ALT Spring conference and research seminar 2006
by Jen Harvey
Leiden University in the Netherlands was the beautiful setting for the ALT Spring Conference and Research Seminar 'New connections, new challenges' organised in association with the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA) and SURF and held from 6-7 April 2006. This year’s conference chair was Steve Warburton from Kings College London. The themes for the event were:
- Emerging technologies and the 'Net generation'.
- Digital games: play and simulation.
- Tools for lifelong learning: identity, movement and standards (including e-portfolios and digital repositories).
The first two themes were new for this year’s conference, while ‘Tools for Lifelong Learning’ continued from last year. Also new to this year was the creation of a Wiki to support the Conference. This collaboration tool was a useful addition to the planning and support for the event, for example as a way to view details on the conference and research seminar; to add comments to the conference blog; to post/access relevant resources; and even to locate yourself relative to other delegates on the Frappr map (see figure 1).
Figure 1: Frappr map
The conference was opened by a keynote from Professor P Robert-Jan Simons entitled 'Are our students changing and what does that mean for ICT in education?' This provided a useful overview of the changes in information processing, motivation and learning with younger students (the students of tomorrow in higher education), and what this could/should mean for higher education in general and the role of ICT in particular.
The conference then split into three parallel sessions under the conference themes. I attended the Igor Mayer session 'Games and Beyond - innovations in gaming-simulation for academic education and professional learning'. Using a combination of video clips and participative activities Igor explored the possible ways in which new gaming technologies might enrich the current practice of using board games, role play and social simulations as a way to achieve advanced levels of learning.
In parallel, Scott Wilson facilitated a session delving beneath the hype of Web 2.0 which although increasingly used by today's educators and technologists, he argued, has yet to impact on the way that institutions select and use technology. While Leo Waaijers’ session, Lorenet is the answer, what is the question?, analysed elements of the national DARE Programme, and the spin off outcome LOREnet.
In the afternoon I attended Pieter van Parreeren and Nico Juist’s Session 'The times they are a-changin'. This session outlined various changes as a result of the creation of INHOLLAND University, a merger of four small universities, spread over nine cities in the western part of the Netherlands. This merger along with the evolution of the new digital campus, has had a profound impact upon teaching learning and assessment practice as students have started to lead in the use of range of new technologies becoming more widely available. A video-conference question and answer session with a group of students made this session particularly interesting.
The parallel digital gaming session Going beyond current edutainment was led by Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen and outlined research into the educational use of computer games and a recent research project dealing with next generation educational games.
The Lifelong Learning theme viewed as part of EHEA (European Higher Education Area) was led by Harald Haugen and Bodil Ask, and used as an example a collaborative global e-learning course for university staff tested by professors around the World to exploit the potential of e-learning and to facilitate knowledge and skills acquisition for both students and society.
The afternoon keynote entitled Alone together; community learning and digital games was given by Professor Angela McFarlane. The presentation described how different communities have naturally started to evolve in association with various digital games. In each of the three categories of emergent communities identified, she described how a level of engagement, commitment, and genuine collaborative learning between ‘members’ was apparent. Drawing upon relevant features of these successful communities she provided some pertinent suggestions for institutions and/or online practitioners designing and implementing formal e-learning experiences for their students.
The second day’s research seminar with a slightly smaller group of participants aimed to allow researchers to build upon the first day’s discussion in order to further develop current thinking on the net generation, digital games and tools for lifelong learning. These were again developed in parallel throughout the day. As in previous years, participants selected one of the themes and were led through a series of activities and structured discussion by a combination of facilitators. Each facilitator had provided their group with a background paper, a series of preparatory questions and a number of resources in advance. Summaries of the ongoing discussion were added to the seminar web page group space throughout the day. In each of the sessions, participants evaluated progress in the use of technologies and shared ideas for future developments; this work will subsequently be captured as a research paper for publication.
The concept of a two-day conference and research seminar works well: numbers are limited, speakers are invited and there is a real feeling of developing themes and discussion over the days. The small size of the conference combined with the involvement of national Learning Technology organisations in an ongoing collaboration also gives delegates an opportunity to meet with international colleagues with shared interests and to develop continued research links.
Dr Jen Harvey
Head of Lifelong Learning
Dublin Institute of Technology
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