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Maria Crabtree TESS 2022
24.11.2022 - 6 min. Read

Liberatory Education: Technology, Self-determination, and Collective Human Agency with Maria Crabtree

Maria Crabtree is a futurist and foresight researcher who presented a keynote address at TESS 2022 on November 15th. Maria sat down with eCampusOntario to talk about her journey as a foresight researcher and explore how educators can place liberation at the core of education and technology.  

About KnowledgeWorks 

KnowledgeWorks explores the future of learning to help education leaders and innovators better prepare for what’s ahead. Through strategic foresight, KnowledgeWorks dives deeply into critical education issues to translate insights about the future into action today.  Their team works alongside policymakers, educators, business leaders and community stakeholders to create policies that promote transformation in their education system.  

In her role as director of strategic foresight projects, Maria Crabtree makes substantive contributions to KnowledgeWorks’ national thought leadership around the future of learning and conducts key strategic foresight activities.  

eCampusOntario: Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to pursue the path of foresight and research?   

Maria Crabtree: Growing up, I always thought “if I ever ran for President, what would be my platform?” Like, what made the biggest difference? And I believed that education was one of those pillars of society. The experience that [education] provides for young people to develop themselves socially – it just seemed like a great investment in terms of the effort that you can dedicate to making education better for every student.   

As a student, I first went into sociology and pursued a higher education background in Venezuela – that was a fascinating experience. Later, I studied communications, and that was my jump into foresight.  

A semiotic professor took the time to tell us, “you know, this is something that you can actually do for a living. You can [work in] cultural studies, investigate signals of change, decipher what’s coming in,” and in that sense, [for me] foresight was kind of like coolhunting.  

That’s what prompted me to learn more about foresight and future studies.   

What can TESS 2022 attendees expect to bring to their own teaching and practice from your Liberated Learners keynote presentation? 

I would like People to get more familiar with the concept of Liberatory Education. What is Liberatory Education? We need more people to know about that concept so they can hopefully practice it [in their educational programs]. Attendees can understand how they can embed it into their own processes and how they teach and learn. 

After that, I think it’s important for people, as they navigate the conference, to ask themselves “Whose future is this?”  

You mentioned in your abstract how the decisions we make today have an impact on our collective futures and those generations to come. Was there an “epiphany” moment where you came to this realization? 

Idea Couture in collaboration with Policy Horizons Canada conducted a foresight research project to learn more about future possibilities for upcoming technologies, as well as social, political, environmental and economic events. When it was time to share the results, they didn’t want it to be a typical white paper, but rather an item that people could engage with. So, they created a fun boardgame called Impact: A Foresight Game.  

Years later, I brought this game to KnowledgeWorks and prompted them with the question, “what if we create one for education?” As a result, we created Impact: Learning Edition. It’s a wonderful way for people to consider “What if?” And in this game, it was so simple to realize this idea of the collective future. 

In the centre of the boardgame, there are ten ten domains that all players share and influence. Through the game players can see how their decisions to achieve their personal future impact the different domains. At the end, players can see the result of their individual actions on the collective future of the table. I love how the game really illustrates that point. During playtests players recognized their impact in shaping their own future but also others’, our collective future. 

Editors note: In Impact: Learning Edition, each game-world includes domains (social environments) that affect learning. These environments include Civic Life, Climate and Environment, Community and Culture, and more.  

Players pursue their preferred futures by putting influence cubes on domain cards. Impact and disruption cards influence the number of cubes on specific domains, stalling or accelerating change. 

IMPACT: Learning Edition sparks insightful conversations and reflections about education change-making. It will help players understand how the decisions they are making today could shape the future—not just for one person, but for everyone.  

Whenever eCampusOntario or any postsecondary institution is choosing technology to fulfill an educational purpose, is there a way we can determine if this technology will be a tool for liberation? 

When we [KnowledgeWorks] were working on Imagining Liberatory Education Futures, one of our insights was, yes, technology can be channeled for liberation; they are wonderful vessels that we can fill with liberation. So, let’s do it. The challenge there is that they would need to be designed for liberation from the get-go.  

That is why we need to start asking questions today. So we can design those technologies [to be liberatory] now, instead of using under-developed tech without foresight and then trying to make them incrementally more liberatory as time goes on. There are fundamental differences at the core of education today that don’t quite align with what liberatory education could be in our aspirational form, if that’s what we aspire to do. 

For example, by asking “what are the values underpinning this platform?” Is [the platform] giving your audience ownership over their own data and accessibility? And is it truly representing who [the technology] is meant to serve? You can start thinking more critically about the technology solutions your learning community might need. 

Watch Maria Crabtree’s TESS 2022 presentation on eCampusOntario’s YouTube Channel.

Maria Crabtree is a futurist and foresight researcher. She has worked on a range of foresight initiatives including a project for NASA’s Langley Research Center, Kimberly Clark’s future of the circular economy, and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research’s future of cancer research. 

Maria is also a coauthor and co-editor of the books Beyond Genuine Stupidity and The Future Reinvented, and she is a contributor to the upcoming Unleashing Human Potential–The Future of AI in Business. She is a member of the Association of Professional Futurists, the Project Management Institute, and is a recipient of the 2020 Emerald Literati Award.