Education horizons event

By Roger Gardner

This was a thoroughly enjoyable event organised by the University of Bristol Graduate School of Education. Coinciding with the School’s centenary celebrations it aimed to look ahead to potential developments and changes in education over the next 100 years. All of the speakers were excellent and thought-provoking, but here are a few personal highlights.

Dr Richard Harris kicked off by suggesting that the current face-to-face University experience will become the exception rather than the norm in future with the majority of learning in HE being “pay as you go” from large online universities, backed by a mixture of philanthropy and commercial interest.

Professor Sri Subramanian outlined some of his work on brain computer interfaces and gestural interfaces, as well as morphees, (“self-actuated flexible mobile devices adapting their shapes on their own to the context of use in order to offer better affordances”).

Professor Mike Fraser reassured all those teachers present that the “Robot teacher” was not coming any time soon, stressing the importance of physicality and co-presence in learning environments and highlighting the gap and the nuances separating best and mechanical practice.

After a delicious lunch (as promised!) we re-convened to vote on some of the predictions, discussing whether they were likely to happen in 10, 20, 50, 100 years or never. Opinions were quite varied on many of the statements we considered (most are available on Google Moderator.)  There was quite a bit of discussion on the subject of so-called “smart drugs”, whether use will increase and and to what extent consumption of these can be considered “cheating” when other stimulating drugs such as caffeine are commonplace.

One emerging theme of interest seemed to be the area of genetics and education, for example speculation and concerns around genetic enhancement of learning ability. Another was wearable devices (highlighted in the Horizon Report 2013 shortlist), including the possibility of student learning being monitored through use of implants or wearable devices.

So plenty of food for thought, and a stimulating range of perspectives from the invited speakers.  I particularly liked the conversational approach of the event, in which Paul Howard Jones chatted with each panel member for ten minutes before inviting questions from the audience.