Michelle Selinger from Cisco opened the Ascilite conference in Melbourne this year. Her talk provided a nice introduction to the conference with a broad brush of current and future perspectives on technology. She began by defining 4 phases of globalisation:
- 100 years or so ago - with the first wave of world trade
- 1980s - with a focus on global manufactory
- 1990s - in terms of global R and D and
- 2006 and beyond – i.e. the current phase with distributed, global technological infrastructures.
A strong theme of her talk was around changing paradigms and practice. She referenced much of the ‘net generation’ literature in terms of the changing patterns of student behaviour. She argued that technological developments are challenging traditional paradigms – such as current models of authorship and ownership. She referenced J. Hilton’s 2006 Educause report – ‘The future of HE – sunrise or perfect storm?’, C.K. Prahalad’ book ‘The new age of innovation’ (see related blog), Wienberger’s (2008) ‘Everything is miscellaneous’ and D. Tapscott’s recent work (2008) ‘Grown up digital’. In particular she quoted Tapcott’s list about modern learners:
Love to customise
- Are the new scrutinisers
- Want freedom
- Look for corporate integrity and openness in deciding what to buy and where to work and where to study
- Want entertainment and play in their work, education and social life
- Need speed
- Are innovators
Technology trends for her included:
- Cloud computing
- End of delivery
- Personalised course pages
- e-portfolios and results of conversation
- Universities as provides of learning resources not learning objects
- Recommender systems
It’s interesting to compare this with the recent US and Australian Horizon reports (See for example this cloud which summarises them and links to the reports). She concluded by posing a set of questions, in terms of the implications of these trends for education:
- What does academic expertise mean in a web 2.0 world?
- How will it be judged?
- What will differentiate universities from new forms of knowledge providers?
- What will count as authoritative?
A very nice touch of Michelle’s talk was that she put up her mobile number at the beginning and invited the audience to text her questions. Then at various points in the talk she stopped and answered them.
The second keynote was Piet Kommers from the University of Twente in the Netherlands. The focus of his talk was on mobile and virtual presence in the learning community, referencing work that he and colleagues have been engaged with such as trying to combine curriculum to make it affordable in terms of time and cognitive load. Current projects include a 6th framework Network of excellent on virtual reality and virtual environment applications for future workspaces and RGames - VR and Mobile Devices for negotiating on radiation phenomena.
I was particularly interested in Piet’s various takes on representation as this is something I am very interested in as part of our learning design research. He illustrated the power of representation with a number of nice examples and in particular the importance of matching the right representation to the intended learning goal, pointing out for example that if you are trying to get across the architecture of the heart – a simple 2D diagram is more powerful that an animated 3D model which obscures the functional features of the heart.
He touched on issues of persona and changing identities in the digital environment, reminding us that the term ‘persona’ comes from the Greek ‘persona’ meaning mask – i.e. ‘per’ ‘sona’ means through sound or by the voice. I have argued in a recent chapter that we need to find new vocabularies and metaphors to make sense of the digital environment and our interaction with it. The notion of ‘digital space’ is inadequate as in reality we each have a range of different digital traces (across the blogosphere, email, twitter, facebook, secondlife, corporate websites, the papers we write and the courses we teach on) Where are you now whilst reading this blog? As I write this I am sitting in a café in Melbourne airport on 4th Dec., but you might be reading this on Sunday in the States or on Monday in the UK. Likewise you might read a tweet I sent immediately or a few hours later. I know there is nothing particularly new in what I am saying here, but I do think the complexity and multi-facetedness of the modern digital environment is beginning to really challenge the way we describe it.
Piet posited that there was a tension between the culture of the media and the culture of education where the media is constantly changing, and argued that we need to make schools richer in terms of the social surroundings available for students. This linked nicely to Gary Poole’s keynote on learning spaces – more on this below. He referred to the award winning Stagestruck software (a multi-media rich CD about Sydney opera – which encourages student exploration and adopts a strong experiential learning approach) and also the ‘Woven stories’ project from Finland – where students and teachers co-create stories.
The final keynote was Gary Poole from British Columbia entitled ‘A place to call a learning home’. He started with a nice audience participation exercise. He asked us to draw what we thought was a ‘learning home’. It was really interesting to see what people came up with – there were a lot of people who drew a computer – including me. My mac is probably the most important thing in my life (apart from the people I love of course!). It is my distributed cognition, my office, my thinking space, my connectivity to others. A lot of people also drew comfy sofas and chairs - which seemed a bit bizarre to me! Certainly there were no representations of traditional classrooms or schools… The point being that technologies free us from traditional structures and we have the potential to apply the best of what is known about social psychology and how humans communicate and learn to create a perfect blend of virtual and real space to foster learning.
Ainslie Ellis referenced some earlier research she had done in a paper at Ascilite 2006, in terms of a similar exercise. In her study she mapped individual’s representations to their personality types, she argued that physical comfort and connectivity were closely aligned with extravert personality types.
Gary argued that there was a distinction between universalist and relativist portrayals of learners. He has reviewed international studies on the creation of new learning spaces and argued there are a number of similarities in the approaches being adopted: starting with how people learn, looking at the unique attributes of the current demographic, identifying pedagogical innovations, linking to programme objectives and finally taking account of design consideration
He referred us to what looks like an interesting e-book by Bransford ‘How people learn book brain, mind, experience and school’, in which Bransford has distilled out some key principles of learning.
- Learning is facilitated by the connections between the new and the familiar
- Learning is facilitated by deliberate practice – salient feedback that draws learner focus
- Deep learning (understanding) facilitates transfer
- Deep learning is time consuming
- Motivation matters
He also referred to Chris Dede’s Educause report (2005) about planning for neomillenial learning and how today’s learners are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach. Again there were strong resonances here with similar points made by Michelle and Piet and indeed across the conference there were a lot of papers on net generation research – including the work of Gregor Kennedy and Matthew Riddle. They are both interestingly also involved in new research on learning spaces.
Gary referred to a similar list to Michelle’s re: student characteristics from a chapter in Oblinger and Oblinger’s Netgeneration book (2005) where the characteristics are mapped to what this might mean in terms of the nature of the physical space to support this form of learning.
Learning characteristic –> Physical space
- Group activity orientated –> Small group work space
- Goal and achievement orientated –> Access to tutors etc in the learning space
- Multi-taskers –> Table space for a variety of tools
- Experimental trail and error learners –> Integrated lab facilities
- Heavily reliant on network access –> IT highly integrated into all aspects of learning space
- Pragmatic and inductive –> Availability of labs etc to primary resources
- Ethnically diverse –> Accessible facilities
- Visual –> Shared screens
- Interactive –>Workshop facilitation and access to experts
He then talked in detail about the work he is doing at his own institution in terms of experimenting with the physical environment. He stressed the importance of adopting an ethnographic approach – watching student behaviour within the environment and learning from their patterns of behaviour.
He finished with three key messages:
- The importance of focusing on student-centred learning spaces
- The need to educate teachers in terms of spatial literacy
- The value of putting effort into better design of environments and the importance of ‘post occupancy evaluation’ of the environments – i.e. see how the students behave in the space - they will move stuff and if they want to let them!!!