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Record numbers of delegates at JISC online conference

Ros Smith
Last modified 25 Nov, 2009
Published 25 Nov, 2009
The JISC Online Conference, Innovating e-Learning 2009, Thriving, not just surviving!, which opened on Tuesday 24th November has broken all records for delegate numbers. 12 countries are represented with delegates from Australia adding to the discussions overnight UK time.

The opening keynote by Charlie Leadbeater, leading thinker on innovation and strategy, was delivered live via Elluminate to 145 delegates none of whom had left their desks or homes. His message was a thought-provoking conundrum. Where do you place resources to achieve innovation – on improving or reforming mainstream formal education, or on supporting supplementary or alternative approaches, for example via the family or the community ?

Using a quadrant to explore the tension between formal and informal learning, Leadbeater expressed the belief that radical innovation is likely to come from the margins rather than the mainstream and that what we should be seeking are approaches that ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’ change. Perhaps we should stop asking how to improve the system, he said, and start asking how we can better support learning.

"If you start by asking how can technology be used to improve current approaches you'll end up with incremental innovation. If you start from outside you will see different possibilities. Then the question is how to enable that kind of innovation to happen and to go to scale. Too often this kind of approach is marginalised or completely informal (kids learning through games and YouTube.)" Charlie Leadbeater

Delegates were invited over and over to present their views via the text and polling facilities in the software: "it is rare to see that level of interaction between a presenter and his audience", said one participant, as Charlie paused to absorb the audience’s views before building them into his presentation.

Boundaries of place were also overcome with delegates joining from places as diverse as New Zealand and Dubai. Later, Brian Lamb joined for a discussion of OER live in Elluminate from the University of British Columbia. Mythical views about learners (especially those ‘digital natives’) were hotly debated in the Theme 1 keynote session led by Helen Beetham and Rhona Sharpe (JISC Learner Experiences of e-Learning theme); 120 delegates took part in this highly regarded session which continued asynchronously to debate the key capabilities of a 21st century graduate and the unexpected results of researching into learners’ expectations of technology use in higher education.

"... there is no evidence that learners are demanding more cutting-edge technology for learning: in fact they are often more conservative than their tutors." Rhona Sharpe.

Helen Beetham challenged the consumer model of learning that is gaining acceptance, arguing that:

"A consumer model sees learners' needs and expectations as one and the same thing. Find out what learners want – or employers, in another version – and deliver it. But we know learning isn't like that. If we see learning in the highest sense as self-reflection, self-realisation, self-transformation, we see that needs may be met by challenging expectations, and that both will change if deep learning is taking place."

Elsewhere, delegates could were invited to undertake some learning themselves by trying out Elluminate, Second Life, digital video making, pedagogy planning and assessment tools in a new area aptly named the ‘Have-a-Go’ area. An enjoyable mix of showcase and activity, the Have-a-Go area featured the work of some of the JISC services and project teams from the JISC e-Learning programme.

Perhaps ‘Have-a-Go’ is the catchphrase for this conference. With much a reduced carbon footprint too.

Follow the conference on Twitter: #jiscel09


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