Touching the Future: Augmenting Reality in Education – talking to Tryggvi Thayer

The future is a big place, and the use of technology in learning makes it even bigger. Tryggvi Thayer from the University of Iceland and Karl Friðriksson from the Innovation Center Iceland will present a workshop entitled “Educator’s Visions for the Future of Education and Educational Technology” to show the future to educators and policy makers, so harnessing the power of education can start this June at MidSummit in Reykjavik.


By Jason Kenny


Tryggvi Thayer is a researcher and consultant at the University of Iceland specialising in education futurisation. He identifies the ways to direct the findings from education futurists to direct policy-making processes, marking a practical approach to education futures. At Midsummit this June, Thayer will present the future to all levels of educators – from teachers to policy makers – in a practical workshop. This moves beyond the methods in the classroom, beyond traditional book-and-board methods, and includes policy approaches as well as technologies that have barely been conceived of. The future is not so far away.


In your view, what does the future of education and learning look like? What are the challenges we are facing?

The biggest challenges are both technological and non-technological. On the non-technological sides are, for example, changing demographics resulting from increases in migration and immigration, changing labour markets, and more. These are significant issues, but they are not the ones that we address directly, as our work is more focused on changes relating to technological development.


The biggest challenge here is not any single technology. Rather, it is the rapidly accelerating rate of technological change overall. We already have evidence of frictions that are generated when outdated technological realities in school environments conflict with more advanced external technological realities. We get knee-jerk policy reactions, where things are banned with little justification and without ascertaining possible educational uses or benefits. A good example of this is when schools have firewalled social media. There’s plenty of research that shows that youth use social media for learning, both casually and for school. Knee-jerk policy reactions that don’t take students’ technological reality into consideration risk being at odds with students’ sense of the way things work.


Where does your data and research come into this?

Our research covers several areas relating to education, technological change and the future. One has to do with the technology itself: the forces driving technological change, the kinds of change to which they are likely to lead, and the impacts those changes can have on education. Another has to do with policymaking systems: how policymaking systems address the future and the resources used to address the future. And a third has to do with teachers’ professional development: approaches to raising teachers’ awareness of the future and better involving them in shaping the future through their practice.


One of the ways that the School of Education has used the outcomes of this research is to formulate professional-development opportunities for teachers. We work very closely with teachers here in Iceland through their communities of practice and in particular online communities of practice. In these projects we make a point of injecting a forward-looking perspective. This includes considering possible trajectories for technological development and thinking about students’ futures – what sort of social reality they might inhabit where they will need to use what they are learning today.


What shifts in education and learning are you most excited about? Which aspects present concerns?

What excites me most is how our technological and “real” environments are converging, the best example being what we currently call augmented reality (AR). Most AR applications that we have today are somewhat gimmicky – they look pretty cool, but don’t really have an obvious purpose or benefit. For example, you might have a book that has a QR code on a page, point your smartphone at the code, and the page comes to life with a 3D dinosaur or something like that.


Like I say, it looks cool, but so what? However, if we think about what is really going on here and extend that further into the future, the possibilities start to look more revolutionary. AR uses all of the sensors and processors in our smart devices (location, data, camera, orientation, etc.) to blend together the physical environment and computer-generated elements to create something new. When considered in that abstract sense, that’s pretty awesome.


When we think of our technological and physical environments coming together in this way, it becomes very feasible to anticipate that in the future, we will construct experiences that will radically change the way we interact with our surroundings. The potential for education is awesome. We won’t teach students about, say, the human heart. They’ll explore it first hand in what will feel like real time in an authentic, albeit simulated, environment.


Technologies like AR will necessitate some pretty fundamental changes in the way we do education. Learning won’t be through the transfer of information from a knower to a learner, as it is for the most part today. Instead, our future learners will acquire knowledge through a variety of experiences that challenge them to figure things out and develop new skills in what will seem like very authentic environments. What’s scary in all of this is the thought that  schools might not be prepared for these changes.


What will your workshop consist of? How will it benefit attendees?

The workshop will provide an opportunity for participants to engage with the future. We will present several possible scenarios for the future of education, roughly 20-30 years out, based on data we have collected through our various projects involving Icelandic teachers. The focus will be on the future of education in light of various technological developments. Attendees will profit from the insights into futures studies and the methods used, the ways they can apply these methods for their own purposes, and valuable analyses of what various thought leaders anticipate for the future, both the good and bad.


What are you looking forward to at MidSummit?

Above all, I’m looking forward to engaging with other participants. This is, for me, always the biggest value in conferences like this – having a chance to network, to be exposed to new ideas, and to have my own ideas challenged.


There’s a very impressive list of speakers, so I expect to be very energised by the experience – and believe others will be, too.


OEB MidSummit takes place in Reykjavik on 8 – 9 June of this year. Find out more here.

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