Book chapter published: Shaping our algorithms before they shape us

I’ve just had a chapter published in an edited collection entitled: Artificial Intelligence and Inclusive Education: Speculative Futures and Emerging Practices. The book is edited by Jeremy Knox, Yuchen Wang and Michael Gallagher and is available here.

Here’s the citation: Rowe M. (2019) Shaping Our Algorithms Before They Shape Us. In: Knox J., Wang Y., Gallagher M. (eds) Artificial Intelligence and Inclusive Education. Perspectives on Rethinking and Reforming Education. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-8161-4_9.

And here’s my abstract:

A common refrain among teachers is that they cannot be replaced by intelligent machines because of the essential human element that lies at the centre of teaching and learning. While it is true that there are some aspects of the teacher-student relationship that may ultimately present insurmountable obstacles to the complete automation of teaching, there are important gaps in practice where artificial intelligence (AI) will inevitably find room to move. Machine learning is the branch of AI research that uses algorithms to find statistical correlations between variables that may or may not be known to the researchers. The implications of this are profound and are leading to significant progress being made in natural language processing, computer vision, navigation and planning. But machine learning is not all-powerful, and there are important technical limitations that will constrain the extent of its use and promotion in education, provided that teachers are aware of these limitations and are included in the process of shepherding the technology into practice. This has always been important but when a technology has the potential of AI we would do well to ensure that teachers are intentionally included in the design, development, implementation and evaluation of AI-based systems in education.

Summary: Ten simple rules for structuring papers

Good scientific writing is essential to career development and to the progress of science. A well-structured manuscript allows readers and reviewers to get excited about the subject matter, to understand and verify the paper’s contributions, and to integrate these contributions into a broader context. However, many scientists struggle with producing high-quality manuscripts and are typically untrained in paper writing. Focusing on how readers consume information, we present a set of ten simple rules to help you communicate the main idea of your paper. These rules are designed to make your paper more influential and the process of writing more efficient and pleasurable.

Mensh, B. & Kording, K. (2017). Ten simple rules for structuring papers. PLoS Computational Biology, 13(9): e1005619.

Thank you to Guillaume Christe for pointing to this paper on Twitter. While I’m not convinced that the title should refer to “rules” I thought it was a useful guide to thinking about article structure. I’m also aware that most people won’t have time to read the whole thing so I’m posting the summary notes I made while reading it. Having said that, I think whole paper (link here) is definitely worth reading. And, if you like this you may also like this table of suggestions from Josh Bernoff’s Writing without bullshit. OK, on with the summary.

First, there’s this helpful table from the authors as a very brief overview.

https://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article/figure?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005619.t001

Principles (Rules 1–4)

Rule 1: Focus your paper on a central contribution, which you communicate in the title. Adding more ideas may be necessary but they make it harder for the reader to remember what the paper is about. If the title doesn’t make a reader want to read the paper, all the work is for nothing. A focused title can also help the author to stay on track.

Rule 2: Write for flesh-and-blood human beings who do not know your work. You are the least qualified person to judge your writing from the perspective of the reader. Design the paper for someone who must first be made to care about your topic, and then who wants to understand your answer with minimal effort. This is not about showing how clever you are.

Rule 3: Stick to the context-content-conclusion (C-C-C) scheme. Aim to write “popular” (i.e. memorable and re-tellable) stories that have a clear beginning, middle and end. While there are many ways to tell stories, each of which engages different readers, this structure is likely to be appropriate for most. Also, the structure of the paper need not be chronological.

Rule 4: Optimize your logical flow by avoiding zig-zag and using parallelism. Only the central idea of a paper should be presented in multiple places. Group similar ideas together to avoid moving the reader’s attention around.

The components of a paper (Rules 5–8)

Rule 5: Tell a complete story in the abstract. Considering that the abstract may be (is probably) the only part of the paper that is read, it should tell the whole story. Ensure that the reader has enough context (i.e. background/introduction) to interpret the results). Avoid writing the abstract as an afterthought, as it often requires many iterations to do it’s job well.

