Highlights from Educause 2013 #1: Ken Robinson’s opening keynote

Educause 2013, Anaheim

I was lucky enough to attend Educause 2013 in Anaheim, California in October. I had one arm in a sling after a fall that dislocated my left shoulder, but I took handwritten notes in a notebook and on looking back, some of the sessions I attended had some interesting and stimulating content, so I might do a few posts about the best sessions. This first post is about the keynote that opened the conference by Ken Robinson, the English author, speaker and adviser on education.

He started quoting lots of famous people like Asquith, Churchill and even Dorothy Parker. All very amusing and entertaining. My favourite (as a lapsed economist) was the J.K. Galbraith quote: The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. Then he focussed on the way we are as a species and the all pervasive effects of cultural norms on our behaviour. He said that some technologies, like TV for example can change that.

I liked his reminder that when Apple first introduced the iPhone in 2007(?) it had something like 800 apps. Now it has over 800,000 and that is well beyond what Apple would have designed themselves or even imagined/anticipated. It is a great example of people appropriating a brilliant idea and then seeing what they can do with it.

He then moved on to talk about imagination, creativity and innovation. He described Imagination as giving us the power of Creativity, which is a process in which you do something or make something. Innovation is putting good ideas into practice. I think there is a lot in this for future libraries: stimulating and inspiring imagination, then providing spaces, technologies, services that allow people to make things (not just write about them) and also assisting in bringing people together to put those great ideas into practice.

Ken said we are constantly evolving and modern technology enabled us to do things now that were not even possible before it was introduced. Sometimes it also allows us to imagine possibilities well beyond what we can now do. He warned that even though there has been so much technological innovation in the last 10 years, IT in education seems to have blockaded against it. (Unfortunately, this was further illustrated by many sessions in the conference that concentrated on controlling ICT from within and defending against all boarders or potenial collaborators from outside our institutions.) He went on to say that technology isn’t over now, it is never over and that the future will involve even more profound changes than we have already seen. He then postulated about the rights of robots in the future.

I think he mentioned that now you don’t even need to go to the library to access information, so it has to develop another role and embrace the technologies that gives it new purpose.

His next topic was the lack of a sustainable rate for consumption (by humanity). The planet will survive and so too will bacteria, but humanity is now at risk. We need to challenge what we now take for granted. For example a university degree no longer assures you of a job for life. For humans, life is not so linear or manufactured and we must think differently about ourselves to become more organic and creative. Creative education depends on different kinds of questions in which there is no correct answer. I doubt that the current obsession with big data collection and analysis will help us much in this quest. Currently we think in terms of improving old policies rather than looking at new systems.

Don’t even take for granted that we know what the question is. To sum up, I was reminded of two further J.K. Galbraith quotes:

Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.

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