President’s Address

A welcome message from the ISLS President, Oskar Lindwall

Oskar Lindwall

For many of us, and for many reasons, this has been an incredibly difficult year. In addition to the tremendous losses communities across the world have suffered, the pandemic has changed the way we live and the way we work, forcing us to substitute face-to-face meetings with online communication. The current situation will have long term effects for schools, higher education, and other arenas of learning. The pandemic has accelerated change that was already taking place, but also led to unexpected developments. As exemplified by the excellent webinar series “CSCL in time of crisis”, there are many important wide-ranging lessons to be learned. The learning sciences play a key role in understanding this changing landscape and in shaping its future.

The theme chosen by the organizers for the 2021 Annual Meeting “reflecting the past and embracing the future” captures this important point in time. This first Annual Meeting also represents an exciting time in the history of the society. Our conferences have always provided important spaces for intellectual development, community-building and scientific exchange based on the principles of openness and rigor. With its two conference programs, the annual meeting is designed to develop the shared interests and common goals of our two communities, while at the same time respecting and embracing their individual histories and characters. Having one meeting with two conference programs further strengthens the bond between our two overlapping communities and provides opportunities to increase the continuity, sustainability, and accessibility of our society.

We learned a lot from this first meeting, and we will use these experiences in the design and communication of our future meetings and conference programs. While moving forward with our conferences, it is also important to recognize that our society is now taking increased financial and operative responsibility, and that some traditions and practices need to be reformed. The pandemic underlines the importance of financial stability. The increased operational responsibilities of the society would benefit from more sustainable solutions. Consequently, we need to continue the development of appropriate routines and continue ongoing efforts toward the accessible documentation of society practices.

As the pandemic continues into its second year, many academic conferences have been forced to either cancel or devise online alternatives. Last year, the organizers of ICLS 2020 had to quickly cancel their extensive plans and quickly produce an online alternative, which they accomplished through heroic effort. This year, it has for some time been clear that the first annual meeting would end up as an online or at least hybrid event. Still, few fully understood how to best run a large scale, online event that takes place simultaneously in multiple time zones. Virtual conferences have proven to be technically challenging as well as risking losing the same sense of community that face-to-face meetings provide. In retrospect, however, it is clear that quality of this meeting has exceeded our expectations – mainly due to the clever planning and diverse and engaging activities designed by the organizers and the high-quality content of the workshops and presentations.

In the future, we should make the best possible use of these experiences as the current situation has highlighted benefits of virtual participation, such as reduced carbon emissions and the potential for increased diversity and equity through the attendance of people who were previously unable to participate for economic or geopolitical reasons. There are few among us that would doubt the devastating effects of global warming, but we have not responded to it to the same degree as we have the pandemic; it was the pandemic, not the threats of climate change, that reduced the carbon footprint of academia for a time. As the effects of global warming become increasingly prevalent, this will most likely change. At the same time, the pandemic has also emphasized the importance of social events and the spontaneous meetings that are so difficult to occasion in virtual environments. It is important that we continue to explore the possibility of blended events that combine meetings at a physical location with an online component for remote attendees.

This also speaks to issues of equity and justice. By addressing issues of accessibility, equity, and sustainability in research and in our society, there are significant opportunities to expand membership and international reach – and thereby to further enrich our vibrant scientific community. The ISLS equity and justice committee plays a significant role here, and they are already doing an incredible job of highlighting issues related to the marginalization of particular voices and increasing the diversity of representation in our community. I am also grateful that Victor Lee in his prior role as president has worked hard to increase our awareness of racism and other systematic injustices. I believe that we as an academic society are now moving in the right direction on these issues, but there is clearly much more that we need to learn and do. Moving forward, I am confident that we will continue to work together to develop ISLS into an even richer, more diverse, and more sustainable scientific community.

Oskar Lindwall

ISLS President 2021–2022