Category Archives: papers

Doing speculative method – some thoughts after the Networked Learning conference

I was really happy to spend the first part of the week at the online Networked Learning conference – this is one of my favourite research conferences, and it was a really good few days.

George Veletsianos and I facilitated a session on speculative methods in networked learning – building on work each of us have been doing in this area over the past few years. A few people asked for some insights into how to design speculative methods into a research project. I wrote a textbook chapter a few years ago on this topic, and I thought I’d summarise what I see as the key ‘ingredients’ of a speculative project (in digital education.)

First, it’s important to say that there are many ways to enact speculative or inventive method – and some are explicitly theoretical in nature (see Lury and Wakeford’s 2012 collection on Inventive Methods for examples of this). I am focusing here on more applied approaches, and specifically those that can be used to think about the future of education and educational technology. These are not methods that can be implemented by following a straightforward recipe; they have to be designed in relationship to the question they are seeking to illuminate or the topic they seek to develop new questions around (see Ross 2017 for more on this). However, there are some ingredients which are likely to be significant:

  1. A speculative question. What will it mean to teach or learn with an automated process like a ‘bot’? What learning does learning analytics not capture (Knox, 2014)? How can communities be stimulated to reimagine or reframe their understanding of energy demand reduction (Wilkie et al., 2015)? These examples of questions that have been addressed through speculative method have in common a flexible orientation to a situation which is either on the horizon or missing from current thinking around a topic or practice. Speculative questions may often focus on the future, but a focus on the future is never only about the future – it is also about articulating what is currently valued by particular people or communities or in particular settings, and what may be absent or unspoken in privileging those values.
  2. An ‘object to think with’ (Turkle, 1997). The researcher developing a speculative method must create something with which participants or respondents can engage – an ‘object to think with’. This could be a scenario or set of scenarios, a technology like an app, a design prototype, a narrative or a combination of these. The object should be designed to provoke responses that will illuminate the topic of the research, to help construct the horizons or become aware of the absences that the questions of the research are aimed at addressing. A pragmatic consideration is whether the project will require specialist skills to accomplish it, and how the researcher might access the resources they will need. Taking the making requirements of your method into consideration early on will help you ensure you can address your question.
  3. An audience to engage with. It is possible to make the object itself the focus of the research, without a strong focus on participant response and reaction. More commonly, however, the object, which might in its own right take considerable time to design and create, is put into a context in which it can be used, or can serve as a provocation, irritation or invitation. This context might be online, offline, or a combination of the two. The speculative object and its design, along with the responses to it, form the data from this method, so the identities and expectations of participants or respondents need to be carefully considered, along with the ethics of the approach to the object. 
  4. A way to capture and analyse design decisions and responses to the object. In some cases the responses to the speculative object can be integrated into the object itself – as in the case of an app that gathers data, or a twitter stream involving a bot. In other cases, responses need to be captured for analysis via other approaches – for example, making a video or audio recording of a workshop; asking participants to keep a written or photo diary of their interactions with the object; or conducting interviews or surveys. Analysis of speculative method should analyse both the object and the responses it generates. Decisions about how the object has been designed should be captured so that the object and the considerations informing it can be understood and shared. It may be helpful to consider the speculative object as both an instrument and an outcome, and keep notes about the design process accordingly.

Speculative method can be a powerful approach to generating and examining new perspectives and questions, and to helping understand and shape complex topics, especially those that deal with the future. For researchers aiming to understand emerging ideas or technologies, the ability to work with uncertainty is a key benefit of such an approach. It requires, however, a willingness to take risks with the design and implementation of a research project – moving away from approaches which are well-established with clear protocols. Nevertheless, I think it’s an approach that can be carefully designed, and well-justified in terms of both quality and rigour – and I’m excited to see more such research emerging in our field.

adapted from Ross, J (2018). Speculative Method as an Approach to Researching Emerging Educational Issues and Technologies. In L Hamilton and J Ravenscroft (eds) Building Research Design in Education. London: Bloomsbury.


Knox, J. (2014) ‘The “Tweeting Book” and the question of “non-human data”’, TechTrends, 59(1), pp. 72–75. doi: 10.1007/s11528-014-0823-9.

Lury, C. and Wakeford, N. (2012) Inventive Methods: The Happening of the Social. London: Routledge.

Ross, J. (2017) ‘Speculative method in digital education research’, Learning, Media and Technology, 42(2), pp. 214–229. doi: 10.1080/17439884.2016.1160927.

Turkle, S. (1997) ‘Computational technologies and images of the self’, Social Research, pp. 1093–1111.

Wilkie, A., Michael, M. and Plummer-Fernandez, M. (2015) ‘Speculative method and Twitter: Bots, energy and three conceptual characters’, The Sociological Review, 63(1), pp. 79–101. doi: 10.1111/1467-954X.12168.

new journal article: digital co-production, hospitality and mobilities

Carnival Scene, Francesco Montelatici. Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture collections, David Laing Bequest (on loan to the Scottish National Gallery).

My most recent article was published last week, and it bridges the recent Artcasting project with work I am currently developing about what ‘open futures’ for digital cultural heritage may look like, and why this matters.

Ross, J. (2019). Casting a line: digital co-production, hospitality and mobilities in cultural heritage settingsCurator: The Museum Journal, 61/4. 575-592.

I’m fond of this paper. It came about because of the co-production strand at the Association of Critical Heritage Studies’ conference in 2016, where I first talked about the idea of digital co-production and got really useful feedback from some fantastic researchers. Since then I’ve been developing the idea further, and refining the key elements of digital co-production.

In a nutshell, I argue that digital co-production:

  unfolds across multiple times and spaces;

  involves the ‘unknowable other’;

  challenges the stability of relationships;

  invites a rethinking of hospitality.

I use the example of the Artcasting project to illustrate these four elements. Ultimately, the theoretical contribution is the bringing together of hospitality and mobilities to consider hospitality as a ‘trajectory’, building on David Bell‘s (2012) notion of ‘host-spots’.

 In the context of co-production, trajectory invites us to consider movements of people into, through and away from the museum, taking up different positions in relation to shifting host/guest trajectories as they enter, leave, and reencounter it. A range of practices in relation to access and use of digital cultural heritage objects offers many possible trajectories of hospitality. The position of ‘host’ shifts from the museum to the aggregator web site to the user themselves as control over and location of the digital object moves. Guesting is constructed and reconfigured through timelines, searches, mentions, likes and upvotes. The user-as-host might even extend a welcome to the museum-as-guest by mentioning it on their personal feed.

All of these trajectories coalesce around an object whose meanings are shifting in the process. I think the role of the museum in this context is to set up co-productive situations that can allow for multiple hostings and guestings, and (following Doron 2009) inhabit more uncertain, less secure positions in relation to its role as ‘host’. (Artcasting was a very interesting example of this multiplicity.)




Bell, D. 2012. “Moments of Hospitality.” In Mobilizing Hospitality: The Ethics of Social Relations in a Mobile World, edited by J. G. Molz and S. Gibson. Ashgate Publishing Ltd.

Doron, E. 2009. “At Hospitality’s Threshold: From Social Inclusion to Exilic Education.” Curator: The Museum Journal 52(2): 16982.


Shout outs to Melissa Terras, Smita Kheria, Christopher Ganley,  Mairi Lafferty, Ashley Beamer and Louise Rasmussen for all their contributions to the thinking-in-progress, to Phil Sheail for the work we did on hospitality that informed this paper, to Sian Bayne for reading and commenting, and to Jeremy Knox, Claire Sowton and Chris Speed for everything Artcasting related. 🙂 

‘Mobilising connections with art’ – a new open access journal article about the Artcasting project

Example of an artcast. Artwork: Self Portrait, 1975 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

My newest article has been published in the International Journal of Heritage Studies. Its focus is on interpreting data from the Artcasting project, a 2015-16 research project that was funded by the AHRC to understand how people’s connections with art can be visualised and used to enrich evaluation practice in museums and galleries. The article is open access and available now

Ross, J., Knox, J., Sowton, C. & Speed, C. (2018) Mobilising connections with art: Artcasting and the digital articulation of visitor engagement with cultural heritage. International Journal of Heritage Studies.

The article looks at how digital methods in cultural heritage settings can help evoke and illuminate the richness of visitor engagement and interpretation. Through the process of analysing the Artcasting data, we found it really useful to look for ways to make sense of difference in visitors’ responses to artworks. We did that in this article by conducting both a thematic analysis, and a more mobilities-informed analysis of the same dataset. We argue that:

The Artcasting project focused on supporting visitors to articulate their responses to artworks using a method that was provocative, performative, and attuned to the mobilities of interpretation, engagement and ownership. This mobility, and the sparking of expressions of ownership through the question of where and when an artwork belonged, created new articulations… The capture of these articulations constitutes a contribution and valuable step forward in our understanding of how heritage is performed at an individual level through the production of memory and messages; and at a collective level through the hypermobility of interpretation. (Ross et al 2018, p.17)

I’m pleased and proud to see this article in print – many thanks to my co-researchers and -authors Claire Sowton, Jeremy Knox and Chris Speed; and to our research partners from the ARTIST ROOMS programme at National Galleries of Scotland, Tate and the Bowes Museum.

Campus Imaginary: new paper about online students & dissertation experiences

A paper based on the research conducted as part of the Dissertations at Distance project has just been published in Teaching in Higher Education. The paper introduces the idea of the ‘campus imaginary’ as a way of accounting for the tendency of online students to attribute difficult or challenging experiences of independent research to their distance from the campus.

[Campus imaginaries portray] the imagined institution and those in it as approachable, sociable, and a space more amenable to the sorts of activities interviewees found themselves undertaking as part of their dissertation. In part these imaginaries draw on assumptions about the advantages of ‘in-person’, as opposed to virtual, contact which are far removed from the experiences described in the literature on campus-based students’ independent research experiences. A number of interviewees, even those whose overall experiences of their online programmes were extremely positive, appeared to ascribe negative experiences to their status as online distance students. For example, issues such as unexpected obstacles, troubles with motivation, difficult supervisory relationships, lack of time and space to focus, and feelings of isolation and doubt were interpreted as features of the online dissertation process specifically. As we will see, however, these issues are common features of transitions from taught courses to independent study; the nature of supervisor-student dynamics; and the inherent challenges of conducting research, particularly for newer researchers.

Ross, J., & Sheail, P. (2017). The ‘campus imaginary’: online students’ experience of the masters dissertation at a distance. Teaching in Higher Education, 0(0), 1–16.


openness & not-yetness – new journal article in Open Praxis

Amy Collier and I have been writing and talking about the concept of not-yetness for a few years now – most recently at the Educational Futures and Fractures conference in Glasgow in February.

On Friday a new article was published in Open Praxis (open access):

Collier, A. and Ross, J. (2017). For whom, and for what? Not- yetness and thinking beyond open content. Open Praxis, 9/1.

This article started life as a presentation at the 2015 Open Ed conference in Vancouver – here are our slides from that talk.

Thanks in part to the discussions at the conference (some reflections on these by @cindyu , David Kernohan), we’ve been continuing to develop these ideas, and this article is the result. It takes a range of critical perspectives on openness as its starting point, and offers the concept of ‘not-yetness’ as a productive lens for examining meanings of openness that go beyond instrumentality, uniformity, and content.

New book chapter, Jen Ross & Amy Collier – Complexity, Mess, and Not-yetness: Teaching Online with Emerging Technologies

Ibook cover emergence and innovation in digital learning‘m really pleased to share my latest open access publication – a jointly authored chapter with Amy Collier (Middlebury College, US) – which defines and explores the concept of ‘not-yetness’.

Ross, J. and Collier, A. (2016). Complexity, mess and not-yetness: teaching online with emerging technologies. In G. Veletsianos (ed), Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning: Foundations and Applications. Athabasca University Press.

You can download the chapter directly and for free from (go to the “Free PDF” tab).

Amy and I have been writing and speaking about not-yetness for a couple of years now. Here are some related blog posts and other materials:

We are just finishing up a paper based on our OpenEd15 talk, and will be submitting this soon – stay tuned!