With over 2000 delegates from 93 countries and 120 exhibitors, it was impossible to get a proper overview of Online Educa Berlin
, so I can give just a snapshot of the twelfth annual event. This was the first time ALT has had an exhibition stand at Online Educa. It was good to have a base where we could meet members attending the conference and to promote the work of the Association, especially the CMALT
For me, the conference began with a pre-conference workshop on Wednesday jointly hosted by EFQUEL
(the European Foundation for Quality in elearning) and EKMA (the European Knowledge Media Association, which organised the European Academic Software Awards) on promoting quality in e-learning. Opening the workshop, Fabrizio Cardinali (GiuntiLabs) claimed that Personal Ambient Learning Services were the Holy Grail of learning technology. Cardinali was also critical of the lack of political pressure in Europe to standardise software and hardware, and said that the patents issue was endangering European business. This workshop was the “farewell party” for the European Academic Software Awards, which has come to an end after twelve years. Multi-EASA winners Prof Michael Clarke (with a music programme called Sybil) and Prof Bernd Thaller (author of the physics simulation package, AVQM) gave inspiring presentations about the software they had developed. The process of having one’s software submitted to scrutiny by a team of judges had proved very fruitful to both developers. Links to their work from EASA 2004 are on the EASA archive site (http://www.easa-award.net/
.) EFQUEL are organising a new award scheme, which is due to be launched at the iLearn conference in Paris, and it is hoped they will take some of the lessons learned by EASA into their new scheme.
In Thursday’s Opening Plenary David Siele, Director of Higher Education, Ministry of Education, Kenya, gave an enthusiastic welcome to the technology that is gradually moving into his country. With 30% mobile phone penetration versus just 2% for personal computers, it was clear that handheld devices would be more likely to succeed in Kenya. It was also sobering to learn that only 12% of the country is connected to the national electricity grid, and solar power is still being explored as an alternative source of energy. He sought to answer the criticism that perhaps learning technology was the last thing Kenya needed right now with the notion that Kenya is like a 'shoeless' country to whom an enterprising shoemaker may sell a lot of shoes. (The shoes would have to be keenly priced, I felt.)
Complementing the Kenyan example was Jean-Michel Billaut’s keynote: “A new deal for Europe: Broadband for everybody.” His goal is 100MB for every European. His claim is that in order to move European society from the second (industrial) revolution to the third (technological) revolution, we will require universal broadband access and interactive 3D applications to help us visualize complex and abstract problems. By comparison, Japan has 100Mb links into most homes at a cost of 30 Euro per month and by 2010 Japanese homes will have 1000GB to their homes at 30 Euro per month. He celebrates the new Global Education Learning Community on wikipedia as well as the two to four million people who are now on fibre optic links at home in France.
Perhaps the most publicised keynote was that of George Siemens, on knowledge and our structures of learning (the conference wiki had a link to his book). I can’t say I share his premise that knowledge itself is changing as he argues in his book “Knowing knowledge” (available free at http://www.knowingknowledge.com/
) simply because we are sharing more learning activities now. It is probably true that many courses and programmes of study are not capable of meeting the current needs of learners (Siemens quoted Bill Gates: “Even when the education system is working properly, it is not up to the task of educating modern society”) but the adaptations required are the result of a need to respond to learner demand, not because knowledge itself has changed.
The fourth keynote was Roger Larsen, CEO and founder of Fronter, which is the largest open source Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) provider. Larsen predicts that 2007 will be a year of growth for collaborative working environments – i.e. any device with a browser running rich applications that look like desktop software. He heralds “Open Source 2.0” applications such Linux, Apache, MySql, php and promotes a combination of commercial development (with a secure warranty) but based on an open source philosophy (free open source software does not fit the business model). He argues that it is essential that this is owned by the community or as his slide read: "free ideas – no patents". Larsen also applauded Becta for testing learning platforms against standards of compliance.
On Thursday at lunchtime members of ALT met members of the Norwegian Networked University
to explore the potential for collaboration between our organisations. We are hoping to arrange exchange visits in future. ALT Trustees Dawn Leeder and Tom Franklin are working on this. Contact me if you are interested in getting involved.
On Friday 1 December, I attended the plenary on strengthening the links between practitioners and researchers in e-learning which ran concurrently with the informal learning plenary. Here Dr Leo Plugge gave results from a SURFnet survey in 2006: 69% of teachers do not want their lectures recorded whereas 57% of students would like recorded lectures! To read more on this go to http://www.plugge.org/
and select the publications link to his slides entitled, "Who controls the demand pull and supply push in e-learning?"
Nicholas Balacheff of Kaleidoscope (www.noe-kaleidoscope.org
) asked “Has research changed anything?” If teaching and learning are now more complex, it is not because of content but because of access, he stated. He is currently working on the acceleration of the learning curve in orthopaedic surgery leading a network of 90 research units which he believes is not big enough. Fragmentation of research disciplines is a problem, and the definition of 'basic research' in each country is not the same. Balacheff expressed a need for a technical and intellectual platform and then presented one: www.telearn.eu
, which is the first international Open Archive
in Technology Enhanced Learning, including video. The organisers are aiming for a multilingual archive which requires multilingual metadata. To submit items, your institution must be affiliated to TeLearn.
Prof Alan Brown, Warwick Institute for Employment Research, argued that universities will endure because they give time for reflection in a world which does not. He also warned of the limits of personalisation – much is only skin deep, and could encourage superficial learning, he claimed. Dr Jenny Bimrose, also of Warwick Institute for Employment Research, presented the National Guidance Research Forum
(NGRF), which offers help for people changing careers. She said that practitioners had been contributing to an online course module, but the work is not assessed at present.
At the European Union funding and policy session later on Friday, Patricia Manson (DG Information Society & Media; technology enhanced learning) spoke of the changing context for EU research in this area. There were only uneven successes in e-learning; research results were scattered and there has been a tendency towards 'niche solutions' and an underestimation of the difficulty of influencing educational systems. She explained that the Framework Programme 6 (FP6) is trying to move away from a "sector" view and to put the learner at the centre. There are 32 projects at 125 million Euro, covering issues such as personalisation, communities of practice, games, and interoperability. FP7 would mix formal and informal learning, and would avoid a 'technology cocktail' approach. The first call has gone out for projects totalling 52M Euro.
Maruja Gutierrez-Diaz (DG Education & Culture) spoke of the new Lifelong Learning Programme, 2007-2010. The main funding strands are according to sectors: Comenius (schools), Erasmus (HE), Leonardo (vocational), Grundtvig (adult education). There is also the Transversal programme, in which ICT is one area and dissemination is also covered, and the Jean Monnet programme, covering European institutions and European associations. The call went out in December 2006. The Cordis
site is a good place to start when looking for EU funding sources, and it includes a partner-finding service.
The Conference was over very quickly and I had barely scratched the surface of e-learning developments in Europe. We hope that some fruitful partnerships develop from the contacts we made in Berlin.Rhonda Riachi
Director of ALT