Sunday 13 October 2013

Future of Technology in Education conference #fote13

Last Friday I attended the FoTE conference which was enjoyable and interesting. I attended in 2011 but didn't make it last year so was pleased to be able to shuffle work and travel and life to get there this time.
It is hosted by ULCC at Senate House, Uni of London. It's a beautiful building and has great memories for me as I used to spend hours in the library there in the 80s when I did my first degree at Kings College.

I like the event because it is for Learning Technologists and academics / teachers / educationalists who are involved and knowledgeable about learning technologies - it's not for the general overviewers but at the same time not cliquey. Also there is always a good back channel discussion via twitter.
The first speaker was Nicola Millard who is a futurologist. She was brilliant and engaging and talking about customers which is what I'm interested in. I do like an inspirational key note speaker to kick off an event, someone with an interesting take on the situation and with an appealing delivery. She talked about making things easy and effortless for customers and different sorts of effort such as cognitive effort. She mentioned email and that it would die out due to other channels being easier - not sure that I agree with that sweeping statement.....
A great point that she made was that you need 4 things in order to work - coffee, cake, connectivity and company. I agree entirely although would substitute tea for coffee. I think this idea is something library people should think about embracing - what sort of space is needed for you and for library users?
The next speaker was Alicia Wise from Elsevier who talked about Open Access. It was an interesting talk and quite difficult as the audience, I expect, are predominantly in favour of OA and see publishers as a barrier to it. But it was good to see them as part of the discussion.
The third speaker was Gwen Noteborn from Maastricht Uni talking about Webcasts in education: Mythbusters! It was ok and interesting but maybe covering old ground to some extent.
After the coffee break was the Fireside Chat with a real virtual fire in the background.
FOTE13 Fireside Speakers:
Yousuf Khan (Chair), Chief Information Officer, Hult International Business School
Adrian Ellison, Director of Information Technology, University of West London
Cathy Walsh, Principal and CEO, Barking & Dagenham College
Heidi Fraser-Krauss, Head of IT Services, University of York
Richard Maccabee, Head of ICT, University of London
There was some discussion around the idea that technology changes but working practices don't often change in order to develop along side. Again 'easiness' of using technology was mentioned - I agree in part, it has to accessible and available but I'm not sure it has to be simple - some of the appeal of technology is that it is challenging and complex - it can change the world, that is why it is enthralling.

After lunch Lindsay Jordan delivered a great presentation including a blue outfit and a piano. She talked about why people drop out of courses. Sustained learning needs motivation, organisation, self discipline - can we get these in an online environment? Possibly? She advocated face to face communication rather than email....again I would say it depends on the situation and the interaction.

Next presentation was by Martin King and was about diversity and connectivity - lots of interesting stuff.
Next presentation was from Kevin
Ashley from the Digital Curation Centre. He talked about the data deluge and the problem that we have is that the amount of data is outstripping the technology we have to store it.
After the coffee break, the final two presentations were about Moocs. Matt Yee-King and Marco Gillies talked about the Mooc that they created and delivered at Goldsmiths. It was a great insight into the practicalities of scaling up an online course and some of the issues and solutions they had encountered. This included changing deadlines which is easy for small cohorts but not for large numbers. Also the problems of negative comments on discussion forums - even if 1% make one comment, this can be large number of complaints.
The last presentation was by Diana Laurillard entitled The pedagogies for large-scale student guidance. The data from Moocs suggest that the majority of participants already have a degree or higher degree. This suggests that it is not for undergraduate study but for CPD. The drop out rates are high but registration is not the same as signing up. When scaling up the numbers involved in courses for Moocs, other factors have to be considered such as admin and support. Support costs are not going to go down but technology can innovate pedagogy. There needs to be investment in teacher innovation to make best use of resources and improve student outcomes.
All in all, it was a great day with lots of ideas to take away and reflect on. It's good to spend a day immersed in learning technology, listening and talking to people.

On the way back to the station I managed a very brief (10min) visit to the British Library - just time to stand and stare.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Dog food, fire hoses and asking permission - phrases overheard at education technology events

You expect to hear a certain amount of jargon and soundbites in education and technology in order to attract attention and tap into the popular culture of the day. But sometimes you hear people using phrases and wonder what they are thinking and then later, when you go back and read your notes, it seems at best slightly odd and at worst ridiculous. Two phrases that I have heard over the last few weeks at technology / educational events are 'eating your own dog food' and 'drinking from the fire hose'. I'm not a popular culture person nor a marketing person so perhaps such calls to action are not relevant to me, but what does it mean and why were they said in the context of an academic environment.
I hesitantly googled 'eating your own dog food' and according to wikipedia ">Dogfooding can be a way for a company to demonstrate confidence in its own products. The idea is that if the company expects customers to buy its products, it should also be willing to use those products". It has been a phrase in common usage since 2007 although other alternatives have been suggested such as 'drinking your own champagne'.
Presumably in the context it was used it means that educational systems / initiatives / technologies should produce an environment for learning that the developers and policy makers would be confident and happy to use themselves?
Also in my notes from another day, I have 'Drinking from the firehose?' and 'Being agile in fast waters' so presumably there is a connection. Again I hesitantly googled 'drinking from the fire hose' - and I wished I hadn't as there were quite a few dodgy results aimed at 'male gamers' as you can imagine, but it does mean 'overwhelmed by information'. My question would be 'what is wrong with using 'information overload' in this instance? The use of both these phrases in an educational/academic/technology environment is disappointing as far as I'm concerned - who is it meant to appeal to? Is it meant to be cool or business like? Or funny...and I'm not getting the joke?

