Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 8 April 2007   Friday, April 20, 2007

ISSN 1748-3603

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EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) 2007
Creating a Successful Learning Culture: Connecting Learners, Communities, and Information
by Jacquie Kelly and Steven Warburton

This article is a slightly edited version of the conference report written by Jacquie Kelly (JISC infoNet) and Steven Warburton (King’s College London), whose attendance at ELI was part-funded by ALT after an open call for members to express an interest. The conference web site contains a comprehensive list of resources.

The blogs and resources from this event can be found here:

The broad aims of the 2007 ELI meeting were to explore fundamental assumptions about what, where, and how we educate. The main themes that ran through the event focused on the ways institutions can enhance student learning, going beyond specific examples of innovation to the processes and practices that enable systemic progress toward more effective learning.

There was something for everybody at the EDUCAUSE ELI 2007 meeting: visits to Universities to see what they are doing with technology-rich learning spaces, formal presentations, poster sessions, hands-on IT activities, learning circles and plenty of informal get-togethers.

1. A summary of three university visits from Jacquie

1.1 EMORY University has anincubator facility where they can try out new technologies, experiment with different learning spaces and gauge their effectiveness from staff and student feedback: The COX, The main theme here is collaboration within a technology-rich learning space. A facility such as this, on this scale, is something that very few UK colleges and universities can afford. Their staff development area is well-supported by a range of technologies with even a mini lecture theatre where staff can practice their delivery in private or with a staff developer close at hand. What would most staff developers/learning technologists give for this resource? Images on Flickr at:
1.2 At Georgia Tech campus we were given a tour of their incubator facility which certainly has the ‘wow factor’. Various types of spaces with different, comfortable furniture were well used by students. Jacquie talked to some of the students and they really love this space. It is a sensible approach to have an incubator facility prior to a major refurbishment or new build. Images on Flickr at:

1.3 Director Florence King and her team made guests very welcome at their ‘Student Learning Centre’, at the University of Georgia. If you ever get the chance to visit, then do so. The high quality of the furniture, furnishings, design of the building, use of space and natural light, together with friendly staff really add value to the students’ learning experience. Images on Flickr at:

