The afternoon session kicked off well with a talk from Will McInnes from Nixon McInnes, who asked us who was passionate about education – he certainly is, and who is passionate about technology. More of the former now seem to be in the room after a sunny lunch on the terrace at the RGS. He talked about fragmentation and dead cats (!) and continuous partial attention which is watching TV with your laptop on your knee while trying to have a conversation. How do you engage with people who have partial attention? Good point! He talked next about communities, how do you get people to engage? The thinking needs to be more about gardening analogies rather than construction – online communities are organic. Now I’m really interested – we need to nuture our 1% of content creators apparantly. Will believes gaming is really significant in online education, we need to create a score that rewards the behaviour we are looking for so like beating the Tom Tom time on the way home, or improving your runing using Nike+ (which reminds me I must use mine!) We also need to be able to respond quickly to new technologies and take on board the significance of ratings and review – and this happens in real time as we saw in the conference with the Twitter Poll someone put up during the morning. This also means you get feedback really quickly so you can react to it. ‘The veneer of institutions is being peeled back’ – so we can all make our opinions known. Finally Will discussed ‘curators’ – the new curators such as bloggers and twitterers who are expert in their field.
The second speaker was James Clay from Gloucestershire College who had put out a survey on the future of learning earlier in the conference and presented some results from the delegates. What will be the future and what technology will be most significant – we had very mixed responses. He asked why we started term in September / October – apparently it’s so we can get the harvest in! And classrooms are very similar to the 19th Century with a few tweeks – laptops, whiteboards etc. He made the point that learning doesn’t have to be in an institution and mobile learning is learning where you want to be – at home on the sofa for example. Audio and video are going to be increasingly important for learning but one form media has never replaced another. GPS – adding location data to content is also going to be really important in the future – it means we can get learners out the classroom. We actually touched on this last week at our away day in the E-learning 2020. Then James turned to looking at e-books – he sees the Sony ebook reader as a first generation ipod – I’m not convinced though if the Princeton pilot is anything to go by. He makes a good point though, we will all need power in the future and if we want to change and improve learning James is right we do need to be more responsive. James believes the key is changing the culture of an organisation.
Nick Skelton from the University of Bristol was next up telling us how to stop worrying and love the internet (taken from Douglas Adams). Apparently everything invented after you are 30 is pretty weird and scary. He talked about information in a digital world – information overload, and digital literacy (hurrah!). He also made the point that information has no value if you can’t find it but surely Google Scholar is not completely the answer here? Another concern people have about putting information online is that everything can be copied and everything will be recorded which means that (shock horror) lecturers might have to change assessments from year to year! Nick even mentioned librarians, and talked about our role as a ‘trusted guide’ in the digital future.
Our final speaker was Peter Robinson from Oxford University Computing Services, entitled the Pocket University – he was talking about Oxford University on iTunesU. He and the previous speaker mentioned the Edgeless University report which I really must read. The report (and many people) clearly think Oxford is highly traditional and using a technology such as iTunesU was revolutionary – Peter explained how it did require a cultural shift. In addition Oxford has very devolved IT but they were approached by Apple to be the first non-US university to join. He talked how it works, they are podcasts and you can subscribe to the RSS feed for topics you are interested in. The graphics are really nice on the site, rather like the iTunes store with album covers. They recorded as much as possible to ensure they had plenty of content on the site, and also recorded a lot of key people at Oxford. But they also had a model that allowed people to do it for themselves, a devolved model of production to allow people to record stuff themselves. LSE really need to look at the social sciences section on Oxford’s iTunesU as it’s apparantly very lively. But students also really love creating content themselves such as interviews, art shows, recording other events. You can watch the podcasts online as well and it’s all free – its also all on Oxford’s servers and not owned by Apple (or on a cloud!). They had to check everything was legal, but technically copyright belongs to the academics still. They have reached over 1 million downloads in 10 months which is quite something – they have also avoided lock-in by having a parallel web portal. Peter went on to talk about the future with a live demo from Oxford in Second Life and a plug for the Steeple Project which is a JISC funded project to explore the infrastructure for podcasting. He also mentioned the Oxford OpenSpires project which is encouraging academics to license their material under creative commons to develop a set of resources for the education community we can all reuse. He also talked about open street map and a project to develop a mobile application for Oxford at m.ox.ac.uk. What an afternoon!