In this editorial, I'm going to depart from my habit of pulling together the articles in an issue to muse about the setting for a science-fiction novel. So let's do some crowdsourcing here: To make the setting as dense and realistic as possible, I'd like you to provide suggestions for additional features of the landscape. Please let me know (at firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any good ideas or criticisms of the ones I have.
The novel is set in 2044. Clio, my hero (she's way too plucky to be called a heroine) is 25 years old-that is, in late adolescence-and she's decided, after an intensive two-year internship in Nicaragua, to move on to the next stage of her life.
So here are the kind of advanced learning and credentialing opportunities that are open to her, so that she can maximize her chances of a prosperous and satisfying adulthood.
The residential colleges and universities that still remain (many closed in the aftermath of the Really Great Recession of 2022) look much the same as they did at the beginning of the century. They provide the scions of the Onepercenters with a safe haven for consolidating the social bonds of their global network. They also offer a few Managers and Workers of exceptional ability (identified by their Coaches-see below) the opportunity to enter the Onepercenter clubhouse by acquiring the requisite social capital-a strategy that both maintains the myth of equal opportunity and infuses the Onepercenter community with a certain hybrid vigor.
Most of what students on these campuses do is co-curricular and is focused on their personal, social, civic, and sexual identity development. They earn badges, each worth a certain number of credits, for everything from belonging to clubs to being in leadership positions to volunteering for work details in Prole communities. As they accumulate badges, they also earn on-campus privileges such as access to desirable living quarters on the Lawn.
Most of their instruction is virtual, taking advantage of the vast learning resources (continuously improved by the learning analytics that their colleges cull from their online students), frequent diagnostic and summative assessments, and social networks available on the Cloud. Tutors (see below) and Coaches have dashboard information on their students available in real time.
But the residential students also attend face-to-face meet-ups in light-filled rooms equipped with all the requisite tools and connections. They have flesh-and-blood Tutors to work with them and to oversee their learning. Students receive cognitive badges linked to course rubrics-each student's badgestack is a representation of her or his unique knowledge and abilities.
But Clio's parents are Managers, so these colleges seem to her as gleaming and distant as Oz. What she faces is a wild west of badges, certifications, prior learning assessments, and micro-degrees offered online by the descendants of the Khan Academy, iTunesU, TED, Microsoft, Novell, Merlot, Western Governors University, Straighter Line, etc.
If Clio were a Worker, a stack of these credentials, organized to demonstrate increasing competency at a trade, would gain her entry into a line of work. As a Worker, she would have the arm-port that would not only link her to the available resources but provide her with the Coach that has been steering her through the educational wildnet on her own personalized path since her first tech implant at the age of six.
Proles do not have arm-ports or Coaches, since they need only rudimentary training to play their role as low-level service workers. They are cheaper than robots for staffing the local Jak 'n' Jills and doing some agricultural labor, and the Onepercenters and Managers consider it prestigious to have flesh-and-blood servants rather than domestic robots.
The lack of an arm-port cuts Proles off from most learning, entertainment, and social resources (they have to rely on face-to-face learning in large groups housed in dingy classrooms, physical free play, and organized games). Not having a Coach also leaves many of them emotionally adrift, since Coaches are a lifelong, adaptive source of support, advice, and comfort. Therefore many of them dream of getting arm-ports, but the few who succeed are at a perpetual disadvantage from not having been bionitized in childhood.
No-as a Manager, Clio has to have a degree. So she needs not just her Coach to help chart her educational path but a Credentials Consolidator.
The remaining colleges and universities have several nodes: their residential colleges, research parks, and e-colleges. The last are course-creation and consolidation sites that construct degree programs for online students by combining the institutions' own MOOCs, online content (mostly open source), and virtual learning opportunities.
The e-colleges range in status and prestige from e-Harvard to e-StateU (the latter generally harvests content provided by the former). The most prestigious-the granters of liberal arts degrees-even feature occasional intensive face-to-face meet-ups (eight days once or twice a year) so that e-students in a pod can touch hands for bonding purposes. Some employers have some of these nodes as well-Apple and Disney, for instance, have research parks and e-colleges, and McDonald's has an e-college-but these funnel students into specific careers.
Most of Clio's social interaction in college will take place in immersive virtual learning spaces, internships, and apprenticeships. The simulated environments are staffed with virtual Tutors, who address students' individual needs, as determined by their Coaches, and their learning diagnostics.
Given the fidelity of telepresence, these virtual meet-ups are almost as good a physical ones-better even, for disabled and place-bound students. And the student pods are close knit-some persist well after the students finish the virtual projects they work on together (peer learning and assessment are key elements of the system). The best e-colleges also group students into Homerooms-pods that stick together through college and often beyond.
The continuously improved learning strategies are gamified to generate intense motivation and make it safe to fail and easy to learn from mistakes. They generate active learning by requiring students to identify, explain, employ, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize knowledge.
Clio owns her own lifelong educational record, which resides in the Cloud. Into it go her badges (the adoption of open standards makes the metadata behind each badge accessible), certificates, degrees, assessments, work experience, and other information that she may or may not choose to share with family, friends, and employers.
This leaves a lot of details to be worked out. Who, for instance, will lead the colleges, and how will they be educated, identified, trained, and paid? What will be the balance between governmental, institutional, and private funding? How will e-students afford to go through the training and education and pay for their various assessments? Who will control the quality of everything from classes to badges to course aggregators?
What do you think? Is this a utopia, a dystopia-or, it depends on for whom? According to John Rawls' theory of justice, the test of a just society is that you would consider it fair even if you were ignorant of the role you would play in it. So can we imagine, or help bring about, a more just future for everyone? Read Comments | Submit Your Comment