Eduvation Blog

The Future of Learning

Good morning, TGIF, and happy “National Punctuation Day”!!?!

Today, I think I’m going to look away from the trainwreck headlines that could preoccupy me (like COVID19 in Alberta hospitals, sexual violence prevention at Western, the slow-motion CCAA implosion at Laurentian, illegal student parties at Guelph, and yet another immune-escape variant) – there will probably be time to get to those soon enough.

Instead, I thought today I would share with you some observations for CdnPSE from yesterday’s Future of Learning conference. But first, a few CdnPSE updates…



Assorted Updates

Most of CdnPSE is preoccupied with managing the return to campus, aiding students after a downtown fire, responding to sexual violence protests and walkouts, containing Homecoming festivities, or fine-tuning vaccine mandate protocols, but a couple of things jumped out at me this week…


First Australian Mandate

With the vast majority of CdnPSEs mandating either COVID19 testing (with a vaccine exemption) or vaccination (sometimes with a testing option) for everyone on campus, we might be excused for assuming that reflects the state of higher ed worldwide – but of course, it doesn’t. When LaTrobe U in Melbourne announced this week that it will require vaccination of staff, students, contractors and visitors to campus starting in December, it was in fact the first Australian university to do so. (For its part, Deakin U VC Iain Martin has signalled that a mandate may be coming too.)  Times Higher Ed


Outbreak at Briercrest

I’m not tracking each and every report of COVID19 cases on CdnPSE campuses, although I noticed small announcements lately at McMaster, Trent, Dalhousie and St Clair College. As I’ve said before, it’s not really fair to single out the institutions who are being most transparent about their reporting, since many like Westernaren’t publicly reporting campus cases at all. (The local PHO says there have been 6 cases, but no on-campus transmission.) Still, it’s pretty notable that Briercrest College (SK) is already up to 71 cases (55 of them still active, 43 students and 12 staff) out of a student population of about 640, in a village of just 994. Briercrest reopened this Fall with mandatory COVID19 testing but not vaccination. Thankfully, there have been 0 hospitalizations and most cases are expected to be recuperated within the week. Briercrest will be retesting the community every Friday until they reach COVID zero. (Briercrest Seminary announced yesterday that they will continue exclusively online course delivery through the Winter semester, until Apr 22.)  Global News  |  Briercrest


Virtual OUF tomorrow

For many years I’ve been a big fan of the Ontario Universities’ Fair, the largest PSE exhibition in North America. I’ve attended, along with 100,000 or so prospective students, to catch up on developments and catch up with colleagues at two dozen universities in a single place. (Some 25 episodes of Ten with Ken reviewed recruitment marketing efforts at the OUF, or interviewed campus leaders there.) So of course, it was a big disappointment when the pandemic derailed the 2020 OUF entirely. (Not like the disappointment I reported at the 2020 OCIF, the VR exhibition mounted by Ontario’s colleges – but that’s another story.) This year the OUF is back, not with a bang but a whimper: the 2021 Virtual OUF will take place for 2 hours on Saturday (12-2pm), and 2 hours on Oct 26. Each will be divided into four 30-min sessions, focused on high school students, using MS Teams or Zoom – and they sound little better than the virtual tours or livestream chats already being offered by most institutions on their own websites.   OUF



Future of Learning

Yesterday, held its 3rd annual Future of Learning conference. Much of the content focused explicitly on K-12 education (or wound up being blatantly self-promotional), but here are some tidbits I thought interesting…


EdTech Pros & Cons

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD director for education and skills, opened the conference with a fast-paced address full of global K-12 statistics. Much of education’s response to the COVID19 pandemic has been about preserving traditional approaches, rather than embracing the potential of digital platforms to make learning more personalized and interactive. Around the world, youth are spending 30 to 50 hours a week online, for school and leisure, although the majority still have limited data navigation skills. At the same time that edtech is amplifying inequities, it is also helping some students with special needs, from autism and dysgraphia to ADHD and visual impairments. Robot tutors have been proven to enhance language learning, and telepresence avatars are reducing geographic barriers. Early warning systems and predictive analytics are helping to identify students at risk of dropping out. Gamified assessments have the potential to integrate learning with evaluation of cognitive tasks and skills. Yet disappointingly, technology intensity in the K-12 classroom seems to correlate with negative reading outcomes – which suggests that we don’t yet know how to best deploy and integrate the technologies we already have.


“Homo Connectus”

Montreal-based author and tech entrepreneur Alistair Croll asserted that “the balance between novelty and wisdom is changing, and education needs to change accordingly.” Our world has shifted from one of “analogscarcity” in which guilds and libraries hoarded knowledge, to one of “digital scarcity” of personalized attention and mentorship. Humanity is evolving into a new species, “homo connectus,” spending half our lives in an online “metaverse” (well, 6 hours 42 minutes a day, on average). The world’s biggest fashion retailer is the video game Fortnite, cryptocurrencies are gaining real-world value, and our virtual identity online is becoming more real than our IRL existence. (“Society is a consensual hallucination.”) As algorithms “ruthlessly maximize the future,” humans need to focus on interdisciplinary “cross-pollination,” leaping to “new hills” beyond the view of narrow AI. As educators, we need to recognize that traditional wisdom has a “best-before date” now, and focus on nurturing “fluid intelligence” through gamification, rather than imparting “crystallized” knowledge. (Crashcourse “has better lectures than any of you, completely free,” Croll observes.)