Rule 6: Communicate why the paper matters in the introduction. The purpose of the introduction is to describe the gap that the study aims to fill. It should not include a broad literature review but rather narrow the focus of attention to the problem under consideration.

Rule 7: Deliver the results as a sequence of statements, supported by figures, that connect logically to support the central contribution. While there are different ways of presenting results, often discipline-specific, the main purpose is to convince the reader that the central claim is supported by data and argument. The raw data should be presented alongside the interpretation in order to allow the reader to reach their own conclusions (hopefully, these are aligned with the intent of the paper).

Rule 8: Discuss how the gap was filled, the limitations of the interpretation, and the relevance to the field. The discussion explains how the findings have filled the gap/answered the question that was posed in the introduction. If often includes limitations and suggestions for future research.

Process (Rules 9 and 10)

Rule 9: Allocate time where it matters: Title, abstract, figures, and outlining. Spend time on areas that demonstrate the central theme and logic of the argument. The methods section is often ignored, so budget time accordingly. Outline the argument throughout the paper by writing one informal sentence for each planned paragraph.

Rule 10: Get feedback to reduce, reuse, and recycle the story. Try not to get too attached to the writing, as it may be more efficient to delete whole sections and start again, than to proceed by iterative editing. Try to describe the entire paper in a few sentences, which help to identify the weak areas. Aim to get critical feedback from multiple readers with different backgrounds.


And finally, here’s a great figure to show how each section can be structured using the guidelines in the article.

https://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article/figure?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005619.g001

Knowledge is more important than money

Those who work really hard throughout their career but don’t take time out of their schedule to constantly learn will be the new “at-risk” group. They risk remaining stuck on the bottom rung of global competition, and they risk losing their jobs to automation, just as blue-collar workers did between 2000 and 2010 when robots replaced 85 percent of manufacturing jobs.

Simmons, M. (2017). 5-Hour Rule: If you’re not spending 5 hours per week learning, you’re being irresponsible.

As I mentioned in my Plans! post from a few days ago, I’m trying to make more space in my day for reading. It’s partly because I enjoy reading more than almost anything else and partly because of my growing conviction that reading is one of the most important things I could be doing with my time. Reading is also a pre-requisite for being able to write well and I’d like to improve my writing quality and output during 2019. This post is really just a writing exercise where I expand on one of the points that I made in the post I just mentioned, providing some background and rationale for why I want to read more (this may become a short series of posts where I unpack my thinking around my plans).

In the early stages of your career, you want to focus on building what Cal Newport calls career capital, which is a shorthand for the kind of credibility that you can only get through hard graft. It’s the characteristic that makes people trust you because you’ve demonstrated a track record of consistently good work. It’s not just about showing up on time; it’s about how you show up. While career capital can be turned into financial reward, it’s really unlikely (unless you come from old money) that you can have money without first putting in the work. So it seems to me that you should make choices, especially early on in your career, that increase your chances of learning something new rather than looking for a bigger paycheque. Promotions are fine things to aim for but they won’t always lead to better opportunities in the long-term if they’re not associated with a high level of career capital (and yes, it’s possible to promote without having done the work).

Kevin Kelley said that you should “move into spaces that increase your options” but you can’t do this without first having a solid foundation of broad and deep knowledge of the world, or at least in your domain of interest. There are few opportunities available for those who are left behind and in the second decade of the 21st century, it’s become increasingly clear that many professionals are at risk of being left behind. Automation and machine learning are likely to make many tasks that we consider routine, redundant. Imagine if 25% of your daily work was automated away; what would you do with those extra 2 hours? Will you simply work fewer hours (at lower pay)? Or will you be ready to fill that time with meaningful tasks that machines can’t automate?

I started this post by saying that knowledge is more important than money because a high salary is a poor indicator of your ability to adapt to automation, whereas knowledge is the one thing that can help you to move quickly. The only way to plan for an uncertain future is to keep learning and one of the best ways to learn is to read.

PSA: Writing is hard

A few days ago I submitted a chapter for an edited collection on Speculative Futures for Artificial Intelligence and Educational Inclusion and I thought I’d take a moment to share some of my experience in writing it. When I talk about writing with colleagues I get the impression that they’re waiting for the moment when writing becomes easier, and are therefore in a continuous cycle of disappointment because it never does. This public service announcement is for anyone who thinks that you will one day arrive at a point where writing is easy.

