Inevitable Thresholds

Adam Barger wrote a post this week in the Educause Review blog entitled, “Educational Technology Leadership and Practice in Higher Education: The Emergence of Threshold Concepts.”  “Threshold” is an interesting term that grabs your attention!  Merriam-Webster defines “threshold” as (a) the plank that lies under a door, (b) the place or point of an ending or a beginning, or (c) the point at which a physiological or psychological effect begins to be produced…a point or value where things become “true.”

In this post, Adam used Meyer and Land’s definition of threshold concepts “…as ideas or ways of thinking that transform the internal view of a subject.”  He noted three such threshold concepts for educational technology:

  1. Higher education is no longer about access to information; rather, it is about access to experiences.
  2. Use of educational technology in most higher education settings is standard practice rather than the exception.
  3. Educational technology both follows and fuels effective pedagogy.

I would agree that these are indeed points that have become true.  It is an easy leap to align them with Kevin Kelly’s 2015 book, The Inevitable, which noted twelve technological  forces (or verbs) that are inevitable for the future:

  1. Becoming: Moving from fixed products to always upgrading services and subscriptions
  2. Cognifying: Making everything much smarter using cheap powerful AI that we get from the cloud
  3. Flowing: Depending on unstoppable streams in real-time for everything
  4. Screening: Turning all surfaces into screens
  5. Accessing: Shifting society from one where we own assets, to one where instead we will have access to services at all times.
  6. Sharing: Collaboration at mass-scale. Kelly writes, “On my imaginary Sharing Meter Index we are still at 2 out of 10.”
  7. Filtering: Harnessing intense personalization in order to anticipate our desires
  8. Remixing: Unbundling existing products into their most primitive parts and then recombine in all possible ways
  9. Interacting: Immersing ourselves inside our computers to maximize their engagement
  10. Tracking: Employing total surveillance for the benefit of citizens and consumers
  11. Questioning: Promoting good questions are far more valuable than good answers
  12. Beginning: Constructing a planetary system connecting all humans and machines into a global matrix

Adam noted that higher education is no longer about access to information, but rather it is about access to experiences.  Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I made that point in our 2009 White Paper, “Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning.”  Kelly’s verbs of accessing, flowing, filtering, interacting, and questioning all weave into this threshold concept as well.

Edtech has definitely become a standard practice globally.  This is evident in our Twitter discussions at #EDU6323 and #EDU6333 where Masters students in Northeastern’s program share their realities and hopes concerning edtech.  In this standard practice, one can see Kelly’s verbs of becoming, cognifying, screening, sharing and remixing.  I like Adam’s note that:

“In essence, the saturation of technology use in higher education allows for more individualized approaches to educating all students.”

Adam’s final threshold places pedagogy before technology…and suggests that experimentation and play are worthy endeavors for education.  I agree, and have certainly attempted to embed a certain degree of playfulness in all my courses. Cognifying, filtering, and questioning all have pedagogical applications.

I have also attempted to embed a certain degree of optimism in my teaching as well.  I like Elsie’s image of “Threshold” at the top of this post…as it suggests moving from the darkness into the light.  That is a threshold worth crossing!

{Graphics: Elsie Godwin, Viking Press}