Dún Laoghaire, a charming coastal town about 11km south of Dublin, was the setting for EdTech 2005, The Sixth Annual Irish Educational Technology Users' Conference on Thursday 26 and Friday 27 May. EdTech is organised annually by the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA), and is a focal point for Irish Educators involved in research and application of learning technologies. The conference was hosted by Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT), Ireland's only Institute of Art, Design and Technology. 160 delegates from the primary, secondary, tertiary, adult education and commercial sectors were in attendance; mainly from Ireland and the UK, but also from as far afield as Canada and New Zealand.
Tom Kitt, Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, gave the initial address and Jim Devine, Director of Dún Laoghaire IADT, officially opened the conference. Tom Kitt emphasised two potential benefits of e-learning: first, allowing flexible access to education; and second, with proper consideration, improving access for students with disabilities. Jim Devine discussed the appropriateness of e-learning in today's increasingly digital environment. However, Jim stressed that the design of the content and the pedagogy of its delivery is as important as the content itself. Jim then highlighted three important initiatives relevant to e-learning in Ireland: the new National Digital Learning Repository, an initiative headed by Vincent Wade of Trinity College Dublin (TCD) that will enable development and sharing of digital resources between Irish institutions; the newly established European Foundation for Quality in E-learning; and the European i2010 initiative.
The three keynote speakers: Leslie Conery, Sal Cooke and Larry McNutt, gave lively and stimulating presentations for the latter part of the morning. Leslie, Deputy CEO of The International Society for Technology in Education, told us that in the USA 70% of children aged between 15 and 18 are online, and that 92% of those aged between 12 and 19 use email. Leslie went on to stress that this is an international trend that highlights the need for technology to be integrated into all levels of the education system.
Sal Cooke, Head of TechDis, gave a particularly entertaining presentation on some of the latest technologies that are being used to enhance learning, such as Short Message Service (SMS) integration with Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs); MP3 and its successor, MP4; Pod casting; SAY Pad, a talking text editor which can convert text to MP3; and Dasher, a text-entry system that can be used in conjunction with technologies that do not use a full-size keyboard. Sal went on to discuss a recent study on VLE usage. The report indicated that peak traffic on VLEs occurs between 11pm and 1am, highlighting the importance of actively engaging learners in electronic learning environments.
Larry McNutt, Head of the School of Informatics and Engineering at the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown, discussed the recent Irish government report, Forum for the Workplace of the Future, which states that by 2020 80% of Ireland's current workforce will be still be in employment. Larry noted that this highlights an increased future requirement for lifelong learning, and predicted that educational technology would have a pivotal role to play.
In the afternoon there were four parallel tracks of presentations: two general, one research and one commercial. Fiona Williams from Dublin City University (DCU), discussed her use of WebQuests in teaching a contentious subject area: sectarianism and ecumenism in Northern Ireland. The WebQuest encouraged interactivity and communication between participants from all viewpoints.
A theoretical framework for differentiating between distance learning, e-learning and computer assisted learning was presented by Gearóid O'Suilleabhain from Cork Institute of Technology. Cormac McClean from Athlone Institute of Technology, presented his implementation of the Fle3 VLE; a novel enquiry and self-learning based VLE in which students create their own learning materials. Margaret Farren (DCU) and Orla Daly, from Dublin Adult Learning Centre, demonstrated the use of multimedia software for teaching basic computer skills to adults with low literacy levels. Paul Stynes from The National College of Ireland (NCI) presented Kolb's experiential learning theory with a view to learning technologies taking account of individual learning styles.
An enjoyable dinner was held in the Stillorgan Park hotel on the Thursday evening with conference delegates socialising late into the evening. The parallel sessions recommenced on Friday morning. Barry McMullin and Morag Munro (DCU) examined issues relating to balancing accessible design with interactivity and multimedia in online course design. Paul Ryan from the Software Technology Research Centre (SToRC) at Dundalk IT discussed an MSc in Software Engineering delivered in collaboration with Tralee IT. The two institutes have set up facilities that allow students in Tralee IT to interact in real-time with a lecture held at Dundalk IT, and vice versa. Facilities employed in the project include video conferencing, virtual white boards, document cameras, and projectors.
The closing plenary commenced with a presentation by John Parkes, CEO of Electric Paper, one of Ireland's many e-learning companies. In his presentation, entitled " E-Learning: the past, the present and the future" John suggested that, although there have been extreme peaks and troughs in the industry in the past, the future looks promising for the Irish e-learning organisations. John also told us that Enterprise Ireland was about to announce a new funding scheme to encourage Irish colleges and universities to collaborate with Irish e-learning companies in order to advance current research in areas of joint commercial interest.
The conference closed with a lively questions and answers session chaired by Brian Mulligan, ILTA's Education Officer, with the theme: "E-learning in Ireland: Today and Tomorrow. The panel members were Jonathon Parkes, Electric Paper; Vincent Wade, TCD and ILTA Research Officer; Jim Devine, Director IADT; and Sean Rowland, Hibernia College. Issues considered included the role of lecturers in the establishment of the new National Digital Learning repository, digital rights management and the implementation of on-line assessment.
Conference presentations and proceedings will be available via the ILTA website: ilta.dcu.ie. ILTA has set the maximisation of membership as one of its objectives, and because running costs are low, there is no cost to join the association. You can become a member by registering your details at: ilta.dcu.ie/login/signup.php.
Dermot BrabazonMechanical & Manufacturing EngineeringDublin City Universitydermot.firstname.lastname@example.org