Thursday, November 06, 2008

European Conference on e-Learning - Day 1

Today I'm attending the European conference on e-Learning at the Grecian Palace Hotel in Ayia Napa, Cyprus.

Following some delays at Heathrow yesterday we arrived at Larnaca airport to be greeted by a colleague who introduced us to his family who live locally and then took us for dinner in a traditional Cypriot taverna, where we tried a variety of local dishes.

The conference started in earnest this morning with a welcome from the chair George Papadopopolous from the University of Cyprus. Over 360 paper submissions had been received and 175 accepted - therefore will only be able to attend and give reports on a selection of the papers. Delegates for 33 countries (including several from outside the EU) have assembled fr the event, and there seems to be a large UK contingent, included some colleagues I didn't know were coming from the University of the West of England. The conference seems well organised and the setting is spectacular and warm - opening my bedroom window to look out on sunshine on the swimming pool and the Mediterranean was a great way to wake up.

The opening keynote address was given by Professor Thanasis Hadzilacos from the Open University of Cyprus. His talk entitled "What do educators care about e-learning environment architecture?" focused on the relationship between pedagogy and software architecture. He used analogies from art (Form v content) and biology (structure v function) to identify and illustrate what is general and what is special about technology used for education. The tensions between a course design and individualised learning were explored with a recognition that most learning is not the linear process dictated by modulkes, courses etc imposed by educational institutions.

The limitations of the write once, read many text, book format were described and a prgression seen to multimedia formats which are now being challenged by the need to students to have greater interactivity and mving to dynamic content which is developed by many and is never the same for 2 different participants. He concluded that we need to focus on what the learner does not on what the technology does.

The conference then split into streams and the first presentation I attended was by Frans Van Hoek from CINOP in the Netherlands who described a course he has developed for adult educations and youngsters with "low education" setting out the 7 steps model they have identified for information literacy, which is not just about digital literacy (IT) or information finding but takes the participants through the location, processing and using of information for different aspects of everyday life. He challenged the audience to decide if they are "information literate" and argued that lifelong learning is vital to stay information literate in a changing world.

After coffee I attended a session by Janina Radvilaviciute from Lithuania describing a system she has developed a learning system for the ECDL. She described how it was built and used by people with different levels of access administrator, manager, tutor & learner. Thesystem presents course materials, tests etc and has been used by over 1000 users in 3 yrs with learners achieving over 85% pas rates after using it.

The next session I wanted to attend on Providing autonomous hands-on learning and learner mobility using virtual computer technologies was canceled so I went to an interesting presentation by Lorenzo Sommaruga from the University of Applied Sciences of Southern Switzerland, describing an EU Lorenzo funded collaborative project on solid waste management (The Waste Train Project) highlighting blended learning in action. He described the training needs analysis for vocational learning across 9 countries with 8 languages. The project developed leaning materials and coordianted face to face delivery with tutors and students from all the countries and highlighted the different actors involved: author, tutor and course designer. He concluded by drawing together the lessons from the project which can be applied in other areas including the issues about coorodingation and communication with multiple actors in different geographical locations. It was interesting to see that the Web 2.0/communication tools provided were not used very much and he suggested this was because of the lack of familiarity of the tutors intriducing the materials to students.

My last session of the morning was a presentation by Lone Dirckinck-Holnfeld from Aalborg University who described some of the methodological and theoretical issues in the development of a community based Methodopedia as part of a wider EU funded blended learning project (see ). Most of the presentation was about learning design and the issues of getting shared understanding and definition of the relevant terms.

After lunch I attended a presentation by Brigitte Grote from the Free University of Berlin who had been working with the humanities faculty to move from their existing established and supported use of elearning 1.0 to incorprate web 2.0 technologies. She used a couple of case studies to illustrate how mere document delivery via the web was being enhanced with interactive tools overcoming personal, organisational and technical issues to achieve high levels of uptake and satisfaction amongst students and staff.

The next session was June Clarke from Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, who described work her team have been undertaking to introduce and encourage academic staff use of Web2.0 tools. They hand delivered initiations (rather than email) to encourage those who may be less enthusiastic about their use to come to introductory sessions. 150 staff attended one of three sessions & got hands on experience with various Blackboard plugins for making quizzes, using adaptive release, blogs, wikis, podcasts and webcams. These had been successful and many of the staff who went to the sessions had used one or more of the tools, with good students acceptance and positive reviews.

During the tea break I've also had a look at who else is blogging from the conference and found:
But no one else live blogging - if anyone is blogging from the event & reads this let me know & we can link to each others brogs to give a fuller flavour of the event.
I have had a chat with Roy Williams from Portsmouth who is recording the event on wikispaces

As we move towards the end of the day (it gets dark early in Cyprus) Sue Greener from Brighton Business School presented some of the findings from her recently completed PhD on the teachers role in elearning. Her work was based on a Community of Inquiry framework and chiefly related to asynchronous online learning. She highlighted issues of control and how shifting this from teacher to student may be challenging for some staff, leading to fear and opposition to the use of these tools.

My final session of the day was by Jonny Dyer (and Jean Jackson) from the Inclusion Trust humorously describing the development of an online community to attract disaffected kids back into education. Some of the issues with Key Stage 4 kids (from 13-16 years) and what is required for a true community were discussed in a Q&A format.

The sessions finished at 18.00 which gave time for a quick drink and a chat before boarding coaches to a "traditional taverna" for the conference dinner, which involved lots of dishes & more food than anyone could eat. The table I was at with delegates from Russia, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland and other countries I may have missed. Olga my Russian colleague who I was sitting next to found my English (more estuary than BBC) difficult to understand, but we still managed to communicate and I learned to say hello in Russian. Discussing the Nature v Nurture debate in (at least) 3 languages was an experience! Entertainment was provided by local musicians and some delegates even managed to getup and dance.

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