The original abstract was submitted about 4 months ago and represented what I thought would make a compelling contribution to the collection. But over time I realised that the argument I was trying to make felt forced and I just couldn’t get enough out of it to make it worthwhile. This is after 2 months and about 6000 words. About a month before the due date I decided to throw most of it away and start again, this time from a new position that I thought was stronger and would make more of a novel contribution. I deleted about 4000 words.

After a few weeks, I had my first full draft of about 8000 words that needed to be cut to 6000. At this point, I started printing it out and editing by hand. After editing on paper I go back to the digital version and rewrite. Then I print it again, edit, revise and print. I usually do this 3-4 times before a final submission. The pictures below were taken on the 3rd revision of the full draft. You can see that I’m still pretty dissatisfied with how things were going. Maybe it’s because I’m not a very good writer, or maybe my thinking was still incoherent.

When I finally submitted the chapter I was still pretty unhappy with it. There were significant parts of it that felt rough. There were still a few weak arguments. Some of the sentences were awkward. And to top it all, I’m still not entirely convinced that the contribution is going to add much value to the collection (because, imposter syndrome). Now that I’ve spent 3-4 months thinking about the topic I can’t help feeling that it’s pretty average.

Maybe I’ll get better with the next one? Maybe that’s the one that will be right. Or, maybe writing is just hard.

A critical pedagogy for online learning in physiotherapy education

Earlier this year the Critical Physiotherapy Network published Manipulating practices: A critical physiotherapy reader. The book is a collection of critical writing from a variety of authors dealing with a range of topics related to physiotherapy practice and education.  One of the interesting features of this collection is that it is completely open access, which means that the authors, and not the publishers, have the intellectual property rights to make choices about what is permissable to do with the content of the book. So we get to experiment with what it means to publish something in an academic context. While the entire book is available in different formats, including PDF, HTML, EPUB and XML, there is no audio version.

I’ve therefore taken the liberty of reading and recording my own contribution to the book, a chapter entitled A critical pedagogy for online learning in physiotherapy education, and making it available both here and as an In Beta podcast. I’m interested to know if this is something that might be useful so if you listen and appreciate having an audio version as an option, or even if you just think it’s a good idea (or a bad one), please let me know.

Abstract

In order to graduate physiotherapy students who are able to thrive in increasingly complex health systems, professional educators must move away from instrumental, positivist ideologies that disempower both students and lecturers. Certain forms of knowledge are presented as objective, value-free, and legitimate, while others – including the personal lives and experiences of students – are moved to the periphery and regarded as irrelevant for professional education. This has the effect of silencing students’ voices and sending the message that they are not in control of their own learning. While the integration of digital technology has been suggested as a means for developing transformative teaching and learning practices, it is more commonly used to control students through surveillance and measurement. This dominant use of technology does little more than increase the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of information delivery, while also reinforcing the rigid structures of the classroom. Physiotherapy educators who adopt a critical pedagogy may use it to create personal learning environments (PLEs) that enable students to inform their own learning based on meaningful clinical experiences, democratic approaches to learning, and interaction with others beyond the professional programme. These PLEs enable exploration, inquiry and creation as part of the curriculum, and play a role in preparing students to engage with the complex and networked systems of the early 21st century. While the potential for pedagogical transformation via the integration of digital technology is significant, we must be critical of the idea that technology is neutral and be aware that our choices concerning tools and platforms have important implications for practice.

Critical digital pedagogy: Theory and practice

Update (12-02-18): You can now download the full chapter here (A critical pedagogy for online learning in physiotherapy education) and the edited collection here.

This post is actually about setting up the context for a few other posts, all related to my upcoming book chapter for the Critical Physiotherapy Network. The idea I pitched for the chapter really was just the seed of an idea that I wanted to explore in more depth, and I thought that writing about it would push me to invest more time and energy in the idea than if I wasn’t working to a deadline.

