culture industries in the age of FANG (Facebook, Apple/Amazon, Netflix and Google) and the topic focussed on how to preserve Australia’s Cultural identity in the face of twenty first century challenges – summarised in this piece in the Herald.

At both events, there was a certain anxiousness about the future, and more than a little worry about how to preserve the ways of the past. But both events were also overwhelming attended by a particular demographic – and mindset. Let’s just say that (with a couple of notable exceptions) I didn’t see too many folk who represented my teenage kids or their peers. The way they engage with information – whether as education, or what we nostalgically still call the culture industries – has almost nothing to do with the habits of most of the audience members at those two events. For example, my kids see no appeal in  television; for a generation that has grown up being able to access any video content anywhere, anytime, the constraints of terrestrial broadcasting seem particularly quaint. Similarly, for schoolwork, they are just as adept (perhaps more?) at creating a video, blogging, building a 3-D printed prototype or presenting multimedia to their class as they are a writing an essay.

So it’s not a matter of dealing with what might happen. For many, it already has. For the rest of us still wringing our hands, it’s  too late. The future has already arrived….

2 thoughts on “It’s just not evenly distributed”

  1. Nice reflection on the conference, Sherman. Apart from the somewhat depressing serial eulogies for the OLT from almost every speaker, I found that a lot of the “future talk” was long on jargon and dire warnings about “our world will be (is) different”, but rather shorter on immediate implications and what we need to do today and tomorrow to make the future what we want it to be – or at least influence it and prepare our students to influence it.

    In discussion yesterday with a learning technologies benchmarking group, the issue of teaching students to communicate in a multimedia (FANG) world came up. We were in general agreement that if the students we expect to enrol over the next few years are indeed more comfortable with multimedia presentations, video and web tools than essay and other written forms of communication, then we should be ensuring that all of our students build these technological capabilities during their time with us. Media production needs to be embedded in every program – but we don’t yet have the knowledge, capacity or resources to do this. We need to get serious about teaching these skills to our students – and (as a necessary but not sufficient condition for success) to our staff. It’s not just about pointing your smart phone at something interesting, it’s about learning to tell a story effectively in a visual medium; it’s not just about building a basic webpage, it’s about designing it to be fit for purpose (and examining fitness of that purpose too!)

    Currently I would put money on a greater proportion of students than staff being skilled in these areas – maybe this is a good opportunity to put the “students as co-creators and partners” element of the L&T strategy into practice? Would staff be willing to learn from their students? Now THERE’S a question…!!!

  2. Too true Sherman. I also have a house full of teenagers busily blogging, FB’ing and Instagramming from their respective rooms. However, where we can make a difference, and for our students also, is in the skills area – spoken and written communication, problem solving and networking. These are more difficult to teach online!

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