Accepting and trying to deal with climate as an overriding priority

    I need to dig into this BBC R&D report, but it looks fascinating at first glance. I recognise the names of some of the people who were interviewed in the process of creating it, and what’s interesting to me is that they found that instead of the ‘next big thing’ in terms of technology, they found “a complex set of factors that we believe will enable and catalyse one another, sometimes in surprising and unpredictable ways”.

    The most important of these, of course, was “accepting and trying to deal with climate as an overriding priority” but also identifying two types of complexity. The first is “a sense that in order to simply go about your day as a person, it’s necessary to interact with, and understand, many complex sources of information”. The second is “a sense that the overarching systems of the world like politics, finance, economics, and healthcare, are becoming more complex and difficult to understand”.

    Late in 2022, we began a straightforward-sounding research project: compile a list of technologies that we should be paying attention to in BBC Research & Development over the next few years and make some recommendations about their adoption to the wider BBC. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, things didn’t turn out quite so straightforward.

    By the end of the project, we’d interviewed twenty-two people from the fields of science, economics, education, technology, design, business leadership, research, activism, journalism, and many points between. We spoke to people from both inside and outside the BBC and around the world. All of these people have a unique view on the future, and our report teases out the common themes from the interviews and compiles their ideas about how things might come to be in the near future.

    We grouped the themes we identified into five sections. The first, A complex world, outlines sources of complexity and uncertainty our interviewees see in their worlds. Climate change is by far the largest and most significant of these. The next section, A divided world, also covers big-picture context and outlines some of the social and economic drivers our interviewees see playing out over the next few years. The AI boom and New interactions go into detail on specific technologies and use cases our interviewees think will be significant. Finally, The case for hope bundles up some of the reasons our interviewees see to be hopeful about the future — provided we are willing to act to bring about the changes we’d like to see in the world

    Source: Projections: Things are not normal | BBC R&D

    Systems and interconnected disaster risks

    When you see that humans have exceeded six of the nine boundaries which keep Earth habitable, it’s more than a bit worrying. But then when you follow it up with this United Nations report, it makes you want to do something about it.

    I guess this is one of the reasons that I’m interested in Systems Thinking as an approach to helping us get out of this mess. I can imagine pivoting to work on this kind of thing, because (as far as I can see) everyone seems to think it’s someone else’s problem to solve.

    DALL-E 3 generated illustration showing a metaphorical depiction of climate tipping points. The scene includes a series of large dominoes in a fragile natural environment
    Systems are all around us and closely connected to us. Water systems, food systems, transport systems, information systems, ecosystems and others: our world is made up of systems where the individual parts interact with one another. Over time, human activities have made these systems increasingly complex, be it through global supply chains, communication networks, international trade and more. As these interconnections get stronger, they offer opportunities for global cooperation and support, but also expose us to greater risks and unpleasant surprises, particularly when our own actions threaten to damage a system.


    The six risk tipping points analysed in this report offer some key examples of the numerous risk tipping points we are approaching. If we look at the world as a whole, there are many more systems at risk that require our attention. Each system acts as a string in a safety net, keeping us from harm and supporting our societies. As the next system tips, another string is cut, increasing the overall pressure on the remaining systems to hold us up. Therefore, any attempt to reduce risk in these systems needs to acknowledge and understand these underlying interconnectivities. Actions that affect one system will likely have consequences on another, so we must avoid working in silos and instead look at the world as one connected system.

    Luckily, we have a unique advantage of being able to see the danger ahead of us by recognizing the risk tipping points we are approaching. This provides us with the opportunity to make informed decisions and take decisive actions to avert the worst of these impacts, and perhaps even forge a new path towards a bright, sustainable and equitable future. By anticipating risk tipping points where the system will cease to function as expected, we can adjust the way the system functions accordingly or modify our expectations of what the system can deliver. In each case, however, avoiding the risk tipping point will require more than a single solution. We will need to integrate actions across sectors in unprecedented ways in order to address the complex set of root causes and drivers of risk and promote changes in established mindsets.

    Source: 2023 Executive Summary - Interconnected Disaster Risks | United Nations University - Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS)

    Image: DALL-E 3

    Navigating the landscape of Digital and Media Literacy 

    The report from Tactical Tech focuses on Digital Media Literacy (DML), exploring its complexities and the challenges associated with how it’s assessed. It delves into the role of teachers and educators, hopefully once and for all dismissing the notion of “digital natives” and “digital non-natives”. The report emphasises that both teachers and students bring unique perspectives to digital learning environments: teachers may offer critical thinking skills, while students may be more comfortable with digital tools.

    This commissioned research report is a continuation of the Media Literacy Case for Educators project, which was introduced in April 2023 in the article: Media Literacy Case for Educators: Empowering Educators to Lead Media Literacy Initiatives in Europe and referenced in: An Assessment of the Needs of Educators and Youth in Europe for a Digital and Media Literacy Education Intervention.Two phases of exploration have been conducted, involving two rounds of desk research. The result of the second phase can be seen in the annotated bibliography included at the end of this report. Recommendations which resulted from the research include: combine methods and make learning fun; use evaluation and other key elements in the curriculum. Additional observations and considerations which require further exploration include: give attention to teachers’ and educators’ skills; and develop “patchwork blankets” and alliances.
    Source: Digital and Media Literacy Education: Navigating an Ever-Evolving Landscape | Tactical Tech

    Cooling down is hotting up

    As the world heats up, humans are going to need to cool down. The use of air conditioning already accounts for nearly 20% of electricity used in buildings worldwide, so this report highlights the urgent need for higher efficiency standards in cooling technologies to mitigate the strain on energy systems and reduce emissions.