The other thing worth noting is that I’m also trying to figure out where to go next with my teaching practice. For a while I’ve been thinking that what I do in the classroom isn’t enough. There’s not enough depth. Not enough connection. Not enough meaning. I feel like I’m not pushing the boundaries enough. Like I’m not pushing my students enough. So I wanted to try and understand what options are available to me. The book chapter is a way for me to challenge my thinking around what my course could be.

Which brings me to the title of this post, A critical digital pedagogy: Theory and practice. The theory part is the idea I’m exploring that relates to what I’m pushing up against in the classroom, and what ideas I can really get behind in terms of shaking things up a bit. The practice part is going to be a few posts on what I’m actually changing in the classroom as a result of what I’m learning in the theory. I thought it would be useful – for me and for others – to get a sense of this process as I’m going through it.

I have no order in which the posts will come, but I’ll make sure to highlight which ones are related to this little project. The book chapter is due this Friday, so over the next few days I’ll probably try and push out a few posts directly linked to the content of the sections in the chapter as I finish them. I’ll also try to do a few that are linked to the changes I’ve already made in my Ethics class.

I’ll share the original abstract (probably immediately after I post this) so you can see how much the idea has changed since I originally planted the seed. I think it’s good to look back and see how ideas change over time. We often forget that the finished product is often the result of countless revisions and that all creative work went through a process.

Moving between consuming and creating: Thinking about workflow

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I use Pocket a lot. It’s not unusual for me to have more than 500 articles saved to read later, which to be honest, causes me a bit of anxiety. It’s a list of “things to do” that I know I’ll never finish. But I keep adding stuff to the list because I know that it’ll be interesting when I get around to reading it at some point. The recommendation from the guys at Pocket is not to think of the reading list as a list of things to “get through”. Rather, think of it as a queue of reading that you know you’ll never finish.

The key is to think of it like a Netflix queue. You are never overwhelmed or concerned about the number of items in your Netflix queue. You just keep putting things in there because you know that when you have the time to view something, you can guarantee you’ll have something great in there that you’ve been meaning to check out. If you view Pocket as a todo list then you better hope you have a LOT of free time.

– Nate Weiner

But this doesn’t work for me because it’s not the finishing that bothers me, it’s the cognitive space that the list represents. It’s the psychological load knowing that in that reading list are things that I’ve made a mental note to do something with. There are things in there that relate to projects I’m working on or to ideas that I want to develop. For me, Pocket isn’t just a reading list…it’s a thinking list.

That led to me start looking around for others who have had similar issues. I liked Emmanuel Quartey’s post (“Getting to Pocket Zero“), where he explores how Pocket is positioned as a reading app and how, if it were reconceptualised as a content creation app you would change how you use it.

Emmanuel Quartey's suggestion as to how Pocket could actually be used i.e. it's not just about reading great content.
Emmanuel Quartey’s suggestion as to how Pocket could actually be used i.e. it’s not just about reading content.

I’ve found this exact problem in my own use of Pocket. When I’m reading I’m often struck with a thought that I want to develop, or that links to another thought from another article (that is also probably also saved in Pocket). At the moment, I’m stuck trying to copy and paste quotes, links and my own thoughts from Pocket to Evernote. But what if I could create those links and drafts right from inside Pocket?

I’d like to be able to highlight passages within articles and then tag those passages only. Instead of thinking of the article as being a single entity (“the article”) we should understand that an article is created from words, sentences and paragraphs, and that each of those constructs are not only pieces of the whole, but can be complete ideas in themselves. By tagging these discrete items (words, sentences or paragraphs) we can add metadata (the tag name or description) to them that then allows us to perform operations on the item.

For example, “Create New Article from Tag” would take all of the tagged items at either the word, sentence, paragraph or article levels (with original URLs) and paste them into a blank editing space, with the option of rearranging, annotating, commenting and publishing into another space (maybe WordPress). What about “Share this Tag with others”? I could allow others to read the sections I’ve highlighted, and give them options to add their own thoughts comments in the same space. It’s not difficult to see how this could really make a reading app like Pocket far more powerful as an idea-curation-app.

