Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Plymouth e-Learning conference

I had a really nice time last Friday, at the Plymouth e-Learning conference. Okay, it helped that the weather was great and that I was by the seaside, and that I love the train journey past the Cotswolds, through Bristol and along the coast beyond Exeter. However, the setting for the day, in the Roland Levinsky building, was excellent - an impressive use of building materials fused with a dynamic shape in the heart of the city. Plus, I met some really nice people - lots of smiling (I wonder if it's the sea air), and took away a few ideas.
  1. the University of Staffordshire, have just validated a Technology-Supported Learning strategy. I'm not sure that we are yet at the position where institutional maturity for embedding e-Learning (and I mean across the institution, not just in the heads of our e-Learning Co-ordinators and champions) is a position where we can ditch the term "e-Learning".
  2. Mark Stiles from Staffordshire also pointed us to their resources on communities of practice, which might be worth further investigation.
  3. Mark's keynote focused upon how we embed e-Learning without moving to a process of regulation. My take on this is that mature and devolved quality assurance processes, enable programme seems to innovate, within a structure whereby local faculty mechanisms help those teams enhance their work. I think Mark is right, however, to flag the need for joined-up policies in estates, information services, learning and teaching, library services, etc, in particular, where lifelong learning, employer engagement, flexible working, work-based learning and foundation degrees impact upon our perception of the "University".
  4. I was taken with Neil Witt's presentation about Plymouth's HELP CETL. in particular, I like what they have called USPACE - their iGoogle aggregator, which acts as a personal learning environment to support transitions into higher education and work-based learning. There is lots to learn from this implementation about the development and implementation of PLEs, to form a context for learning within which students are comfortable. I liked Neil's argument that this is a sustainable solution, precisely because Google is a sustainable solution, with guaranteed services. What also struck me about his presentation, in the mix of technologies including eLGG,, googledocs and Ning presented via iGoogle, was his commitment to rapid prototyping. This is based on quick, clear, user focused evaluation. Within this approach engaging the staff, and developing their capability, strikes me as critical.
  5. Mark Lyndon and Graeme Horton presented a really interesting lunchtime session on building an interactive whiteboard for under £40, simply using a Nintendo Wii remote, hooked up both to a laptop (using a Bluetooth driver and whiteboard open source software) and a data projector, with a home and made infrared pointing and drawing device. They based their work on that of Johnny Chung Lee, and showed us how to utilise the whiteboard in under five minutes. The home-made infrared pointing and drawing device is a wonder of modern technology, consisting of an LED, switch and AAA battery, fitted inside a whiteboard marker pen (with nib and cartridge removed). What I loved about this demonstration was the fact that as a user I got some instructions for engineering my own pointing device, and that they developed a mobile, wireless, classroom solution. As the guys from Plymouth noted the critical development would be how it was used in the classroom, or how it freed-up staff and students to do work in a variety of contexts.
  6. I was a bit disappointed to miss Steve Wheeler's presentation on social anxiety, given my interest in issues around agency and participation in on-line environments. There is a tendency to look at Web 2.0 and other e-Learning tools as a panacea for participation, and I think this type of research is a much needed balance. I'll be hunting Steve down for a copy of his presentation, and I hope to do some more work in this area.
  7. Oh, and I thought my presentation on "the impact of the read/write web on learner agency" went pretty well. I seem to have the central tenets of this paper pretty well mapped out, in terms of theories around deliberative democracy, association and decision-making, and the practical impact of the read/write web upon our students' perceptions of on-line access and participation, decision-making, environmental control and critical literacy.

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