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Report from Innovating e-Learning 2008

Ros Smith
Last modified 06 Nov, 2008
Published 06 Nov, 2008
The first two days of the JISC online conference, Innovating e-Learning 2008: Learning in a digital age - Are we prepared? has been attended by 400 delegates. Theme 1 looked at embracing the future today, with stimulating discussion sessions about web 2.0, e-portfolios, supporting staff, listening to learners and learning space design. The conference continues today with Theme 2: Going boldly into the dark.

Notes from Theme 1: Embracing the future now

The opening theme day of the JISC online conference, Innovating e-Learning 2008, had a strangely prophetic ring. Embracing the future now coincided with the American presidential election - and proved equally innovative and enthralling.

This year’s event was positioned within a context of increasing e-learning maturity, but where the full potential is still to be realised. Acknowledging that technologies may now have established a foothold in learning and teaching, the programme asked delegates to consider what might be still restricting the potential for established – and emerging technologies – to enhance the experience of learning? How could educators work to ensure the best possible e-enhancement of learning and teaching now and in the future? What is the future anyway?

The opening keynote from Gilly Salmon went to the heart of the matter. Quoting Ervin Laszlo in her presentation, Future learning – Desire or fate?, Gilly pointed out that what the future holds lies in our hands: ‘what we do today will decide the shape of things to come.’ Technology-enhanced learning lies at a crossroads, poised between the drivers of student expectations, e-learning strategies and policies to enhance learning and teaching, and the equally potent constraints of time, skills deficiencies and institutionally owned and focused tools and systems. We have, she concluded, a short window of opportunity to understand the trends, and forge the adaptive, flexible curricula the future will require.

The presentation, delivered in real time via Elluminate, generated debate that ranged freely and with awesome speed over the nature of the design process, the ownership and control of learning, the impact that particular technologies might have, and the key importance of creativity. As always, learners , and how to design most effectively for their needs, were never far from the heart of the discussion: ‘Sometimes [developing creativity] involves creating a safe space that builds [learners’] confidence and makes risk taking more comfortable. On other occasions, it requires us to challenge their assumptions..’ argued Tom Hamilton, University of Sussex.

John O’Donoghue addressed the cultural and institutional barriers that inhibit growth in his summary of Session 2: ‘Web 2.0 clearly offers a new paradigm, but the institutional and cultural barriers are still prevalent. The paranoia of the information systems department needs to be realigned, if this does not happen then the students will use the vast array of devices and access mediums to bypass the rigid structures imposed on them. ..It isn’t about training, it is to do with the policy of the institution and how staff engage with their students, as facilitators rather than teachers. We need to recognise that the notion of scholarship, information and infrastructure are entrenched in technology, policy and social engagement.’

Sessions in Theme 1 have pursued the theme with a cornucopia of experiences - the combination of a real-time keynote in Elluminate, presentations via audio and e-portfolio, plus links to design tools and other innovative online resources, presented delegates with a dazzling – even overwhelming – conference experience. Getting the balance right ..’getting people to think differently/out of their comfort zone, whilst also not frightening or overwhelming them” (Grainne Conole, The Open University) was key to implementing the changes in pedagogic and institutional aspirations the first day of the conference proposed – but could also apply to dealing with the riches the conference provides.

The conference blog from James Clay, Gloucestershire College, gave encouragement to delegates caught up in a blizzard of ideas and opportunities: ‘If you are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of stuff happening, remember that this is normal for a conference of this size. Pick a presentation that you have read and focus on that. Even just pick a thread!’ he advised, yet was himself demonstrating how to blog waiting for a train and even attending a meeting in London, proving to us all that the future of technology is nothing if not mobile.

James’ bons mots have become a firm conference favourite and the social area has not been overlooked either. But perhaps we should finish notes from Theme 1 as we started, with some thoughts about how the last few days have changed our views and shaped our responses to what lies ahead:

What a day - I have not done so much on-line reading for ages - this is much more hard work compared to f2f! … But if I have learnt anything from today it is that we are all seeking ways round the conundrum of learner input to all aspects of their learning environments and how we pass on the changes that need to be made! EA Draffan, University of Southampton

"One thing is certain - I am getting a great deal more out of this experience than I would expect to from an equivalent physical event. And as I said before, I’m very glad that this area will be open for reading after the conference itself has closed. Lovely. Really enjoying it." Shri Footring, RSC Eastern

Theme 2 now beckons. Going boldly into the dark opens up prospects of learning and teaching in Second Life, through virtual worlds, with embedded mobile technologies, and asks a fundamental question: who will drive the learning process in years to come?

Innovating e-Learning 2008: Learning in a digital age – Are we prepared? has attracted nearly 400 delegates, from UK higher and further education and from overseas. On the first day of the conference, 550 postings were made across the five sessions of Theme 1 and in the social and exhibition areas. The conference runs between 4-7 November in an asynchronous web conferencing environment. Further details from


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