Can TEL save the planet? (JTELSS 2024)

I’ve just spent last week with PhD students at the European Joint Technology-Enhanced Learning Summer School. This was no less than the 18th such event, and it’s clear why this has established itself as an annual fixture in so many doctoral researchers’ and mentors’ calendars. They’ve got a winning mix of pechakucha intros, workshops led by both senior and PhD researchers, keynotes, speed-mentoring, great local food, scenic trips, and lots of time for all those random conversations that go unexpected places!

I was delighted to be invited to give Monday evening’s informal keynote (less a regular talk, more an opportunity to reflect on how you’re developing as a researcher).  I shared some of my work-in-progress thinking, as I try to make sense of why the intersecting crises in our newsfeeds barely penetrate the ed-tech academic bubble, and whether the poly/perma/meta-crisis should shape our priorities. As the ridiculous title indicates, the challenges are almost too huge to frame coherently, but if you’re curious, here are the slides (abstract below), where I hope you’ll find at least one interesting thinker to chase down.

It’s always hard to know how such a provocation will go down, so I was delighted with the appetite to wrestle with these questions in many follow-up chats. I loved being immersed in such a cultural melting pot for a week, and given the topic, an added edge was meeting students from countries including Syria, Ukraine and Israel, who have lived/are living the daily hell the rest of us watch on screens.

Kudos to the lead team who orchestrated so effectively, everyone who created such a vibrant atmosphere, and sincere thanks for welcoming me into the special JTELSS community!

Can TEL save the planet?

Abstract. I don’t think it’s overstating matters to say that humanity finds itself at an inflection point. The interlocking crises can feel overwhelming (ecological; political; financial; technological; medical; spiritual…). And I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it increasingly surreal attending conferences where these are not mentioned, and seem to have zero impact on our work. Or is this just ridiculous ranting? Why indeed would irreversible ecosystem collapse (for example) change how we think about TEL, pedagogy, analytics or AI? Sure, it’s really sad, but does it make sense to ask how this impacts our research? So, while it’s an exhilarating time to be working on TEL given all the AI advances, the societal challenges are daunting, and I find myself reflecting increasingly on whether this brings a responsibility to those of us who invent the future of TEL. How do we go about wrestling with this? How do we stay hopeful? I invite you to hear my thoughts-in-progress, and disagree with anything I say! We have a whole week to discuss and sort this out…

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