Tuesday, September 05, 2006

ALT-C 2006 – opening ceremony

It's 9:30 on a fairly overcast Tuesday morning here on the edge of Edinburgh at Heriot-Watt University. The wireless network seems to work well (once the initial slow set-up was got over); I am sat in the main lecture theatre, which is full.

The opening was started by Rhonda Riachi, from ALT, and Andy Walker, Vice Principal of the university, who welcomed delegates and claimed that the origins of the university make it the eighth oldest in the UK. About 100 of the 600 delegates are from outside the UK.

The first keynote speaker is Dr Diana Oblinger, from EDUCAUSE ( the USA. Her talk is titled 'Listening to what we're seeing', and she started by looking at the context of education today. She says that context of the world is shifting, and wonders how education will change. She began by looking at the learners today – are digital, connected, experiential, immediate and social; they have an immediate natural comfort with technology; always connected with colleagues electronically in ways that older generation (inc. educators) are not. Many like to\learn in peer-to-peer situations (horizontal approach) and like interaction and engagement; many are visual and can read images as well as or better than text; often choose to work on things that matter and that might make a difference in the world. She also notes that these are generalisations.

Today's learners show some of the changes happening in our culture (norms and values, etc); multi-modal communication (and often simultaneous) tends to be a norm; many people are increasingly adopting 'do-it-yourself' approaches, eg online banking shopping and learning, as opposed to going to traditional authoritative sources; tools such as mp3 players and timeshifting abilities to watch broadcast media give increasing choice; libraries are not seen as first choice information sources, but learners tend to go to online resources such as Wikipedia, Google, etc. - many of these resources are developed/maintained by 'amateurs'. These cultural changes are affecting people of all ages.

Some of the implications of these changes she covered are:
- connecting with students (ie with people)
- network and connecting to a network of people and information is more important than knowing content (eg Siemen's 'connectivism' ideas)- social connections and networks
- connecting in virtual worlds to practice things that happen in the real world
- collaboration by design and the nature of learning spaces.

She spent quite some time looking at ways in which physical spaces were changing, or could be changed, so as to encourage interaction, conversations, and learning. She also emphasised that using technology is not the same as integrating technology for what it might be best used for.

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