New Book: Digital Futures for Learning – Speculative Methods and Pedagogies

My new book will be published on 8 November 2022. Here’s what it looks like!

cover of the digital futures for learning book
Ross, Jen (2023). Digital Futures for Learning: Speculative Methods and Pedagogies. New York: Routledge.

It has been a really positive experience – it’s given me space and time to step back and consider how the variety of work I’ve been doing on education and digital learning futures over the past decade or so comes together around a methodological and pedagogical position on complexity, responsibility, creativity and uncertainty. In the book, I define speculative approaches as working with the future as a space of uncertainty, and using that uncertainty creatively in the present. It’s been a real pleasure to revisit projects and ideas, and to develop arguments about the role speculative methods can play in the landscape of digital education and critical education futures.

One of the things I got the most from was working through the ways that education futures (particularly digital education futures) are made and how they come to be seen as legitimate (or otherwise). This took me on a journey through work on critical education futures, anticipation, imaginaries and different kinds of predictions. That exploration was extremely useful for the development of the new MSc in Education Futures that has launched this month! I hope it will be helpful for other people too (I wrote about it in chapter 2).

I see the theoretical foundation for speculative methods as emerging in education from work on complexity (which chapter 3 of the book is all about). However, a speculative approach to research can in turn be suitable for exploring a lot of different kinds of ideas – the second section of the book discusses speculative projects that developed around theories of posthumanism, mobilities and surveillance, for example. 

When I first started writing about speculative approaches to educational research and teaching back in 2016, there weren’t that many examples of their use, but happily the situation has changed a lot in the years since, and chapter 4 of the book explores this literature and draws attention to some of the big questions and ideas that have emerged from it (here are just a few examples). It’s also been good to see the range of methods people actually use – for example, an approach that has been developing quite rapidly is the use of speculative fiction writing as a way of working with education futures, and there is a lot of energy around examining current visions of the future and telling stories about new ones.

There are four case studies in the book – each of which discusses speculative approaches in practice, including speculative objects, audiences and ways of knowing produced through research and teaching projects. In Chapter 5, a speculative Twitter bot makes a surprising entrance into the social space of a Massive Open Online Course and proceeds to engage with participants about the nature of teaching. The chapter explores debates about automation and massification of higher education, and investigates the glitch as a speculative object. Chapter 6 focuses on the speculative pedagogy of the Digital Futures for Learning postgraduate course, in which the course itself is partly made up of Open Educational Resources produced by students. It examines openness and co-creation as educational qualities and as challenges for higher education. Chapter 7 turns to engagement in museums and galleries, and to the Artcasting project, which explored alternatives to problematic forms of evaluation that cultural heritage organisations were grappling with. Chapter 8 is about the Data Stories Creator, developed as part of work to imagine surveillance futures in higher education at a time of radical shifts in modes and visibility of education, partly driven by the Covid- 19 pandemic. 

The final section of the book tries to capture elements of speculative research, and teaching, in ways that others will be able to use and build on. I had already written about this a bit in a research context, but the chapter on speculative pedagogies is completely new, and it was good to think about issues of ethics and participation in the context of assessment, course design and lifelong learning (for example).

Overall, I want the book to provide encouragement for others who are working – or want to work – on digital education futures in their own contexts. Speculative work is located in a complex web of uncertainty, playfulness and responsibility (a theme that I found myself returning to a lot), and this has implications for how we work as well as what we do: 

The relationships created and revealed within speculative practices, however playful they may sometimes be, are also serious about the future, responsible to the present and thoughtful about the history of our field. This means that the tensions and contradictions and complexities of our work are not there to be resolved – they are the work.

(Ross 2023, p.205)

Many of us can gain something from understanding our work in a more spacious, generous way than the customs of research and teaching, and the visions of the future that are  currently in play give us room for. A lot of innovative and interesting stuff is going on in the social sciences, arts and humanities right now to make this kind of space, and I see speculative approaches as part of that. It’s a little bit daunting to see the book head out into the world, but I hope it finds the people who will find it useful!