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Cheating the death of imagination: Teaching the unknowable

The idea of a Technological Singularity has been discussed and debated intensely since the early 1990s. Coined by Vernor Vinge and popularized by Ray Kurzweil, the idea is that as technologies evolve, technologies improve, costs decrease; and, in turn, the process of technological evolution advances and speeds itself up, creating a J-curve of exponential, accelerating change. Eventually, the J-curve hits an inflection point, and change begins to occur at timescales that seem nearly instantaneous. This is the Technological Singularity.

At Education Futures, in our work to help guide governments and organizations, we’ve looked hard at what this means to humans and human systems – in particular with regard to how we will learn and work in the future. In this frame, the Technological Singularity also represents the point at which change occurs so rapidly that the human mind cannot imagine what will happen next. Moreover, technological change facilitates social change (and vice-versa). We need to prepare for rapidly-occurring, intense periods of social, cultural, and economic transformation.

The Technological Singularity represents the limit of human imagination.

It is important to note that the J-curve of accelerating change is graphed independently of scale. There is not a standard measurement of change, and there is no measurement of time. We can look at illustrative examples for correlates, such as the growth of microprocessor computing power under Moore’s Law, but the idea of a Technological Singularity is subjective to the human experience.

Herein lies the rub: We are all very different. We have differing abilities to cope with change, to imagine new futures, to communicate, to solve problems, use resources wisely, and so forth. We cannot expect to experience ‘the’ Technological Singularity together. Rather, we should prepare to experience many individual singularities, as individuals, groups, and as a society. Depending on who we are and the contexts in which we are placed, we will hit the limits of our imagination – our singularities – at different times and under different circumstances. Industries are transforming (and disappearing!) at different rates and at different times, communities are shifting at independent and co-dependent paces, and individuals and families are under increasing pressure to stay relevant.

Humans are not afraid of change, but we fear the unknown. When we hit the limits of our imaginations, we push back toward the knowable, often with very ugly consequences. Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the state-sponsored fake news phenomenon, and the rise of slavery advocate Roy Moore in Alabama – all inconceivable a decade ago – serve as examples that humans are prone to a retreat toward bigotry, ignorance, and hate when confronted with uncertainty. Like the followers of Ned Ludd worked to sabotage the industrial movement in the 19th century, these socially regressive Neo-Luddites subvert technological change to regress society toward an imagined past, no matter how horrible, that presents themselves with a sense of certainty.

A community cannot progress technologically while sabotaging itself socially. While our singularities may be unavoidable, we can at least learn how to cope with them by learning to embrace the unknown. This, at the forefront, requires a tremendous amount of imagination and creativity from all of us.

Our schools, which are designed to prepare youth for static futures, need to be urgently repurposed to prepare all of society for the unknowable. Imagination, creativity, and innovation, together with support for greater agency and self-efficacy must underpin serious efforts to achieve meaningful outcomes for all learners. We must balance core content knowledge with soft skills such as simulational thinking, knowledge production, technology, intercultural communication, critical and multi-paradigmatic thinking, focused imagination, developed intuition, emotional intelligence, and systems design.

Are you ready to take the dive into teaching and learning for the unknowable? Continue on with our series on invisible learning:

 

Three alternatives to temponormative pedagogy

When most people mention the word “pedagogy,” they are likely to think of it within a temponormative framework. It is a framework that embraces linear time and Cartesian thinking. This continues to be the most prevalent framework within Western educational contexts. A linear conceptualization of time ensures that the learning process has a beginning and an end, with predictable (and measurable) waypoints between. The causal linearity of the temponormative frame allows for the developmental procession of teaching and learning that is often best suited for transmitting explicit knowledge to learners.

The temponormative approach has worked well in the industrial era, but afforded the purposive use of technologies, can we break away from this old framework to one that is organic and synergetic, rather than mechanical — one that supports the creation of knowledge workers and innovators over factory automatons? Pekka Ihanainen (at HAAGA-HELIA and Ihanova) and I think we can. To start the discussion, in a paper we submitted for a special issue of time in Studia Paedagogica, we propose three alternatives to break us away from temponormative pedagogies: pointillist, cyclical, and overlapping. The following text is excerpted and adapted from the paper.

Pointillist learning

Elements for pointillist learning are masses of fragments and pieces – i.e., as used within Twitter messaging. They transmit, separately, beginnings for events, middle-points of events and endings of events in an order that may seem perceptibly vague. Among others, they comprise experiences, opinions, perceptions, comments, and “what if” scenarios.

