Learning Technology jottings at Goldsmiths

Thoughts and deeds

Archive for June 2010

The Open University’s online annual conference, 2010

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… has just ended.

This free conference took place on Elluminate (web, audio, video, and social networking platform for online conferences) and on the Open University’s open (as in ‘you can use it too’) social learning environment, Cloudworks.

Just below are some notes for anybody who hasn’t held or participated in a large online conference before (remember, I’m in the business of academic development for learning technologies), and under that are some of the most stand-out things in the conference, for me.

Basically the moderators and presenter had microphones, the rest of us could use chat at any time and (during the time set aside for questions or breakout sessions) raise our hand icon for the microphone. Chat was active and engaged, though with a small minority of participants – but the questions, observations and links were flying. Credit to the moderators, who were the soul of inclusivity and monitored the chat pane for questions. Several of the speakers – hats off to them – were also successfully dividing their attention between their presentation or response and the ongoing chat pane conversation, responding to it as continuous feedback, and incorporating responses to chatted comments into what they were saying.

This kind of contingent presenting is very exciting to see and harder to achieve in face-to-face conference settings (although there are ways – microblogging e.g. Twitter is increasingly used). The potential for each participant to get a comment to the presenter during the presentation without interrupting it for anybody else is unique to chat technology and microblogging. Without these technologies, there would be no interaction at all in the case of an online conference or else, in the case of a face-to-face conference, a cacophony of vocalised comment drowning out the speaker and that comment would be atomised, limited to you and your near neighbour in the auditorium. So, as a consequence of the Elluminate platform’s chat pane, participants had the sense that they could contribute.

The participant-to-participant discussion in the chat was often very pertinent and incisive, too – there were knowledgeable people joining in. You might imagine that the chat competed for attention with the presenter. Yes, for me it did – and I need for strategies to cope with that. You certainly work hard at these things. I was also doing some work on the side.

Again, credit to the organisers and moderators, and deep gratitude for opening it up to outsiders – there were people from across the world there as counterparts of the OU people. And the presenters were great – for example, Peter Scott of the OU talking about iTunes U, Grainne Conole talking about how Cloudworks is being used by online communities of inquiry, Jimmy Wales founder of Wikipedia, George Siemens, to whom I frequently link, on connectivity and learning, Helen Milner discussing digital inclusion, and Joe Smith on opening up learning about the climate change, and the intellectual journey of climate sceptics.

The presentations were captured and will be available soon on Cloudworks, and a moderator undertook to digest the chat.

Selected jots (there was a lot of politics, indicating that openness is still a radical proposition):

  • barriers to accessing higher education persist for institutional reasons only (I’m not sure about ‘only’)
  • contrary to my reading, 50% (if I have that right) of students do listen to podcast material on mobile devices – Peter Scott says to look out for a publication.
  • What is a class? What is a course? In higher education we’ve created spaces for interactions, but we haven’t necessarily created the connections that learning needs.
  • As we in HE change our emphasis from what we ‘input’ into students’ education, to instead what they ‘output’ (yes I know this is systems speak, and interestingly enough the lecture format – i.e. input – endured in this conference, for good reason of its considerable learning potential, I’d say) I was very interested in the proposal that subject expertise would be a diminishing part of an academic teacher’s role. Can’t reconcile this with the research into teaching movement; also don’t see how teachers can be acute metacognitive or epistemic mentors in their field without actively practising their own inquiries. Melodramatically I thought of the financial crisis. The foundations of teaching and learning in HE are the findings of other people – from those all new sense is made. Subject knowledge and the ability to reason depend on each other. The ‘guide on the side’ metaphor (and I need to make it clear that nobody at the conference used this) doesn’t recognise (or at any rate, acknowledge) that academics are role models within an intellectual tradition their successors will build upon. In books, in presentations, and in institutions, they induct learners into what it is possible to achieve with knowledge in higher learning.
  • The idea of undiscovered public knowledge, requiring analytics to discover it.
  • Open materials yes – but their production model is still closed. Tony Hirst blogged his.
  • Wikipedia revealed that France and Britain had different accounts of the beginnings of aviation – giving credit to the Wright brothers and a Brazilian aviator Santos Dumant alternatively. Once noticed, this was resolved into a more nuanced account.
  • Wikipedia’s community norms are impressive for maintaining a neutral stance. I asked about consensus generation techniques for controversial areas, given Wikipedia’s concern to keep a low barrier to entry. The reply: “go meta” – discuss the positions, stances and assertions of important people or groups, rather than your own. I thought this might make a good academic practice case study.

Written by Mira Vogel

June 23, 2010 at 17:46

Posted in event

How to organise a children’s party

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Is that Dave Snowden, of Cognitive Edge, himself, in this video analogy-cum-parody How to Organise a Children’s Party?

Hat tip: somebody in the chat room of George Siemens’ presentation, Day 1 of the Open University’s 2010 Conference, Learning in an Open World. (And on this scythe-through-the-artery of a Budget Day, I should mention that it’s free, online, highly interactive, and very thought-provoking indeed.)

Written by Mira Vogel

June 22, 2010 at 17:41

Posted in event, video

Connecting learning and making

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Missed this short, thought-provoking film by David Gauntlett of theory.org, from back in January.

(I’m not sure I accept – if I understand the argument correctly – that the professionalism and specialism embodied by television, and by implication radio and film, belong in the trough of human creativity merely because they oblige ordinary people to adopt the role of an audience. Audiences are only lethargic if the programme is bad. On the other hand, good programmes foment ideas.)

Written by Mira Vogel

June 3, 2010 at 14:48

Posted in web 2.0