research travels in Australia

I’m just back from a wonderful research visit to Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. I was invited by the fabulous Angelina Russo, who was the most amazing host, and made my trip truly unforgettable.

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I spent most of my time in Sydney, staying in the visiting scholar’s flat at the Women’s College, which was a really good base for writing, visiting and seeing the city. There I gave a seminar for the new Centre for Research in Learning and Innovation, heard Pippa Yeoman talk about her research, met with Amani Bell and some of her colleagues to talk about educational innovation, and had an excellent discussion about cross-centre collaboration with CRLI’s director, Peter Goodyear. I also had a chance to meet with Mike Michael, whose work on speculative method has greatly informed my own.

Also in Sydney I gave a talk to Lynda Kelly and her colleagues at the Australian National Maritime Museum (what an amazing space!). Lynda’s blog post expands on the rich discussion we had about artcasting, evaluation and engagement. Lucila Carvalho and I met with Paul Donnelly and his colleagues at the Sydney University Museum to talk about plans and possibilities for them as they combine their locations into one new museum building (I also got to see the Alpha & Omega exhibition, which was the perfect blend of eccentric and informative). Paul, Angelina and I went to the launch of the Powerhouse’s Out of Hand exhibition, which I loved. I had an entertaining chat there with one of the makers, Mitchell Whitelaw. His weather bracelet and cup were definitely highlights of the show.

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Mitchell Whitelaw’s weather cups and bracelet, Out of Hand exhibition, Powerhouse

I visited Canberra for a couple of days, mainly to attend the 2016 Whisper Workshop. The workshop was chock full of amazing people, some of whom I knew online and was delighted to meet in person (Kylie BudgeNarelle Lemon; Kate Bowles; Megan McPherson). It was great to meet Inger Mewburn again and to get to know Jonathan O’Donnell & Tseen Khoo. I was especially pleased to meet Tamson Piestch, whose work on the histories of higher education has made its way to the top of my reading list. I spent some time reflecting on Australia’s fraught histories in the National Museum of Australia, and my visit ended on a happy note, when Tracy Ireland and I picked up our conversation where we’d left off in Montreal at the Critical Heritage Studies Conference.

My last few days in Australia were spent in Melbourne, doing some more in-depth research planning with Angelina. We also met with Phil Pond from RMIT to talk about methods of tracing digital activities and objects; and with Seb Chan to learn about how the Australian Centre for the Moving Image has incorporated co-working spaces as a way of bringing new ideas and insights together with the work of the Centre. We went to part of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre’s ‘refiguring techniques in digital-visual research’ symposium. I especially liked the talk given by Alison Young; and was pleased to say a quick hello to Neil Selwyn  and visiting scholar from my side of the pond, John Potter.

I loved Australia – there is an energy and a talent for networking and building partnerships there that I found really inspiring. Everyone was incredibly welcoming, and I’ve come back with new ideas, connections and perspectives. I also loved the bird life!

cassowary in australia

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!

“Speculative method in digital education research” – my new (open access) article

'sliced' - Pekka Nikrus -
‘sliced’ – Pekka Nikrus –

I’m delighted to share my new journal article, which has just appeared online in Learning, Media and Technology. The article is available completely open access, so it’s free for everyone to download and share.

The article, titled ‘Speculative method in digital education research, explores the concept of ‘speculative’ (or ‘inventive’) methods, commonly found in art and design disciplines but also increasingly in the social sciences, and argues that digital education researchers need these kinds of approaches if we’re to engage critically and imaginatively with issues in our field. Such an approach, as Lury and Wakeford put it:

is explicitly oriented towards an investigation of the open-endedness of the social world. … the happening of the social world – its ongoingness, relationality, contingency and sensuousness. (Lury and Wakeford 2012, 2)

In the article I argue that the current educational research climate is at best ambivalent, if not actually hostile, to  open-endedness. Work with Amy Collier on our concept of ‘not-yetness’ (see Amy’s recent blog posts on ‘not-yetness and learnification‘ and ‘not-yetness and love‘ for more on her latest thinking about the concept; and stay tuned for our chapter in George Veletsianos’ edited collection, coming in May) was helpful here in framing future directions for digital education research:

in such a sphere of not-yetness, we must work with approaches to research which aim beyond determining ‘what works’, to engage in ‘intelligent problem solving’ (Biesta 2010) and ‘inventive problem-making’ (Michael 2012). These approaches can produce valuable insights and contribute to a flourishing ecosystem of knowledge practices that can respond flexibly to not-yetness. (p.1)

The article draws on three examples of speculative method, coming from work in the Centre for Research in Digital Education:

  • teacherbot – a project led by Sian Bayne which developed a twitter-bot for the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC (EDCMOOC), to explore teacher automation.
  • artcasting – my current AHRC-funded project examining new approaches to evaluating learning and engagement in art galleries.
  • the tweeting book – Jeremy Knox’s RFID experiment to to problematise the emphasis in learning analytics on human activity and data.

Let me know what you think! And please do share the paper.

Speculative method in digital education research

Jen Ross, Digital Education, University of Edinburgh

The question of ‘what works’ is currently dominating educational research, often to the exclusion of other kinds of inquiries and without enough recognition of its limitations. At the same time, digital education practice, policy and research over-emphasises control, efficiency and enhancement, neglecting the ‘not-yetness’ of technologies and practices which are uncertain and risky. As a result, digital education researchers require many more kinds of questions, and methods, in order to engage appropriately with the rapidly shifting terrain of digital education, to aim beyond determining ‘what works’ and to participate in ‘intelligent problem solving’ [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): 491–503] and ‘inventive problem-making’ [Michael, M. 2012, “‘What Are We Busy Doing?’ Engaging the Idiot.” Science, Technology & Human Values37 (5): 528–554]. This paper introduces speculative methods as they are currently used in a range of social science and art and design disciplines, and argues for the relevance of these approaches to digital education. It synthesises critiques of education’s over-reliance on evidence-based research, and explores speculative methods in terms of epistemology, temporality and audience. Practice-based examples of the ‘teacherbot’, ‘artcasting’ and the ‘tweeting book’ illustrate speculative method in action, and highlight some of the tensions such approaches can generate, as well as their value and importance in the current educational research climate.

Ross, J (2016). Speculative method in digital education research. Learning, Media and Technology. Online First, Open Access.

Manifesto for Teaching Online, rewritten for 2015

Online can be the privileged mode - image by James Lamb
Online can be the privileged mode – image by James Lamb


The Manifesto for Teaching Online is a series of short statements first written in 2011 by the Digital Education group at the University of Edinburgh. It was designed to articulate a position about online education that informs the work of the group and the MSc in Digital Education programme.  It was also intended to stimulate ideas about creative online teaching, and to reimagine some of the orthodoxies and unexamined truisms surrounding the field. Each point was deliberately interpretable, and it was made open so that others could remix and rewrite it. In 2015, we revisited and reassembled the manifesto ourselves. The new manifesto text can be found here:

I’m really looking forward to discussing and debating the new manifesto!

Introducing the artcasting project

The Artcasting projectartcastinglogo is a collaboration between Digital Education and Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Working together with the National Galleries of ScotlandTate, and the ARTIST ROOMS Research Partnership, the project team is developing a new digital and mobile form of evaluation of arts-based engagement, in the context of ARTIST ROOMS On Tour.

Along with developing and testing artcasting, the project will engage with the cultural heritage education community to share and generate ideas about evaluation, digital engagement and learning.

Funding for artcasting comes from the AHRC, and the project runs from May 2015-April 2016.

‘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.


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: 

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.