The seventh annual conference for educational technology users in Ireland
by Claire McAvinia
, the seventh annual conference organised by the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA
), was held on 25 and 26 May 2006 at the Institute of Technology in Sligo (IT Sligo
). The conference 'came home' this year: ILTA founder member Brian Mulligan is based in IT Sligo. EdTech is the main annual event at which all those working with learning technologies in Ireland can meet, and this year the conference attracted over 170 delegates from all sectors of education in Ireland, as well as guests from the United Kingdom (UK) and United States of America (USA).
Events began with a pre-conference seminar on 24 May. Professor Robert Clark of University College Dublin (UCD
) guided delegates through the ownership of intellectual property rights in the use of materials for learning and teaching. The seminar proved highly informative and illuminative, especially in relation to the 'urban myths' around this subject and the legislative differences between Ireland and its near neighbours. This area has taken on a new urgency recently in Ireland, with the growth of e-learning and the piloting of a prototype repository of digital resources as part of the National Digital Learning Repository project (NDLR
). Professor Clark gave many useful examples and case studies, but also took numerous questions from the floor, providing detailed and helpful answers. The discussion throughout this seminar highlighted that Ireland, like many countries, has not yet fully legislated for the complexities of intellectual property in the online environment.
The conference was formally opened on 25 May by Dr Richard Thorn, Director of IT Sligo. Dr Thorn welcomed delegates and spoke of the recent innovations at IT Sligo, including the widely disseminated work in podcasting to students. The first plenary speaker, Desmond Keegan of the Irish Centre for Distance Education Research and Applications,
gave an overview of several projects which have used mobile telephony to support learning in both the developed and developing world. This work is becoming mainstream, with growing evidence that mobile phones can be used to support academic work as well as academic administration. Successes have been reported from projects supporting early leavers of school and university, young unemployed people in the UK, and several teacher education projects in Africa.
Figure 1: Barry McIntyre and Brian Mulligan at the head table of the opening plenary (Photo by Bernie Goldbach)
Professor Oleg Liber of the University of Bolton and CETIS then gave the first keynote address, on Personal Learning Environments. He examined progress in e-learning in terms of pedagogy, organisation and technology and highlighted the fact that the 'personal' technology owned by students is now outstripping institutional provision. Educational institutions, however, seem reluctant or unable to exploit the technologies students are using. E-learning had overcome many technical hurdles, but there was still a lack of skills and appropriate pedagogical approaches to sustain progress. Professor Liber questioned the continuing trend in universities to invest in large, over-arching systems rather than parts of systems which can be linked. Social software, the sharing of resources, and the gradual disaggregation of services, could offer institutions much greater flexibility as well as responding to the kinds of technology students are already using.
Learning repositories were the focus of the next two plenary addresses from Dr Jackie Carter of Jorum UK, and Vincent Wade of Trinity College Dublin, and co-ordinator of the NDLR Project. Dr Carter introduced Jorum and demonstrated some of its resources, describing the workflow involved in adding materials to the repository, and giving examples of how they have subsequently been used. Licensing and metadata issues were also explored – issues which are also exercising us in Ireland with the piloting of the NDLR in universities and Institutes of Technology. Vincent Wade spoke in detail about the NDLR project, demonstrating the pilot repository, and describing the subject communities approach adopted by partners in this project. While work is at an early stage, the NDLR partners are now growing communities of contributors in different subject areas across the institutions involved. Through this process, the pilot repository will be evaluated and developed further.
A strength of the EdTech conference this year was the diversity of the concurrent presentation sessions over two days, in which a huge range of topics and case studies were explored and discussed. School and university sectors, adult learning and continuing professional development, commercial e-learning and distance education, were all represented. A further strength of these sessions was the inclusion of some excellent papers from research students in education and related disciplines. Topics examined in the concurrent presentations ranged from the semantic web, to cultural differences amongst groups of international students, to international research on educational technology in school. Institutional approaches to e-learning were discussed, as well as detailed case studies in individual subject areas.
A number of speakers recalled the themes of personal and mobile technologies already examined by the plenary and keynote speakers; others raised the issue of cost in e-learning, which was to be the focus of the plenary session on the final day of the conference. Presentations on these themes included several on podcasting and the use of text messaging to support learners, as well as several case studies re-evaluating our use of existing technologies which have perhaps been under-used. One example here was the potential for data-logging technology to be used in school subjects other than Science, thus potentially adding value to hardware and software already purchased. A session dedicated to podcasting completed the schedule for the first day of the conference: IT Sligo has undertaken extensive work in this area, and showcased these developments.
On the final day of the conference, attention was turned towards issues of cost in e-learning. Jane Bozarth, from the North Carolina Office of State Personnel in the USA, began with a keynote address examining the range of low-cost or free e-learning tools available to educators. While many of these might be found on the web (for example, Hot Potatoes software), there are underused tools on most of our computers, including image editing packages bundled with Windows or our digital cameras. Perhaps more importantly, Jane Bozarth encouraged careful consideration of what can best fit our purposes: elaborate multimedia packages can overload learners, when we can assemble specific and tailored examples easily (and often for free) with much of what we already have online and on our computers. Funding can be wasted on systems that are too elaborate, or too complicated, to be useful to those learning with them.
Drawing on these ideas, the keynote was followed by a panel discussion on controlling e-learning costs. Joining Jane Bozarth were Paul Collins from the Institute of Technology Tralee (IT Tralee), Brian Mulligan of ILTA and IT Sligo, and David Jennings from UCD. Jennifer Burke of ILTA and Dublin City University (DCU) chaired the panel presentations and a lively discussion, during which there was much interaction between delegates and the panellists. The difficulties of reconciling our institutional approaches and systems with the variety of 'Web 2.0' technologies now being used (especially by our students) were the focus of much discussion, while staff development and students’ IT skills were the more urgent priorities for some delegates.
The conference closed with final remarks from Barry McIntyre, Chairperson of ILTA. Both Barry, and also Brian Mulligan, founder member of ILTA, have now stepped down from their roles in the association. Delegates at the conference warmly acknowledged their huge contributions to the establishment and development of ILTA over the past seven years. The incoming chair of the association is Jennifer Burke of DCU.
Conference proceedings are available to view at the ILTA website. The site requires registration but there is no cost to join the association. Most of the presentations in the concurrent sessions were recorded and are also available to view with accompanying abstracts and slides.
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