ALT,  edtech

Rewilding EdTech

Wolf Park - BW Howl

At ALT-C I was having a conversation with Amber Thomas about our mutual friend Ross MacKenzie’s interest in rewilding in Scotland. There are many different approaches to rewilding it turns out, but the two main ones are top down – reintroducing the big fauna such as wolves into a habitat, or bottom up, where you start at the bottom of the food chain and reintroduce small scale flora (and remove invasive species). Anyway, that’s my very basic understanding of it, my apologies if I’ve got it completely wrong.

This got me thinking that rewilding might be an idea we could take to ed tech. Much of the early enthusiasm around ed tech was that it was, as Brian Lamb used to characterise it, fast, cheap and out of control. But as it gained significance and a more central role in the university system it became more robust, and controllable. This is a good thing – students don’t want the system they need to submit an assignment at midnight to be flaky. But inevitably there has been a loss of some of the innovation that was prevalent when there were greater freedoms, as university processes and regulations have solidified around enterprise systems.

Rewilding offers a metaphor here, so I went searching to see if others had written about it, and came across this piece by Aaron Davis where he talks about rewilding education. In ed tech terms we would want to introduce tools into the ecosystem that would encourage some of the innovation we saw previously. But as with introducing wolves, it has to be done carefully, you don’t want tourists attacked and you don’t want students caught in frustrations with unusable systems. The two approaches to rewilding offer pointers here. A bottom-up approach might be to introduce some small scale, low impact tools, such as SPLOTs which encourage some of the pedagogic innovation, without becoming a system wide tool (as Jim Groom says, “let’s get small“). The more top-down approach is not to introduce a big system, but rather to tackle the policy issues – incentivise the use of such tools, make the IT infrastructure capable of supporting them, allocate resources and remove barriers. I’m convinced there’s a more interesting ed tech ecosystem out there.


  • Tony Hirst

    Hmmm… so why not just install and then something like Binderhub?


    – allows an academic or a developer to pop a docker container definition file for a docker container containing one or more services accessed via a browser UI (“personal web apps”, essentially), along with any associated assets, into a Github repo;
    – builds a docker image based on the contents of that repo;
    – then uses the image to deliver those services via container instances of the image to authenticated users via Jupyterhub?

    Alternatively, get folk to to install s/thing like O’Reilly’s LaunchBot ( ) on their own desktop, which does a similar thing: clones a repo, builds an image from it, deploys it on the user’s desktop.

    LaunchBot could be used when developing a thing and the same repo could then presumably be pointed at using Binderhub for deployment? Or students use use LaunchBot to launch services/apps themselves?

    • Jim Groom

      This BinderHub idea is very cool, found the comment via Downes, and this goes towards something I have been thinking of in terms of both analogies and technologies. I’ll try and post about it here soon, so thanks Martin for this awesome analogy and Tony for BinderHub. I guess despite all the fanfare the blogosphere is not dead yet!

  • Amber Dumbleton-Thomas

    I like the analogy!
    So Tony’s binderhub idea would be like a domain of one’s own: an allotment?
    Separate from the garden, which neatly separates out grass from flowers: nature, functionally seperate and tamed.
    A seperate allotment that allows for experimentation that won’t dry out the soil or steal the light from the rest of the plants. Dirtier, less for show, more for productivity.
    Pretty sure Robert O’Toole did a good Capability Brown analogy about our learning environment once.
    There’s definitely value in seeing the digital landscape as an ecosystem, some deliberate planting, some “weeds”, some wild meadows, some farmland. We are farmers and gardeners and occasionally flower arrangers 😉

  • Anne-Marie Scott

    I love this analogy – lots to dig into (sorry!). I like Amber’s allotment metaphor for the popup/containerised ideas Tony proposes, but for me there still something too urban and enclosed going on that doesn’t get to enough of the ‘wild’. Some reading on re-wilding threw up this quote which I like the spirit of:

    “…the Scottish Highlands or continental marshlands and river deltas become adventure land for an increasingly urban population.” (

    Wilderness spaces – for some adventure. There needs to be a little bit of risk in here too I think.

    • mweller

      Hi Anne-Marie, thanks for comment. I agree completely about risk – it’s like going hiking into a rewilded area with wolves or bears, you have to take certain measures.

  • Aaron Davis

    Thank you Martin for the shoutout. I wonder where movements such as DoOO and #IndieWeb fit within this metaphor? Are they a part of the bottom up? It is one I am going to have to think about. However, one thing is certain, there has to be “a more interesting ed tech ecosystem out there.”

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