The spontaneous nature of pointillist learning has always been a natural part of everyday human activity. When pointillist learning is examined from a pedagogical point of view, it opens itself as an anti- or a de-pedagogy. The greatest challenge for de-pedagogy is that we must trust that learning actually takes place, and that de-pedagogical learning is both valuable and significant. For pedagogical activity, de-pedagogy means that, as facilitators of learning, we have to give up our role as teachers and to start being and working as co-learners and peers within the pointillist environments we are involved.

Cyclical learning

In online forums, where participation (usually discussion) occurs within threads as a more or less dialogical activity, densification and diffusion of learning intensity are present to experience and take part in. The cyclical activity and learning is connected with an ability to observe intensive periods of online interaction and to join them. New competencies emerge in the perception of pulses from within emerging processes of thoughts, emotions, and understandings (among others). Often times, people wish to continue their explorations and re-understandings of pointillist events and contextualize the knowledge to better suit their own needs and interests. For this reason, we label this phenomena a re-pedagogy.

Overlapping learning

The above three frameworks do not necessarily exist exclusive of each other, but can coexist and overlap within simple or complex relationships. Overlapping may occur as 1) fragments within fragmentary entities; or, 2) waves within pulsating content processes. In regard to the former, for example, it recognizes the ability to move from pointillist activities to cyclical learning and vice versa. In regard to the latter, this includes an ability to construct new insights, conceptualizations, and contextual applications for knowledge given pulsating waves of cyclical, pointillistic and/or temponormative pedagogies. Overlapping pedagogies may be expressed through the overlapping uses of technologies. For example, in online education, microblogging (a pointillist activity) may be layered with intense activity within discussion forums (a cyclical activity).

Overlapping learning is knowledge building of everything/anything, everywhere/anywhere and at all times/anytime. In other words, overlapping learning is boundless in its scope and capabilities. When the learning of everything/anything, everywhere/anywhere and at all times /anytime is examined from pedagogical point of view, it can be seen as pedagogy of encoding. The overlapping education is therefore labeled en-pedagogy.

Temponormative

Pointillist

Cyclical

Overlapping

Pedagogy

Traditional

De-

Re-

En-

System

Cartesian, linear

Moments

Pulsating

Chaordic

Knowledge produced

Explicit

Personal (explicit and tacit)

Personal and social

Personal and social

Learning happens through…

Direction

Serendipity

Evolution of dialog

Convergence of direction, serendipity and evolution

Learning outcomes pre-defined

Yes

No

Sometimes

No

Examples

Lectures, readings

Microblogging, podcast

Online forums

Mashups

Our challenge

The problem is, although we are familiar with many of the technological tools that enable these pedagogies, we still view the process and the experience through the lens of temponormativity. Recognition of this framework with expanded temporal characteristics calls on us to develop new, purposive approaches that embrace and maximize the best of any configuration of de-, re-, and en-pedagogies.

Afforded the post-temponormative capabilities of online environments, how can we best leverage these multidimensional understandings of pedagogical time to facilitate multidimensional learning and meaningful new knowledge production?

We're always busy, but doing nothing

blackberry

Here’s another look at accelerating change. On Friday, the New York Times published an excellent review of Dalton Conley’s book, Elsewhere U.S.A.:

“A new breed of American has arrived on the scene,” Conley, a professor at New York University, declares in “Elsewhere, U.S.A.,” his compact guidebook to our nervous new world. Instead of individuals searching for authenticity, we are “intraviduals” defined by shifting personas and really cool electronics, which help us manage “the myriad data streams, impulses, desires and even consciousnesses that we experience in our heads as we navigate multiple worlds.” The denizens of our “Elsewhere Society,” Conley argues, “are only convinced they’re in the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time, when they’re on their way to the next destination. Constant motion is a balm to a culture in which the very notion of authenticity . . . has been shattered into a thousand e-mails.”

Conley looks at the social transformations that were created by technological change between the mid 20th century through today. Organization and individualism have given way to intravidualism, “an ethic of fragmented selves replacing the modern ethic of individualism.” Work, play, and everything in between are blurring into non-discrete moments of incoherentness. We’re going somewhere, but we do not know where. Then again, no matter where we go, there we are.

This has serious consequences for human capital development. Perhaps to better succeed in what appears to be a directionless society of busybodies, we need to create a New Individualism, and re-orient education for developing strategic leadership at the individual level? …for learning how to cope with increased chaos and ambiguity? …for knowing how to be more selective in how new technologies are used before the technologies use us?

Adapting to technological and social change in education

In response to yesterday’s post: Change is accelerating: Get ready!

Socially adapting to the pace and direction of technology changes has been a mixed bag. Sometimes, consumer pressures have the effect of driving change; sometimes consumers are indifferent; and at other times they challenge or resist a particular technological innovation. In Kurzweil’s case, some consumers are challenging the potential of technologies he’s projecting for the future.

