Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Reflecting on JISC Innovating e-Learning 2011

Thought it was about time to write up some general notes from the JISC Innovating e-Learning 2011 online conference.

These are my personal summary points for me to reflect on for the future... so here goes...

1.  Online conferencing can be a really satisfying experience in terms of the way you can engage with the speakers' presentations with others.  The flow of text chat is excellent and you can dip in and dip out as you fancy, influenced by the direction of the presentation leading to lots of interesting ideas and possibly less turgid questions at the end?  That last bit is my own theory, but I think that at traditional conferences you so often see the same old people asking questions of the same type that it's refreshing to see a range of questions being picked up from multiple sources.

2. I attend these things for my staff development but also to see what others across the sector are thinking.  Sometimes I feel trapped in a time-warp.  The same old conversations are going on.  The same ideas are being dredged up.  The same tale of 'pilot does well... but how did it translate into a tangible change in practice?' remains without answer.  How can we escape the hamster wheel of discussion and rhetoric?  Small scale change isn't enough any more.  Just because you are doing interesting things in your classroom or nicely contained project doesn't mean that we can't and shouldn't be striving to go bigger and more inclusive where innovation is concerned.

3.  eLearning bingo is alive and well.  Edupunk, anarchogogy and 'changing student expectations' would all have been good to have on your bingo card this time around.  There was some debate about the need to change the use of jargon to gain real ground in understanding, particularly where open practice is concerned - however, this was another of those deja vu moments where I wonder what can actively be done to make this change - when all the while we invent and proudly wear our new jargon like this season's latest fashions at each of these events.

4.  Education and learning are still being used in an interchangeable fashion.  They are *not* the same thing.  The sooner we realise this, the better.  The ludicrous idea that in some way a PhD is evidence of 'lifelong learning' is as meaningless as the suggestion that a great educational experience for a primary school aged child would set them up for the journey of a lifelong learner is nonsense.  Both are about the educational system.  Moments where that works well - then yes, perhaps you can say that true, deep learning exists.  But devoid of any educational system at all... people have always been learning for life.  It's in our nature.  It's what makes us human.  It's how we cope with a changing, complex environment.  It's how we adapt to our various life stages.  The arrogance that education is the tool which facilitates lifelong learning is laughable.  They need decoupling in order for us to get our heads around what makes for good learning experiences rather than what makes for pretty educational systems.  The talk of how people acquired their digital literacy skills was a case in point - most participants (71% of attendees polled during the Digital Literacy panel session) hadn't attended a course or studied it, but had learned about it and gained their knowledge through experience.  Yet, there we were discussing how to educate others in the ways of digital literacy.  An odd situation.

5.  Open is on the agenda.  Open practice.  Collaboration.  Sharing.  Learning from and with each other.  There was a clear direction away from closed, inward-looking practice to a more shared, open outlook.  What that actually means, however, wasn't clear.  Was it the small-scale culture of sharing which already exists in departments?  Is it the large scaled massive open online courses (MOOCs) which were flagged as gaining ground linguistically?  And what is it that we're sharing exactly?  I'm not clear that we're at the stage where we're doing much more than batting around buzzwords - though 'open by default, closed by exception', would tend to be the way I would describe my working practices.  I also wondered how the culture of open and collaboration will sit with an increasingly financially strapped, competitive higher education sector?

6.  Tweetable presentations make you sit up and take notice.  Increasingly I think that people's presentation styles will have to change to accommodate the fact that you may no longer be talking to the audience (virtual or physical) in front of you in the room.  If you can give people some strong concise statements, some facts, some structure to hang a comment on - then these are likely to go out beyond the room.  If you simply describe a project or a process which you've gone through, this tends to be passively received and I noticed that the number of #jiscel11 tweets fell considerably during presentations of this type.  Whether or not that's a good or bad thing, I'm not sure.  But if you want to work in an open manner, then working out how to open up the various elements of your practice will be the thing that makes a difference both personally and professionally.

7.  I really liked the idea of having a 'thinking space' as a kind of reverse plenary on the morning of each new conference day.  The thinking space summarised the main themes of the previous day's presentations in a visual form - they had an illustrator put together some great visualisations which weren't necessarily without controversy (the visual representation of education and employment being islands separated by water, but connected by a bridge was a little disturbing yet representative of the disconnect between the artificial nature of education and the workplace possibly?), but which certainly put you in a good frame of mind for reflecting and connecting ideas.  Really liked the idea and would like to think of ways to carry that forward.

8.  If you're attending an online conference you still need to demark your time so that you can participate properly - whether that's closing a door, finding a separate space to sit etc you have to work extra hard to say 'I'm busy', some how!  People don't seem to readily accept that if you're physically present in work that you can virtually need to be present elsewhere.  You have to take a fairly disciplined approach to your own attendance to maximise the benefit of an online conference.  If that means working from home to properly take part, then it's worth doing this.  In the week of 'pre-conference activities' I was so tied up with meetings / ad hoc discussions / other work that I didn't get to participate at all, it was only when I physically removed myself from the office that I could really engage with it.  

Think those are my main points - plenty of links shared too and I'll try to pull those together into a separate blog posting.

Definitely worth attending.  Really enjoyed it.  Didn't miss the rubbish catering or stands flogging ed tech products I'm not interested in.  And I've got enough stress balls and free pens to last me... so virtual worked well!
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