This year’s conference theme was ‘Life of I’ focusing on personal and personalised learning. So as a nod to this theme, and acknowledging that just like learning every conference is personal, I’ve posted my own summary of the event.
After an introduction from Malcolm, with some now traditional dodgy puns and pictures riffing on the theme of tigers and boats, Patrick Carmichael kicked things off in style with his discussion of video. In his keynote he explored the various affordances that this medium can offer. He presented both the positive and negative aspects of this technology in terms of enhancing the role of individuals involved yet simultaneously offering the possibility of diminishing their active involvement replacing this with a perceived presence rather than actual presence. He mentioned and explored a number of examples, ranged from providing dance students with the possibility of watching videos of their own performances to his mentioning of Knox’s (2013) exploration of the paradox of presence in MOOC models of education. This was a particularly interesting point considering the nature of the conference in that online facilitators or tutors are spending more time creating the learning objects and video production than in facilitating the course. In doing so they strangely create more opportunity not be present than to be present in the environment thereby having the effect of de-personalising the learning experience.
The next session that I attended was Sharon Flynn’s story on creating a staff community who were excited about Blackboard – with a title of ‘The Blackboard Festival: Creating A Sense Of Excitement And Enthusiasm For Staff Development Sessions’ how could I resist?! Sharon’s story was simple, providing staff development at times convenient for lecturers in ways that were engaging and fun. Also calling it a festival didn’t seem to do any harm either, piggy backing on the excitement generated by others happening simultaneously in the area.
The first of my presentations was up next with Eleanor Loughlin. We looked at the use of blogs in an online environment to try and create informal spaces for trainee teachers.
Chris Boon shared his story on how he came to handle large video files for assessment and his use of e-stream. With diversifying of assessment this is something that many of us have come across and can prove to be a headache. How to allow students to upload large files, and the problem of archival and storage as well as download for the assessor. His narrative and entertaining exploration of trial and error and configuration of e-stream until all parties were happy.
Graham Boxwell from Newcastle University shared his work of using the Newcastle owned eportfolio with students detailing uptake and how students were using this as part of their year abroad course to stay in touch and reflect upon their own learning experiences. These links and communication may have been informal before but providing them with an eportfolio that was university owned reduced the isolation associated with being away from a home institution and provided a tool for life long learning.
The second day brought with it a number of other presentations, starting off with a provocative keynote from Robin Goodfellow, exploring how the transition and focus of learning has gone from dialogue to design to data. What are the implications of this development; is this a positive wholly experience and what impact is this having upon our students’ learning. His argument that data is useful in making informed decisions but it takes much away from the personal experience and dialogue that initially informed our interaction with learners. In effect distancing ourselves from them as our interactions become increasingly negotiated through systems. He left us with a question as to how we can retain the personal and dialogic approach in the era of data driven education?
Sue Watling shared an exploration of the myth of the digital native that appeared to be the theme for the second day of the conference. She argued that in her experience those new teachers who should exhibit the assumed capabilities of digital natives sometimes fail to do so and competence should never be expected. Nick Pearce also argued along these lines, calling the digital native stance ‘unhelpful and unlikely’. His presentation however focused on the experience of older learners as part of the Foundation Centre Programme, with the conclusions being that technology is multi-layered and presents different forms present difficulties to individuals. He posed the question of what we can do to better support students who struggle with technology, and that like Sue, age is not necessarily an indicator of capability.
Also from Durham Foundation Centre was Jinhua Mathias who explored her use of screen casts with Mathematics students and found educational objects online. She noted that foundation centre students present particular requirements; either in that they have been out of education for longer or are coming from differing educational backgrounds and may have been taught different mathematical methods and so require additional support. By exploring how she released these to her students at specific times she was able to provide tailored support when needed most.
I gave one of the final presentations of the conference, looking at what students were expecting of their experience at university regarding learning technology and shared some results of a number of focus groups I ran at the beginning of the year with students at induction.
All in all it was a busy conference with over 100 attendees this year, some interesting discussions and a mature and considered response to the use of technology in education. My personal reflections of this event are that we are seeing a more engaged and critical use of technology, overcoming technical problems and assumptions of competence and just like the theme we are attempting to focus learning back on the learner and their personal learning experience.