Latest update: February 1, 2017

Presidential Workshop and Panel Session


A transdisciplinary exploratory dialogue

at the

Annual Convention of the
Association for Educational Communications and Technology
Las Vegas, NV, USA
October 17-21, 2016

Pristine Earth (Photo credit: Jan Visser)
Dates, times and setting
The event was spread over two separate days during the convention. The approximately six-hour workshop (for invitees only) took place on Monday, October 17, 2016, starting at 3:00 p.m. The two-hour panel session (for the convention audience at large) took place on Wednesday, October 19, 2016, starting at 2:15 p.m. The two parts of the event were intimately related. Results of the workshop informed the panel session.
The event was hosted by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), a professional association with world wide membership of educators and designers/developers of learning environments interested in improving instruction and learning through technology. It was an integrated item of the program of AECT's 2016 annual convention.
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Human Learning in the Anthropocene (HLA) is a new focus area of exploration, research and development of the Learning Development Institute. It comes in the wake of the Institute's prior major focus on Building the Scientific Mind (BtSM). HLA is not unrelated to BtSM, but it represents a wider and more acute focus.
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Brief rationale
Ours is a geological epoch—the Anthropocene—in which human activity has begun to have significant impact on the environment of our planet. In fact, a growing body of scientific literature exists suggesting that it is time to stop doing ‘business as usual.’ We are becoming painfully aware that there is something terribly wrong in the relationship between humans and their planetary environment. The problems we are currently facing are fundamentally different from those of the past. They are wicked, complex, and often of planetary import and impact. They require humans to think differently and to take control of their behavior at a different level of responsibility. Pertinent questions must thus be asked.
• What does life in the Anthropocene mean for the development of human learning?
• How must we, as designers of diverse learning environments and opportunities, respond to the challenges posed?’
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Contributing authors and collaborators
  • Jan Visser - chair, moderator and facilitator: President & Senior Researcher, Learning Development Institute and Professor Extraordinary, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.
  • Lene Rachel Andersen - contributing author and virtual workshop participant: Next Scandinavia, Stockholm, Sweden.
  • Elizabeth Boling - contributing author, workshop participant and panelist: Professor of Education; Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington - School of Education.
  • Ron Burnett - contributing author, workshop participant and panelist: President and Vice-Chancellor Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
  • Carlo Fabricatore - contributing author, workshop participant and panelist: Associate Professor and Leader of the Pro-Social Immersive Technologies (PSiT) research incubator, University of Huddersfield, UK.
  • Brad Hokanson - contributing author, workshop participant and panelist: Professor, College of Design, University of Minnesota and President-Elect, Association for Educational Communications and Technology.
  • Alfonso Montuori - contributing author and workshop participant: California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, CA.
  • Michael Spector - contributing author, workshop participant and panelist: Professor, Learning Technologies, College of Information, University of North Texas.
  • Yusra Laila Visser - contributing author, workshop participant and panelist: Instructional Designer, Illinois State University, Bloomington and Vice-President & Research Fellow, Learning Development Institute.
  • Lya Visser - rapporteur, videographer, photographer: Learning Development Institute.
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Biographical information and statements of interest
Jan Visser
Theoretical physicist; learning scientist; lifelong learner; musician; filmmaker; educator; walker. Passionate explorer of the unknown, driven by the desire to understand and do so deeply.
Currently: President & Senior Researcher, Learning Development Institute and Professor Extraordinary, Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Prior responsibility: Director, Learning Without Frontiers, UNESCO.
Works around the world. Has lived in four different continents; feels at home in a multicultural world; enjoys conversing in multiple languages. Straddles diverse disciplinary areas of scientific pursuit. Views art and science as intimately interconnected and integrated in a single culture. Works on transdisciplinary approaches to addressing complex problems.
Believes the Anthropocene challenge is a serious one and thus worth meeting.
Relevant paper: Human learning and the development of mind in the Anthropocene: Reflections agains the backdrop of Big History.
 Lene Rachel Andersen
Economist, futurist and philosopher.
My two main positive drivers are a fascination with complex problems and the good feeling that comes from helping others to connect a number of dots so that the world makes sense and becomes meaningful to them at a higher level in a richer way. My negative driver is that ignorance scares the crap out of me.
Since 1997, I have focused on technological development, how it increases complexity in the world around us, and how our Stone Age-brains can cope with this. I have therefore dug into big history, cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and a number of other sciences in order to contextualize the technological development, and I think that education, culture and Bildung are the best answers we have to those challenges. Together with a Swedish colleague, I am writing a book about this, The Nordic Secret, and we are now expanding the circle of people engaged in exploring these issues, most recently via the Berlin Consensus.
 Elizabeth Boling
Illustrator, designer, maker, teacher, mentor and scholar. Positive drivers are to strive for beauty, utility and order while striving also to maintain humility and respect, with admittedly variable success across the board. Negative driver is a lingering attraction to the seductively clean, but ultimately flawed, promise of fully rationalized systems and determinism in design. In research I seek an understanding of instructional designers in their own terms, and a path toward description and intentional development of the disciplined designer in our field - shifting focus from methods and principles alone to the humans who use them. In my free time these days I am a pattern designer - paper and fabric - and a compulsive backer of indie-designer pens on Kickstarter. My fabric wraps for storing pens have a miniscule cult following in the pen community.
Relevant papers: Designerly tools, sketching, and instructional designers and the guarantors of design and Design: The topic that should not be closed.
 Ronald Burnett
