Tim Maughan and I presented four design fiction case studies for the HASTAC 2014 conference, highlighting the disparity between the shiny hype cycle of ed tech and what the reality might be if we actually took geographic, social, economic, and other global factors into consideration. We posted the design fictions on Medium in an attempt to reach a wider audience. Here's a taste:
13 year old Kumar lives in a village in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, quite literally the “middle state” of India. He’s excited because today is the first day of school — somewhere he’s not usually keen to go, but his school was chosen for a pilot educational program that Google and the Indian government has started in different cities and villages around India. It also means he’s going to have stable access to the internet — something he could previously only get at the local Internet cafe, which his parents wouldn’t let him to go to because they were worried that “those places” would be a bad influence. Now, as part of the pilot scheme, Google is not only providing internet via a high altitude, balloon-based mesh network, but also giving Kumar his own cheap android tablet.
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Why would we use Design Fiction to talk about educational technology?
Design fiction is not an approach used very often in educational settings, let alone educational technology settings. With Tim's expertise in the area and excellent writing, and my knowledge of the ed tech world and decent writing, we thought it would be a good way to make people in "the west" reflect on what their context is in relation to these new fangled "solutions" and what that means for parts of the world that might most need interventions, which often don't really address the problems of people living in places other than the west.
Design Fiction is a term first coined by Julian Bleecker and popularised by SF author Bruce Sterling, who describes it as "the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change." and that it "attacks the status quo and suggests clear ways in which life might become different."*
Design Fiction isn't Science Fiction, it's not just a telling of stories in the future or trying to make predictions of the future, instead it is a way of trying to envision and interrogate possible futures based on current trends and/or technologies. Originally, primarily used by product designers as a cheap alternative to prototyping new products, it has found traction as a critical tool allowing us to see through the fog of hype and technological evangelism.
The aim is to merge academic approaches to emerging educational trends with a futures/foresight style approach to wider social, economic, and environmental changes - taking possible futures into account and then work towards mitigating the negative effects of those. Using Design Fiction is a compelling way to present narratives that get us to think about the real world effects of technology outside of an uncritical western-centric perspective and instead within wider global, social, and economic contexts. in other words, what these futures look like outside the TED Talk-like relentless optimism of ed tech marketing.
The goal of this approach is less to make accurate predictions about the impact of future technologies and practices on education and more to place them within the context of emerging global trends. We hope to help people reimagine possible educational and technological futures from a more well-rounded, holistic, and inclusive viewpoint.
Instead of investigating or listing out each trend or technology and their individual effects, we will present a selection of case studies to illustrate their possible impact on society and education in both positive and negative ways. We will follow the lives of individuals in imagined futures from different geographic, ethnic, economic, and cultural backgrounds illustrating how each of them might interface and interact with the different technologies.
We hope you enjoy reading our design fictions, and more than that, we hope it brings you to a place of thoughtfulness.