Personal Data as “Glitter”

The panel discussion on identity and privacy featured Oline Twiss (BC’s deputy privacy commissioner), Angelique Hamilton, and Kyle Taylor (author of the Little Black Book of Data and Democracy). In a world where “opting out of technology is akin to opting out of society,” we can’t afford to be complacent about the way our personal information is being “almost weaponized” against us by profit-seeking corporations, who gather 50,000 or more data points on each of us through wearable devices, GPS tracking, facial recognition, smart fridges, search histories and social media activity. “Data isn’t the new oil, it’s the new glitter” – it’s ubiquitous, gets everywhere, self-replicates, and you can never really get rid of it. (And of course, “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”) Market forces alone won’t change the behaviour of monopolistic tech giants like Google or Facebook, which is why digital privacy rights are an emerging frontier. It’s also a crucial consideration in remote education, since “freedom from unwanted observation” is key for individual autonomy and adolescent self-realization. (Thankfully, at least, the panel observes that Canada is “absolutely leading the way” in regulating big tech.)


“Mind the Gap”

The discussion of new learning models featured a high-powered panel with Betty Vandenbosch (Coursera), Grant Lichtman, Jake Hirsch-Allen (LinkedIn), Kristen DiCerbo (Khan Academy) and Rey Justo(Zennify). A key theme was empowering students. Teachers can be reluctant to let go of their role directing the learning process, but co-developing the learning process with students can get them far more engaged. Self-regulated students have the best learning outcomes, so Khan Academy encourages reflection and self-directed, interdisciplinary exploration. Coursera offers a wide range of audit opportunities and stackable entry-level certificates, and women have been particularly interested in STEM and digital upskilling during the pandemic. LinkedIn has been developing “Career Explorer” to help displaced workers find some surprising “adjacent” careers (like bartenders and 911 operators), and is trying to figure out how we move society from a networking present (“who you know”) to a more skills-based future. The panelists clearly disagreed about the future of traditional degrees: the spokesperson from Coursera sees them as persisting in importance, while LinkedIn’s perspective seems much more radical. Ultimately, there was consensus that online platforms have their strengths, but cannot replace in-person interaction for all students and subjects.


Although the conference sessions aren’t yet available as recordings online, the post-conference panels were livestreamed on YouTube and are available now. Naturally, I was most intrigued by the panel including 6 Canadian university presidents…


Reaching Higher

John Pollaers (chancellor at Swinburne U) moderated a rich discussion about how universities are “reaching higher for our students,” featuring Alan Shepard (Western), David Farrar (McMaster), Deb MacLatchy(Laurier), Rhonda Lenton (York), Santa Ono (UBC) and Vivek Goel (Waterloo). All shared an awareness of public skepticism, as the internet “opens up new ways of learning that don’t require formal engagement with a university,” but believe traditional campuses still offer essential, immersive experiences (such as research, mentoring, social development) not found anywhere else. Deb MacLatchy in particular emphasized that universities have invested heavily in developing a fuller educational experience online, and are adapting to demands for continuous upskilling and reskilling with microcredentials and hybrid course delivery. Rhonda Lenton urged CdnPSEs to leverage their investments over the past year to develop “alternative learning pathways” (including virtual learning, WIL, PLAR, and microcredentialling options) to give students more choices and flexibility. David Farrar described the way that online platforms “blur the boundaries” between research, the clinical environment, and classroom learning. Vivek Goel emphasized that micro-certifications won’t prepare people with the complex interdisciplinary expertise to address the world’s biggest global challenges: the problem is that “our entire society is being driven by short-term cycles.” Just as Netflix didn’t replace Hollywood’s studio model, Coursera won’t replace universities, but will develop new tools and new niches.  YouTube



“Disruption is a good thing. It forces all of us to take a good look at how we do things.” – Santa Ono, president, UBC



“Our entire society is being driven by short-term cycles, a search for simple answers to very complex problems.”Vivek Goel, president, uWaterloo



“The digital world is changing how we experience the world, how we learn, how we communicate, and ultimately how we think.”Alan Shepard, president, Western U




So there you go – a full-day conference distilled to a thousand words. Hopefully a few of them will spark some ideas for you too!




You may have noticed that I have a fondness for alliteration and puns, so naturally I have been intrigued for some time by Dal president Deep Saini’s video podcast, “The Deep Dive.” This year, the production quality seems to have moved up a few notches…


The Deep Dive

Dalhousie U president Deep Saini has released almost a dozen episodes of his video series, “The Deep Dive,” since the beginning of the pandemic in Feb 2020. In this week’s 24-min episode, Saini sits down with Dal infectious disease expert Lisa Barrett and Dean of Medicine David Anderson, to discuss what we’ve learned from the pandemic and what the future holds. We’re clearly not back to normal, but we’re starting to get there at long last, though we still have a long way to go. mRNA vaccines have been an “almost miraculous” breakthrough, developed in mere months thanks to unprecedented collaboration by a global network of scientists. The pace of academic research has accelerated significantly, and university administrators have had to manage a crisis unlike any in living memory. Going forward, institutions and society will have a new appreciation for public health and vaccination, and a new attitude towards sick days and remote work. “There will be other pandemics.”  YouTube



“We have underestimated, systematically, systemically and internationally, the importance of public health.”Lisa Barrett, infectious disease expert, Dalhousie U




As always, thanks for reading. I hope you have a safe and relaxing weekend, and successfully avoid any Homecoming chaos!


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