LILAC Hindsight 2020

‘The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo’. Picture of art in my home. No rights reserved by me.

In 2009 I delivered a keynote at LILAC  conference.

I was the new Head of Learning Technologies Group at the University of Oxford.

The talk  was titled ‘Managing Your Flamingo‘, an analogy from Alice in Wonderland, where Alice is trying to play croquet and every time she goes to play either the flamingo’s head pops up or the hedgehog uncurls and walks away. The challenges of getting our back end and front end systems  working together are not much changed.

Wonderland analogies are timeless and rife at Oxford and I own a print from the original Tenniel woodblocks.

This year I am hosting a panel at LILAC which brings together  Josie Fraser, Jane Secker and Allison Littlejohn. Each of our panel have more than 10 years as change agents in information and digital literacy and have led high profile initiatives to shift thinking and disrupt traditional ideas in (in)different institutions and sectors. Together they will bring unique perspectives on the topic of ‘2020 hindsight’. Come along to find out if their radical inclinations have been tempered by their time in institutions.

The conference is delayed by a year and as Josie has pointed out, you get one year’s extra reflection for free.

Hindsight bias can be dangerous if it leads us to think we ‘knew it all along’ . We all suffer sometimes from memory distortion (“I said it would happen”), inevitability (“It had to happen”), and foreseeability (“I knew it would happen”). Our panel will join you in reflecting on, considering and explaining what has happened and how things that didn’t happen, could have happened. How would things be different if we knew then what we know now?

Is there such a thing as lilac-tinted spectacles?

Back then, I spoke about different types of literacy, (digital, media and information) and questioned whether they were all comparable concepts or subsets of each other, and how far IL should integrate itself into these other literacies. I encouraged librarians to contribute to a digital literacy framework (i=skills) and encouraged everyone to edit and contribute to the digital literacy page on Wikipedia.  And media literacy is a hot topic because of the Internet Safety Bill.

The wikpedia page about digital literacy has been much improved this year, but mostly by north Americans. I continue to encourage librarians to edit Wikipedia. And I continue to invest in Wikimedians in Residence and wikipedia in the curriculum.

In 2009 I predicted that all graduates, not just computing graduates, needed algorithmic modelling literacy and back then, Oxford was  working on a Modelling4all project.  Check out their website, The Epidemic Game Maker provides a way to quickly and easily make models of epidemics and turn the models into games.

In 2009 I predicted that Youtube U (an educational YouTube) was just around the corner, in much the same way as the University of Oxford had just launched on iTunes U in October 2008. ItunesU and podcasting were a huge success for Oxford, we even featured in the ipod advert on the telly. Who’d have thought that podcasts would be having such a renaissance a dozen years later?

Our partnership with Apple on Itunes brought massive scale and reach, millions of downloads for openly licensed recorded lectures. When Coursera and Edx came in 2012 I thought the reaction would be similar but I struggled to get Oxford interested in MOOCs. They never did, and have suffered no ill-effects as a result.  I moved institution and Edinburgh now boasts a boat-load of online open courses. Sometimes it’s you, sometimes it’s them.

I was also wrong about YouTube U. But I have spent some years building something similar in-house. The widespread use of lecture recording has added a whole new type of ‘learning resources’ which are part of the way students learn, study and revise.  Huge, born-digital collections.

No-one can really predict how the future will be. We learned that last year. But we can pay attention to signals and think about readiness. I know that the work we did at Edinburgh around business continuity for snow and strikes served us well for Covid.

It is perhaps challenging for online learning leaders and learning technology aficionados to come to terms with the fact that we did not deliver this change through careful support, inspirational argument or the power of convincing evidence. We had to do it  in ways we never anticipated. We have been forced to do things we hoped we would never have to do. We have put in place systems and support for rushed replication of on-campus delivery online.  We have become middleware.  We are at the same time  essential and largely irrelevant. And we are caught in a crazy world in which students and staff who would previously have mounted barricades to resist the use of technology in their teaching are balloting their unions and lobbying management to insist on it.

How will this play out? If students do well in their exams this year will we hail the lift and shift as a success? Perhaps all our previous insistence on planned, careful design was unwarranted. Are exam results the measure of good teaching and learning? If so, it’s a good thing each institution has autonomy in assessment and everything is open to interpretation. In whose interest is it for the shift to online story to be told as a huge success or a massive failure?

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *