Shaping the future

Welcome to the future? Whenever we consider the future, it is always elusive, and always just around the corner. It is never quite here. We live in the present. All the time. All each of us have is our memories of the past, and a future that is imaginary. Until something happens, we really don't know what the future will bring, and anyone who says they know what the future holds is either a liar or deluded. Forget the soothsayers, the horoscope writers, the clairvoyants and the crystal ball gazers. Their prophecies of the future are nothing more than bland, generalised predictions which can be interpreted in many ways. If they get it wrong, it is difficult for anyone to prove anything. We just don't know what will happen next. That's probably a good thing.

William Gibson once famously remarked: 'The future is here - it's just not very evenly distributed.' This is a well used quote, but what did he mean by this? Some would suspect this is a reference to the digital divide, the haves and have nots in our society. For me it is more profound than that. It is that some see a different future to others, and there are many interpretations of exactly what the future holds. Some view it with trepidations, seeing only problems, while others see the future as a never ending set of opportunities to exploit.

How much can we shape our own futures? As a community, how much can we invest into our present to secure a better future for ourselves and our children? The answer is obvious - the more we invest in the present, the more we will reap in the future. But we cannot control everything. There are randomly variable events. George Orwell once said 'He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past'.
 This is why the media - television, newspapers, radio, internet, gaming - have so much influence over public perceptions. For slightly different reasons it is also why teachers can wield such power in the classroom. We know what technologies we can use to create excellent learning opportunities for the students in our care. We also know from research what the pitfalls and caveats are. We know for example, that technology used for technology's sake is usually a mistake. We also know that learners engage better when they have tools to use they feel comfortable with and enjoy using. The balance decision is ours to make. What we don't know much about (but we can guess) is what technologies are just around the corner, waiting to invade the classroom. What we certainly don't know is what effects new technology will have on learning, on our professional practice, on our daily lives. We can watch the trends, but who would have thought for example, that mobile phones, a tool developed for business and leisure, could be applied so effectively in teaching and learning? Conversely, who would have predicted the consternation and controversy mobile phones would cause in many, many school contexts? 

The subject of my closing keynote at this weekend's free to attend Reform Symposium online global conference will be 'The Future of Learning'. Here's the link to the Elluminate Room we will be using. I will draw on over 30 years of my own research and experience in the learning technology field to attempt to unravel this conundrum. I will discuss the trends in technology evolution and trace the social movements that have led us to this point in the history of education. I'm going to examine a number of ideas including personal learning environments, social media, open scholarship, resistance to change, content curation, augmented reality and the semantic web. In doing so, I hope to inspire and also challenge teachers to reflect on their practices, uses of technology, and instill hope for the future. The future is ours to own. 

The last word on this subject goes to President Barack Obama who declared: 'We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it'. 

Image source by 'Back of the Napkin'

Creative Commons Licence
Shaping the future by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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