As it is, I’ve tried to deal with the issue by moving my reading / thinking / writing process from Pocket into Evernote. I have a set of “Project” folders in Evernote that are mainly writing and research projects that I have going on at any one time. As I read something in Pocket that is linked to one of the projects I’m busy with, I share the article (the full article) to the relevant project folder in Evernote, tagging it and adding additional notes. When I have time, I go into the project folder and edit the articles I’ve saved. From there, I move the idea / note into the main note in the folder, which is where I integrate the ideas from the various posts. Evernote allows me to share project folders and with that enable collaborators to edit notes in the folder. It’s not perfect but it works for me right now.

What does it mean to be a book?

Recently I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a book. What makes a book, a “book”? I’m willing to bet that when you see the word “book” you think of a physical container for words that are printed on paper, bound within covers and sits on a bookshelf. Wikipedia agrees with you:

A book is a set of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of ink, paper, parchment, or other materials, fastened together to hinge at one side. A single sheet within a book is a leaf, and each side of a leaf is a page.

It seems that the physicality of a book has a lot to do with its book-ness. In other words, when we think of a book it’s usually as something that we can hold. This makes sense in a historical context because writing in books was an evolution of previous systems that allowed the recording of words and ideas onto some kind of natural material e.g. tablets (clay, not Apple). When you actually think about it, maybe the only reason we think of books as printed collections of words is because for the past several hundred years that’s all they were. Maybe we think of a book as a collection of words printed on bound paper because that is all we have ever known a book to be.

If we consider the design principle that form should follow function we see that the purpose of a thing should define it’s form. In other words, if the purpose of a book is to record and preserve ideas with the intent of sharing them at scale with others, then we should choose a form that allows us to most effectively achieve that function. For most of our recent history, printing words onto paper was pretty much the only way that complex ideas could survive the death of a person. While oral traditions of preserving and sharing ideas are also valid, they don’t scale when it comes to sharing with very large numbers of people.

We should be asking what technology currently exists that enables books to take on a form that allows them to better achieve the function of storing and sharing ideas at scale over extended periods of time? Why do we still think of a “book” as a thing that sits on a shelf, when digital tools enable us to create new forms of books that are better suited to achieving their function. And I’m not talking about PDFs as digital versions of books. The PDF version of a printed book differs only in degree from the printed version and its fundamental properties are generally the same. For example, the PDF is “better” than the print version because we can make more copies at a lower cost. This property makes the cost of distribution (i.e. copying) of PDFs essentially zero. But besides decreasing the cost of efficient distribution, how else is the PDF of a book different to a printed book?

digital-book

What if “books” could be more than a collection of printed pages (whether the “print” and “page” is ink- or pixel-based)? What if, instead of thinking of books in terms of their physical properties (i.e. what they look and feel like) we think of them in terms of collections of ideas that are stored and shared over time (i.e. what books are for)? Now we’re talking about separating the function of a book from its form, and digital technology is inherently suited for this. In the default idea of “book”, form and content are intricately tied together. Words are collected into sentences, paragraphs and chapters, and printed onto pages. The words and the pages are inseparable.

“Digital” allows us to abstract ideas out into smaller collections (much smaller than chapters), which can be shared, modified and repurposed far more easily than 20 printed pages collected into a chapter. Instead of thinking of words, sentences and paragraphs as collections in a chapter, we can think of them as discrete ideas – down to the “word” level – which can then be categorised and presented as such. It means that we could, for example, allow for readers to search for ideas and abstract concepts, rather than just words. Imagine putting together a custom textbook that is made of excerpts or ideas from a variety of other books that are created this way, in a similar process to what we can currently do with books created in Wikipedia. Imagine if readers could download and share, not only single chapters of a book, but single ideas?

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“Digital” means that we can separate the form and content of writing so that we can focus on creating content leaving computers to focus on form. Machine readability is what allows me to write a blog post in plain text and leave the formatting and presentation of my content to the WordPress theme that I have installed on my blog. It’s what allows my content to show up, stripped of formatting and design, in your Pocket reader when you save it to read later. It’s what allows you to subscribe to my posts and have my content show up in whatever format and device you choose to receive it in.