President, builder of a new campus, theorist of communications, writer, filmmaker and pedagogue. Currently, President and Vice-Chancellor of Emily Carr University of Art and Design, formerly Director of the Graduate Program in Communications at McGill University and Professor at LaTrobe University in Melbourne Australia. Fascinated with change and how to manage transformative institutional shifts or whether they are manageable at all. Working on three books including one that is entitled "A Biography of Learning," which is an in-depth exploration of my experiences in the post-secondary system over a forty-year career. Deeply involved in the development of Health Design as a discipline and practice.
Relevant papers: The Radical Impossibility of Teaching, Learning in the 21st Century, How Images Think and Culture of Vision: Images, Media and the Imaginary.
 Carlo Fabricatore
I am a computer scientist and ergonomist interested in studying complex systems, and the self-regulated learning and motivational mechanics underpinning human engagement and development in complex contexts. I believe that the wicked problems that dynamise our global society require integrative and adaptive thinking skills and sensibilities innate in all human beings, but not sufficiently nurtured through formal education. Throughout my career I have seen how these thinking skills and sensibilities are successfully fostered by games capable of deeply engaging players in complex scenarios mirroring "real" life. In fact, I have seen how human beings are often better feelers/thinkers/doers when they play "games" than when they "play real life". Hence, my work integrates the lenses of complexity, human activity and motivation to explore the use of games and game-based interaction design in order to promote engagement in complex contexts and wicked problems and foster the development of pro-social, complexivist mindsets and capabilities.
 Brad Hokanson
Coming from a background that includes art, architecture, and urban design, my current effort is less defined but within educational technology and broader learning.
My main effort over the past fifteen years has been on developing creativity through teaching and research, with a forthcoming book called More Creative: Developing your own creativity.
An evolving thread in my work is an idea called 'beyond content.' It is a belief that learning must be more than the retention of information, and that educational technology remains focused on measuring, dispersing, and remembering informational content. Traits such as persistence, curiosity, and creativity are not the focus of our work in education, and they should be. Content can be the medium to develop these skills, but should not be the end goal.
I'm also diverted by Argentine Tango, where the steps and the figures are less important than musicality and the embrace.
Relevant papers: Beyond content and The creative habit.
 Alfonso Montuori
I'm an educator, consultant, and musician. The main focus of my research for the past 30 years or so has been on how we create our understanding and experience of the world. The 3Cs, creativity, complexity, and culture have played in key role in my attempts to address this issue. In the context of education, drawing on the work of French complexity thinker Edgar Morin and others, I have been a strong proponent of transdisciplinarity, and over 10 years ago designed transdisciplinary Ph.D. at my university, the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. The Ph.D. views education as a creative process, summarized in the term Creative Inquiry. My work is strongly influenced by my experience as a musician and a producer.
Relevant papers: The quest for a new education: From oppositional identities to creative inquiry; Creative inquiry; and Gregory Bateson and the promise of transdisciplinarity.
 Michael Spector
I am at heart a philosophical skeptic in the tradition of Sextus Empiricus - that is to say, an inquirer, which is what the Greek word skepsis suggests and the thread that runs through the Outlines of Pyrrhonism. To inquire implies that one admits to not knowing something (humility), and, further, that one is willing to commit time and effort in search of a reasonable answer, which includes questioning assumptions and considering alternative explanations. Scientists are trained to do this. We need to extend that training to the general public so that we treat the environment, our institutions and each other with understanding.
 Yusra Laila Visser
I'm an instructional systems designer with a strong focus on the intersection between theory and application of effective and innovative instructional and performance interventions. I have 20 years of applied, and scholarly, experience working with government, transgovernment, corporate, nonprofit, military, higher education, international organization, and school district clients.
Innate curiosity is a strong driving force for me. I have an implicit desire to explore unknowns and to experiment with new solutions. I enjoy experimenting with novel interventions and strive to extend myself into new domains on a regular basis.
In my spare time I'm a prosumer photographer, watercolor artist and jewelry maker. I swim and walk on a regular basis. Reading is an important part of my daily life. While these activities are part of my "spare" time, they are an important part of my identity, and I am passionate about each of them.
Relevant paper: On the difficulty of changing our perceptions about such things as learning.
 Lya Visser
I have spent many years of my professional life concentrating on exploring the role of motivational communication in distance learning environments using not only cognitive but also affective strategies to assist learners in reaching their learning goals.
My focus was on the beauty of simplicity.
Lately I have begun to explore the use of affective communication strategies by expressing my hopes, thoughts, but also my worries through sculpturing in stone thereby concentrating on getting an often unwilling slab of stone to become an affective and effective communication vehicle.
Again, I focus on the beauty of simplicity.
For my report on the workshop and panel session, I hope to record, among all that will be said, also thoughts about the importance of artistic expression as a way for humans to transform themselves, focusing on the beauty of simplicity, in response to the challenges of the Anthropocene.
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DesignHLA report
A report on the meeting, covering and reflecting on both the workshop and the panel session, was prepared by Lya Visser. Jan Visser was responsible for the final editing.
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Annotated slide series
Two annotated slide series were authored and presented by Jan Visser (in lieu of conference papers) as an introduction to the workshop and the panel session, respectively. Follow the links to access them.
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A full-length audio recording of the workshop (in WMA format), lasting almost five and a half hours, is available here.
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A full-length video of the Presidential Panel Session is available, courtesy AECT, here.
Two panelists took part in the panel in absentia. Videographed contributions by these panelists are available for Alfonso Montuori and Lene Rachel Andersen.
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Photo gallery
A selection of photos can be found here.
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