‘Not-yetness’ – research and teaching at the edges of digital education

Last spring,  Amy Collier and I gave a talk at the Emerging Technologies for Online Learning conference in Dallas, called ‘Mess in Online Education‘. We were delighted to then be invited by George Veletsianos to contribute a chapter on a related theme to the second edition of his ‘Emerging Technologies in Distance Education’ edited collection, currently in press (due late 2015)In the first edition, George defined emerging technologies as being, amongst other things, ‘not yet fully understood’ and ‘not yet fully researched, or researched in a mature way’ (Veletsianos 2010, p.15). In writing our chapter, Amy & I landed on the idea of ‘not-yetness’, and this has turned out to be a fantastically useful and generative concept for us.

Amy Collier & Jen Ross
Amy and Jen want YOU to think about not-yetness

Our chapter focuses on not-yetness as it relates to complexity and mess in teaching online:

digital practices contribute to the fruitful mess that characterises education, casting new light on issues of power, responsibility, sustainability, reach and contact. …a key element of emerging technology is its not-yetness: there is so much we do not know when we engage with these technologies. We must therefore choose to dwell as teachers in [a] state of radical and enduring uncertainty …We need practices that acknowledge and work with complexity to help us stay open to what may be genuinely surprising about what happens when online learning and teaching meets emerging technologies. (Collier & Ross, in press)

We’ve since separately been talking about not-yetness at conferences and events, and for each of us the concept has begun to send out new roots and shoots. Amy blogged eloquently about her take a few days ago:

Not-yetness is not satisfying every condition, not fully understanding something, not check-listing everything, not tidying everything, not trying to solve every problem…but creating space for emergence to take us to new and unpredictable places, to help us better understand the problems we are trying to solve.

– http://redpincushion.us/blog/teaching-and-learning/not-yetness/

She describes ‘the play, the fun, the opportunity in complexity and not-yetness’, and argues that ‘the ill-defined, the un-prescribed, the messy can lead to the unexpected, the joyful’.

Not-yetness has become an important part of my thinking this year about digital education practice and research. As I’ve moved towards the end of my time as programme director of the MSc in Digital Education, I’ve been inspired by the idea of the ‘edges’ of digital education: where I think we need to stay to make sure that what we do remains distinctive and relevant as the educational ground continually shifts. At our MSc away day last year, we grappled with the edges of digital education in a team session which went on to generate the Online Professional Learning Incubator, a ‘micro credits’ course called Open Themes in Digital Education which is currently working its way through the university approval process, and new collaborations and projects on playful analytics and MOOC reuse. These edges require not-yetness, and the openness to uncertainty and surprise it brings.

Then I was invited to give a plenary talk at a seminar in Limerick, Ireland called ‘Building an evidence base for enhanced digital pedagogy for online learning‘, and in thinking about evidence-based practice and the nature of evidence more generally, I found not-yetness a useful critical tool for considering what happens at the edges of digital education research.

I’m exploring that further in an in-progress journal article about how we can do research that helps us engage in ‘intelligent problem solving’ (Biesta 2010) and ‘inventive problem-making’ (Michael 2012) in digital education, where we have a particular need for methodological approaches that can grapple with not-yetness. One such set of approaches is known as ‘speculative design’, ‘speculative method’, or ‘design fictions’. These approaches are aimed at envisioning or crafting particular futures or conditions which may not yet currently exist, to provoke new ways of thinking and to bring certain ideas or issues into focus. Wilkie, Michael and Plummer-Fernandez (2014) describe a speculative method involving the creation of a series of ‘Twitter-bots’ to participate in exchanges about environmental issues, and they characterise these bots as:

methodological interventions that are overtly constitutive of the material that is gathered, but in ways that are open, ambiguous or troublesome. In triggering such responses, the aim is to access new and emergent formulations of the ‘issues at stake’… (p.2)

This is, I think, a lovely way of understanding not-yetness. And in fact my own experience with twitterbots this year (the EDCMOOC teacherbot, generated from a project led by Siân Bayne) echoes this concern with new ways of formulating ‘issues at stake’, in this case the nature and role of the digital teacher.

Now I’m about to put not-yetness into practice in a different context, as May sees the start of a new research project (Artcasting, funded by the AHRC and working with the ARTIST ROOMS research partnership partners, including National Galleries of Scotland and Tate) that will use mobilities theories and speculative design approaches to examine and help to rethink how gallery educators can evaluate visitors’ engagement with art.

I look forward to seeing how not-yetness keeps evolving in light of the experiences we’re having and feedback we’re receiving as we discuss and work with this concept.


Biesta, G.J.J., 2010. Why “What Works” Still Won’t Work: From Evidence-Based Education to Value-Based Education. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 29(5), pp.491–503.

Collier, A. & Ross, J., in press. Complexity, mess and not-yetness: teaching online with emerging technologies. In G. Veletsianos, ed. Emerging Technologies in Distance Education, 2nd edition. Athabasca University Press.

Michael, M., 2012. “What Are We Busy Doing?” Engaging the Idiot. Science, Technology & Human Values, 37(5), pp.528–554.

Veletsianos, G., 2010. Emerging Technologies in Distance Education, Athabasca University Press. Available at: http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120177 

Wilkie, A., Michael, M. & Plummer-Fernandez, M., 2014. Speculative method and Twitter: Bots, energy and three conceptual characters. The Sociological Review, 63(1), pp.79-101.

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