Machine readability allows affordably serving the information to a wider variety of users (in a presentation that they can understand), where users may be humans or machines. This requires the ability to recast abstractions in new instances quickly and cheaply (that is, without time-consuming reworking), which generally requires automation rather than person-hours of labor.

Responsive design is the idea that content will take the form of whatever device you’re using to access it, and has become a foundational principle of modern digital design. If you’re a content creator, you need to ensure that your work is going to take whatever form the content consumer requires it to. If they’re on a 20 inch monitor, it needs to look as good as it does on a 4 inch phone screen. Try making a PDF do that.

triveo-media-responsive-design

This is the power of separating out content and presentation. How a thing looks is different to what it does. So we come back to the idea that a book is a container of ideas, not words, which means that the way in which the ideas are expressed, stored and shared need have nothing to do with the ideas themselves. A book therefore, does not actually need to be a book.

Now that we’ve separated form from function, what does that allow us to do with the “collection of ideas” (i.e. the book)? Well, for one thing, it removes the requirement that ideas are presented linearly. When you can break up the ideas into discrete items, they can be remixed, distributed and presented in non-linear ways e.g. using hyperlinks to connect different ideas in different places. It also means that the “book” can be presented and shared as either a physically printed volume, an ebook, an audiobook, a website, an RSS feed or an email newsletter.

By using digital tools, we lose nothing (we can still print the book) and gain several advantages that print simply cannot provide. For example, you could make sections of the book available to be distributed as embedded content or as streams of content (via RSS) rather than PDF pages. One practical benefit of this is that further distribution is possible in very simple ways. Just like a tweet can be embedded in any website, a section of content from the book could be embedded into any other media. Think what this would mean for generating discussion and debate around your content, as opposed to emailing a PDF of a whole book around.

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Finally, on a more pragmatic level publishing a book – not just as an ebook but also as a website, RSS feed, or mobile app – provides the following benefits:

  • You can include animations, audio interviews, linking out to external content, and embedding videos.
  • Digital text can be converted to audio via text-to-speech software, creating access for people with disabilities.
  • The separation of content and presentation means that you could edit and update content via a content management system, which means that errors can be corrected at no cost, and the updated content is propagated through the system, changing automatically whenever it is viewed.
  • New chapters could be added or modified over time at no cost. There would be no need for updated editions that are distributed in cargo containers to other countries because every instance of the “book” is the most up-to-date version.

Taking all of the above into account, what is the value of publishing a physical book in hard copy? I honestly can’t think of any reasons that are not rooted in legacy or simple momentum, for us to seriously consider printing words onto paper, binding them together and shipping them around the world. I think that in order for us to most effectively share our ideas with others is to ask what it means – in a digital age – to be a book?

Thoughts on my first article for The Conversation

I pitched 3 ideas for articles to The Conversation: Africa at the end of last year, one of which was picked up to develop and publish. A few days ago I gave the go-ahead for it to be published and am happy to report that it is live. It’s called Technology is no longer a luxury for universities – It’s a necessity. My original title was a William Gibson quote: “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed” but I gather the editor decided on something more accessible.

There are a few things that were different to what I was expecting, in particular the amount of input that the editor provides. I was expecting something more like critical feedback in the peer review process but it was actually more like having a co-author at times. This worked out well for me since I didn’t want to feel like I had to put in the same amount of time that I would for an academic paper. It was nice to have someone else try out the ideas and to actually make the changes to the article.

I was also surprised that the editor selected the header image. When I’m blogging I’m used to spending a bit of time trying to find a good picture that works with the post, so it was strange to see the final article with an image already included. This is both positive and negative. Positive because I didn’t have to spend the time finding a graphic with the right permissions (I suppose this is the main reason the editor takes on this responsibility), and negative because I may not like the selected picture, although this is obviously something that can be discussed.

All in all, I enjoyed the process, especially the very quick turnaround time from the initial submission of the idea to the final publication, which would have been even quicker had we not had the #FeesMustFall movement at the end of 2015. I am also impressed at the reach of the publication, which you can see in the screenshot below. That’s not bad considering it was only published this morning. Finally, The Conversation makes it very simple to republish articles on your own site – providing the source code for the piece – which you can copy into your own blogging platform. I’ll be doing that in my next post on this blog.