On a more serious note, I have recently heard three people suggesting that in order to get things done, it is better to seek forgiveness after the event rather than asking permission beforehand. Two of the people who have extolled this course of action are quite eminent in their field and I admire them for their success. But my first thoughts were 'how high up the ladder do you have to get before you can do that?' and 'It would be great to be able to do that'. My second thoughts were 'what would happen if everyone did that' and 'is asking permission sometimes a matter of seeking consensus?'.
The third time I've noted the phrase was in a blog about productivity when it was stated that the only way to get things done was to do them and then 'seek forgiveness' if it doesn't work. But surely it is a judgement call - if you see an opportunity and think it's going to work then you should take a risk and go for it. But what happens if it doesn't.......

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Association for Learning Technology Conference 2013 - Tuesday 10th Sept #altc2013

ALT-C 2013 Tuesday 

The Association for Learning Technology conference took place in Nottingham at the East Midlands Conference Centre 10th - 12th September. It was an excellent conference, as it always is, and I would recommend it to anyone involved in education and invaluable to those involved in educational technologies.
This blog post is not a comprehensive account of the conference sessions as these can be found online via the ALT website and via the ALT YouTube channel, but is a brief summary of events and of my experience of the conference.
As usual, I never have time to prepare for my attendance at the conference as I'm always working right up to the day before and this is problematic. I would like to study in advance the sessions that I'm going to attend and contact the people I would like to meet but instead it's straight into the hurly burly.
Firstly the venue - I very much like the venue - easy to get to by car, car park right outside, conference sessions all in one building, no trekking across a campus to other buildings. Facilities good, main theatre suitable, breakout rooms ok, tea and biscuits available, places to sit, places to chat in corridors, modern decor and easy to find toilets. Wifi coverage good although I expect most people use eduroam rather than the conference wifi. Food good - lunches queue up and get served but tables to sit at thankfully none of that wandering around the exhibition space trying to balance a plate and drink etc.
The conference chairs, Malcolm Ryan and Hadyn Blackey were excellent from start to finish providing a knowledgeable and entertaining interface and appeal to all the delegates. It was a perfect balance between looking back at 20 years of ALT conferences and providing relevance to current developments.
The opening keynotes consisted of a number of speakers. There was a video from Matthew Hancock MP who talked about FELTAG and then MOOCs and the impact that MOOCs can have as they mature. He questioned what changes are needed in order to use technology for the improvement of education.
Next up was Alan Ford, Pro-Vice Chancellor Teaching and Learning University of Nottingham. He talked about blended learning, not distance learning and the importance of supporting face to face teaching with learning technologies.
Then Rachel Whenstone talked about partnerships and how educators can build cultures of partnerships with students.  Rachel is Vice-President (Higher Education) of the National Union of Students and explained that students should have opportunities to shape their learning and be empowered to determine what the learning environment looks like. Students want a change from feedback to a two way conversation about the process of change. Universities need to offer a new way for students to engage not a consumerist model, new practice not just rhetoric. It was a very interesting keynote and it was great to have the student voice and perspective but I felt she was berating us for not doing anything as far as collaborating with students is concerned. In fact lots of us are working really hard at improving the student experience and involved in lots of initiatives, projects and day to day activities to engage and empower students. I agreed with everything she said but we're already travelling down that road with good intentions.
Next I went to a session about iPads in distance learning and using a bespoke app.  The people involved were working in a peace keeping role in warzones and often did not have access to wifi.  The session was focused on digital literacy skills.
The next session was the FELTAG Open Consultation meeting which involved feedback on the FELTAG workstreams.  FELTAG is the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group which was set up by Skills Minister Matthew Hancock to find out how the FE sector could embrace different learning technologies. It aims to focus on the practicalities of working with students and employers.  There was an opportunity for people in the audience to make suggestions about the areas that the work should focus on - these included capturing innovation, examples of best practice, guided learning hours, funding (SFA), transforming and digitising the enrolment system. 
There is a review of the session and the conference which can be downloaded from
The evening involved the reception for new ALT members which was well attended and is very valuable.  I think that there was more new attendees at the conference than previous years and hopefully they were also new ALT members.  It is important to provide a networking opportunity for new people as well as current members and to ensure that the conference is a positive experience for all delegates.