Most challenges in advance of marketable products and services indicate ignorance more than fear. Most consumers do not read speculative (read science) fiction, and those over a certain age (about 35) usually don’t flock to science fiction movies or television shows. (No, “Lost” is not science fiction!) Hanging on to the past is easier and more defensible in the absence of known alternatives.

Where the rubber hits the road is the effects of adoption lags and challenges that affect education. While Leapfrog Institutes actively promotes the use of hand held, Web-enabled devices to facilitate 24/7 learning, schools sometimes challenge Web schools and -in the US- collect students’ tech hardware at the school door. This is a remarkable example of how ignorance of alternatives produces counter-productive and even anti-intellectual outcomes.

Kurzweil has a great projective track record. His futures are already on the way. The spoils will go to those organizations and societies that act as Beta sites for new technologies, not those who compulsively challenge, shrink away, or actively resist. The bottom line: get involved in testing and assessing new technologies, even when they are projected and not yet “real”.

Games in the Classroom 7–game mechanics for creating learning

slide3.JPGOne of the big ideas from 6.0 was that kids are not naturally good at complex games. They often have the time, resources, but they do not always have the guidance of a mentor. Many kids are playing games designed by adults for adults. This is good and bad. Good in that the adult games have some complex problems and require some really deep thinking; bad in that they may just be provocative on their content without having very good game play. The point is, kids learn through play and our games are often cultural tools to transfer knowledge, develop skills, and get them ready to become adults. What we try to do as educators is pretty much the same. So why have we stepped away from using games?

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Alternative presents and futures research

I am developing the following ideas with George Kubik and John Moravec. We welcome any feedback you might have.

To date, divisions of past, present, and future have been a necessary condition for a paradigm of futures research. We assert that the futures research field must progress beyond traditional assumptions and categories of past, present and future to the recognition that 1) these concepts are largely byproducts of industrial time, and 2) Newtonian/Cartesian thinking with precepts of control, determinism, and linearity. The construction of alternative pasts, presents, and futures offers a new mode for sense-making, design, and choice in human affairs. It treats futures research as an activity that involves the re-conceptualization, redesign and reconstruction of the present into alternative presents.

The futures field is built upon traditional understandings of time and the partitioning of time into past, present, and future. However, we assert that this historical understanding of time, as partitioned into past, present, and future, has become too limited for sense making in a more complex world. The futures field must now expand into the new frontier of alternative presents, thereby permitting new sense making, knowledge creation, and decision options.

We define alternative presents as distinctive existential states of continuous novelty and emergent complexity. Comparison is the mechanism whereby one present state can be differentiated from others. Shortly we will demonstrate the use of simtime in the creation and application of alternative presents.

As previously noted, humans are time-bound. Concepts of past, present, and future events are bound together to provide continuity and a framework for sense making, knowledge production, and decision making. The process of simtime suggests a new methodology for harnessing the continuous emergence of novelty, invention, and design in the scope of human time binding.

Simtime methods address historical and anticipated states in terms of time-binding and time-transcendence. They advance the concepts of imported pasts and imported futures that are continuously invented and re-invented within alternative presents. The ongoing construction and deconstruction of imported pasts and imported presents within alternative presents provides frameworks for new formats of time association. Thus, alternative presents are treated as continuously created and emergent resources rather than single points with the passage of chronological time.

The field of futures research is defined largely through its methodologies, or philosophies of method. Scientific futurists assert that discoveries of past, present, and future relationships (e.g., cycles, bifurcations, trajectories, and discontinuities) are best determined by methodological properties rather than objective observations of phenomenological properties. From this point of view, the futures field is already concerned with the invention rather than the discovery of temporal patterns and processes in phenomenological events. A central tenet of simtime is that different depictions of presents are, indeed, artifacts of human observation, categorization, and methodological choice.

We assert that the concept of alternative presents affords the possibility to develop new soft technologies of great importance. Rapid change and complexification have mutated time to become more than an interval measure; it has become a critical resource in the generation of new sense making, knowledge construction, and decision alternatives. The conceptualization of time has migrated from a value-free phenomenon to be studied to a value-rich resource to be developed.

Slides from World Future Society presentation: Youth futures

Youth Futures: Projecting the Roles of Disruptive Technologies, Anticipatory Knowledge, and Continuous Innovation

Summary: This session highlights the Global Youth Policy and Leadership Program at the University of Minnesota where faculty and students of all ages (kindergarten through graduate school) crafted scenarios, composed alternative futures, and explored other various futures methodologies. In this session, particular emphasis will be placed on the construction of future histories that can be used as alternative visions and maps to help youth of different backgrounds and experiences visualize and discuss the future. This session is conducted ‘salon style’ with audience development of the ensuing future-histories. Session feedback will be provided via Education Futures to all audience participants shortly following the conference.