The Conversation 2016-01-12 10-53-04

 

Pitches for The Conversation: Africa

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I’ve been wanting to contribute to The Conversation: Africa for ages and have only recently been able to put together a few pitches for the articles I’d like to write. If you’ve never heard of The Conversation, it’s a wonderful attempt to get academics to write thought-pieces that are more accessible to the general public and those outside the field. All content is also published under Creative Commons licenses, meaning that what you write is freely accessible and can be distributed in any number of ways. Here are a few points that resonate with me from The Conversation: 10 ways we are different page:

  1. In a world of misinformation and spin, The Conversation contributes to healthy democratic discourse by injecting facts and evidence into the public arena.
  2. All our content is sourced from university scholars and researchers who have deep expertise in their subject.
  3. We are transparent, with every author disclosing their expertise, funding, and conflicts of interest.
  4. All our content is free to read and republish under Creative Commons while the rest of the media charges for re-publication.
  5. We believe in the free flow of information. We disseminate our content to more than 12,000 sites worldwide. That gives our content a global reach of 23 million readers a month, and growing.
  6. To avoid commercial conflict we don’t carry advertising pop-ups or annoying autoplay.
  7. We are a not-for-profit organisation serving the public good.

It’s a bit more formal than a blog because you have to submit ideas to the editors who then review the pitch and provide you with guidelines and deadlines. I’ve drafted the outlines for three articles on the use of technology in higher education and sent the following three pitches to the editors.

Pitch 1: The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed
It has become a truism that when we talk about the integration of technology in the context of teaching and learning in higher education, we must avoid making assumptions about the level of physical and epistemological access that our students have when it comes to using that technology. However, while I acknowledge this important point, I do worry that too much emphasis on it leads to a conservative approach to the introduction of technology into the classroom, and that this conservatism will lead to our students having a significant disadvantage upon graduation. The world is not going to wait for our students to catch up and the deep integration of technology into every other aspect of life continues unabated, at an accelerating rate of change. So, how do we prepare our students for a world that we cannot predict? Is it by adding more content to the curriculum? Or is it by teaching students how to adapt to change, through the aggressive incorporation of digital technologies into teaching and learning practices through intentional pedagogical design?

Pitch 2: Dominant design and the future of technology in higher education
The power of technology in education is in it’s potential to bring about transformative forms of teaching and learning that fundamentally change the people who use it. And yet, when we look at how technology is used in higher education we see it predominantly used to encourage ways of thinking and learning that reinforce outdated pedagogical practices. Dominant design is a management concept suggesting that, once a design has taken hold and become dominant, future innovation in the field is directed towards improving that design rather than challenging it and creating new paradigms. This is exactly what we see when we consider the Learning Management System (LMS) which, for many, represents the cutting edge of technology-integrated teaching and learning. And yet, what does the LMS offer besides a cost-effective content-distribution system and an efficient way to manage students? In order to truly use technology to bring about transformative approaches to teaching and learning, we must establish the following beyond any doubt:

  1. The technology does matter; but pedagogy matters more.
  2. The integration of technology should solve more problems than it introduces.
  3. The technology must be accompanied with a concomitant change in practice.

Pitch 3: Why an emphasis on content in higher education is untenable in a digital society
There are important pedagogical reasons for why a focus on “covering the content” is flawed when it comes to higher education, not least of which is the idea that a higher education must be about more than the accumulation of facts and the ability to recall information on cue. The value of a university is not that its academics control access to specialised knowledge but that there is a need in society for spaces that encourage a deep and critical investigation into the nature of the world. By focusing purely on discipline-specific content, we do nothing to advance the academic project and instead reduce our roles as academics to filters, making decisions about what content is important to cover. But what happens when machines are able to outperform us as content filters? What happens when we can “outsource” information recall to our constantly connected devices? What do we do when our students are able to challenge us on every point we make? Do we retreat into the relative safety of an enforced disconnected classroom, or do we embrace the use of connected devices and work collaboratively with students to create deeper and more critical inquiries into the world?