    Apparently, effective policies could halve future energy demand and cut costs by $3 trillion by 2050. More importantly than the financial impact, I guess, more efficient air conditioning means that less hot air is dumped into urban environment, which tends to create heat islands (and affects weather patterns).

    Chart showing projected rise in demand for air conditioning

    Cooling down is catching on. As incomes rise and populations grow, especially in the world’s hotter regions, the use of air conditioners is becoming increasingly common. In fact, the use of air conditioners and electric fans already accounts for about a fifth of the total electricity in buildings around the world – or 10% of all global electricity consumption.

    Over the next three decades, the use of ACs is set to soar, becoming one of the top drivers of global electricity demand. A new analysis by the International Energy Agency shows how new standards can help the world avoid facing such a “cold crunch” by helping improve efficiency while also staying cool.

    Source: The Future of Cooling | IEA

    Web3, the metaverse, and the DRM-isation of everything

    I’ve been reading a report entitled Crypto Theses for 2022 recently. Despite having some small investments in crypto, the world that’s painted in that report is, quite frankly, dystopian.

    The author of that report admits to being on the right of politics and, to my mind, this is the problem: we’ve got people who believe that societal control and monetisation of all of the things in a free market economy is desirable.

    This article focuses on Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement at the end of 2021 about the ‘metaverse’. This is something which is a goal of the awkwardly-titled ‘web3’ movement.

    Perhaps I’m getting old, but to me technology should be about enabling humans to do new things or existing things better. As far as I can see, crypto/web3 just adds a DRM and monetisation layer on top of the open web?

    In one sense, it's a vision of a future world that takes many long-existing concepts, like shared online worlds and digital avatars, and combines them with recently emerging trends, like digital art ownership through NFT technology and digital "tipping" for creators.

    In another sense, it’s a vision that takes our existing reality — where you can already hang out in 2D or 3D virtual chat rooms with friends who are or are not using VR headsets — and tacks on more opportunities for monetization and advertising.

    Source: Zuckerberg Convinced the Tech World That ‘the Metaverse’ Is the Future | Business Insider

    The school system is a modern phenomenon, as is the childhood it produces

    Good old Ivan Illich with today's quotation-as-title. If you haven't read his Deschooling Society yet, you must. Given actions speak louder than words, it really makes you think about what we're actually doing to children when we send them off to the world of formal education.

    The pupil is thereby "schooled" to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new.

    ivan illich

    I left teaching almost a decade ago and still have a strong connection to the classroom through my wife (who's a teacher), my children (who are at school) and my friends/network (many of whom are involved in formal education.

    That's why a post entitled The Absurd Structure of High School by Bernie Bleske resonated with me, even though it's based on his experience in the US:

    The system’s scheduling fails on every possible level. If the goal is productivity, the fractured nature of the tasks undermines efficient product. So much time is spent in transition that very little is accomplished before there is a demand to move on. If the goal is maximum content conveyed, then the system works marginally well, in that students are pretty much bombarded with detail throughout their school day. However, that breadth of content comes at the cost of depth of understanding. The fractured nature of the work, the short amount of time provided, and the speed of change all undermine learning beyond the superficial. It’s shocking, really, that students learn as much as they do.

    Bernie Bleske

    We've known for a long time now, that a 'stage, not age' approach is much better for everyone involved. My daughter, sadly, enjoys school but is pretty bored there. And, frustratingly, there's not much we as parents can do about it.

    If you've got an academically-able child, on the surface it seems like part of the problem is them being 'held back' by their peers. However, studies show that there's little empirical evidence for this being true — as Oscar Hedstrom points out in Why streaming kids according to ability is a terrible idea:

    Despite all this, there is limited empirical evidence to suggest that streaming results in better outcomes for students. Professor John Hattie, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute, notes that ‘tracking has minimal effects on learning outcomes and profound negative equity effects’. Streaming significantly – and negatively – affects those students placed in the bottom sets. These students tend to have much higher representation of low socioeconomic backgrounds. Less significant is the small benefit for those lucky clever students in the higher sets. The overall result is relative inequality. The smart stay smart, and the dumb get dumber, further entrenching social disadvantage.

    Oscar Hedstrom

    I worked in a school in a rough area that streamed kids based on the results of a 'literacy skills' test on entry. The result was actually middle-class segregation within the school. As a child myself, I also went to a pretty tough school in an ex-mining town, which was a bit more integrated.

    The trouble with all of this is that most of the learning that happens in school is inside some form of classroom. As a recent Innovation Unit report entitled Local Learning Ecosystems: emerging models discusses, 'learning ecosystem' is a bit of a buzz-term at the moment, but with potentially useful applications:

    It remains to be seen whether the education ecosystem idea, as expressed in these varieties, will evolve as a truly significant new driver in public education on a large scale. These initiatives reflect ambitious visions well beyond current achievements. Conventional systems, with their excessive assessment routines, pressurized school communities, and entrenched vestigial approaches, are difficult to shift. But this report offers a taste of the creative flourishing in education thinking today that has emerged against, and perhaps in response to, the erosion of resources for public education, often abetted by indifferent, even hostile government.

    Local Learning Ecosystems: emerging models

    My go-to book around all of this is still Prof. Keri Facer's excellent Learning Futures: education, technology and social change. I still haven't come across another book with such a hopeful, practical vision for the future since reading it when it came out in 2011.

    Hopefully, taking a learning ecosystem or 'ecology' approach will provide the necessary shift of perspective to move us to the world beyond (just) classrooms.

    Also check out: