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Digital Learning Futures: Mind the Gap!

Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of Learning Technologies at Plymouth University, outlines what he sees as the key human issues that will impact upon the design of future learning environments.


In the concluding keynote of FOTE14, Steve Wheeler argued that we need to be vigilant when there are gaps: generational gaps, gaps in understanding, expectation gaps, gaps in literacy, and intention gaps. He discussed a number of examples including:

The generational gap, illustrated when his 87 year old father joined Facebook and friended his 22 year old granddaughter. When his father discovered her update ‘WTF! Granddad’s on Facebook!’ she told him that WTF meant ‘Welcome to Facebook’, which he now uses with all his friends. These differentials happen when people of different generations get together in the same space. Steve felt we ought to be concerned about this and vigilant when this kind of thing happens.

The access gap, illustrated by William Gibson’s quote: ‘The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.’ Steve emphasised that when we talk about the future we have to accept that not everyone has access.

The contextual understanding gap, illustrated by the story of a family of hillbillies visiting New York at the turn of the century and encountering elevators in Macy’s department store for the first time. To them, it seemed to be a magical doorway that changed people. Steve drew on Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’, arguing that universities often get get over awed by the magic of a new technology and invest in it without really knowing what to do with it. Instead, we should be looking for problems to solve then looking for technologies that can solve those problems.

The listening gap illustrated by his own experience of careers advice from a teacher who failed to listen and read between the lines, and a series of test questions interpreted creatively by students. Steve argued that we need to listen to our students and be explicit with what we want them to do. Our expectations and our student’s intentions are different. When we are using technology to mediate the conversation between ourselves and our students, we often use the wrong technology and this can amplify the distance between us, rather than reduce it.

Steve challenged us to consider whether we currently give our students the tools to do well, and touched upon the importance of not flipping the classroom, but flipping the roles. He stressed that students can be responsible with technology, but the teacher has to put them in the frame of mind where they become responsible. Students can be creative with technology when given the opportunity.

He concluded by summarising some of the skills that he feels new learners need more of, and where we should be supporting them. These included:

  • Digital wisdom – to select materials and detect misleading information
  • Managing digital reputation
  • New ‘digital’ literacies, including transliteracy

His final point emphasised the importance of ‘Darwikianism‘ – the survival of the fittest content on the web – which he believe will give us all an insight into how knowledge is created, shared and the nature of knowledge itself. That is the future of education.

posted by kpitkin on October 6, 2014

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