2. Snapshots from presentations of particular interest by Jacquie and Steve

2.1 E-mail is for grandparents.The first keynote given by Julie Evans, Chief Executive Officer, Project Tomorrow-NetDay, presented the early findings from their latest survey from K12 (kindergarten to age 12) pupils about their use of technology. The findings might be slightly different if they were UK pupils; mainly in the area of using mobile phones for texting, which doesn't appear to have taken off in the USA as it has in the UK. Email is seen as something for grandparents – obviously not cool! The importance of work like this survey is that it demonstrates that there is not a single profile for a 'digital native': the profile changes over time, giving rise to a spectrum of digital native-ness. For colleges and universities this presents a dilemma: how to engage with these children (who are sophisticated in their use of technology) in a few years’ time as well as cater for those who, for whatever reason, are not (yet) comfortable with using technology in learning. These pupils are not happy with the restrictions that teachers impose –on which sites they can visit and what technology they can use – and their expectation is that these restrictions will be removed when they attend college and university: dream on :-)
2.2 Another keynote, delivered by Chris Dede and entitled ‘Emerging Education Technology and Neomillennial Learning Styles’, was a most entertaining and informative talk. Chris set the scene by saying that what today’s students do outside the classroom, in their social time, looks more like their future places of work than do their college and university places. Is this really what we want? It is difficult to envisage what the next 15 years will be like; there are such rapid advances in devices, applications, media and infrastructure. However, we can see what is innovative now and examine its likely effect on learning and teaching. Chris looked at examples from gaming and how these led to neo-millennial learning styles – where many different types of media are used; whichever is more convenient, available and appropriate. These learning styles have collaborative experiences rather than individuals at their centre. Although many of our teaching models are based on the collective rather than the individual, some (many?) academics are teaching in the way that they were taught; it is hard to unlearn these methods. This is slowly changing, but is the pace fast enough to meet the needs of our current students?
2.3 Stephen Ehrmann (TLT Group) and Phil Long (MIT) presented on ‘Why doesn’t innovation spread rapidly in HE? Can we change that? (Illustrated by a study of five iCampus projects.) The report is available from The five projects had a major influence at MIT but despite their being free, wider adoption is very slow. Money was available to support the adoption, but this did not seem to make a difference; ‘money can’t buy adoption’. This was no real surprise; the pace of change and take-up of new technology is slow (by many tutors) compared to the developments in the technology.
2.4 Two colleagues from the UK, Sue Roberts, Edge Hill University, and Margaret Weaver, St Martin’s College presented ‘Changing Faces: Changing Places’.Margaret described how the Change Academy ( had enabled a new corporate plan to be developed that put the learner at the centre. This was a step change for the college that led to the development of the Learning Gateway (, which is not a library but a space-to-learn. One aspect of the LG that is unusual is that it is owned by the students – they can book the rooms, and they feel very much at home. The Change Academy encouraged the LG Development team, who had not worked together before, to think about the project as a picture so that a rich picture was built – this technique was new to the team. This led to a framework for flexible and distributed learning. Sue described SOLSTICE, a Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (, which brings together staff from Learning Services and Teaching and Learning Development. There is distributed leadership in the form of teaching fellowships and associated fellowships across faculties and central services. The key to the success is a dialogue between all those involved – multi-disciplinary teams of academics, learning technologists and information specialists – who put the learner at the centre of the learning environment and learning experiences. This means that they have a hybrid team, not a hybrid individual, so bringing together a range of experiences, knowledge and skills: ‘salad, not soup’ (not a mush, but you can see the individual components that blend well together!).
2.5 Richard Baraniuk, Rice University, gave a brilliant talk on ‘Connexions - Building Communities and Sharing Knowledge. Create, Mix, Rip and Burn using the ethos from music and applying to academia. If you are fed up with waiting two to three years for your textbook to be published then despair no more! Help is at hand in the form of Connexions. As well as your being able to store your whole text (as discrete learning objects, of course) you can use components that others have stored to incorporate into your book. You have to put a course together for delivery overseas next week and you only have the week-end to write it? Don’t fret - all that you need may be in Connexions. All the acknowledgements are automatic and all published under a Creative Commons licence. Printing is done by sending your requirements to tender (done by Connexions) – softcover delivered next day (US) and hardback in a few days (again US).
2.6 Another excellent keynote was given by Tracy Mitrano, Cornell University on Youth Technology and Privacy ( Tracy talked about how people can lose their inhibitions when using social software leading sometimes to unfortunate situations. This is about how we use the technology, not a fault of the technology itself. We need laws to protect users, especially children using social software, but a lock-down is not the answer – it is a balance, and we need to be pragmatic. This session was lively; lots of questions and sharing of experiences from the floor. Check out her guidance notes on using Facebook (see address above). Her golden rule is ‘Exploit the technology, but treat others as you would like to be treated’; a rule for life, really!
2.7 The official release of the Horizon report was presented by the main authors Laurence Johnson, Diana Oblinger, Cyprien Lomas and Rachel Smith and the document itself was bought forth ‘James-Bond-style’ in a locked briefcase to be unveiled before the expectant crowd. The annual Horizon report, for those who are unfamiliar with it, is a joint publication of the New Media Consortium (NMC) and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) and highlights new technologies for teaching, learning, and creative expression. This session was straightforward, reviewing the research and processes behind the report and then the findings (predictions) taken from the 2007 edition. If you do not have time to read the full document that identifies six major technologies that are likely to be prevalent over the next one to five years, then the ones to watch are: one year or less –user created content and social networking; two to three years – mobile phones and virtual worlds; four to five – new scholarship and publication and massively multiplayer online educational gaming. Future gazing is always a risky business but here there are no surprises and it will be very interesting to see next year’s report and the status of developments in these areas. Steve’s prediction is that we will see many more explorations into the use of MUVEs (multi-user virtual environments) in a variety of educational scenarios from learning and teaching to student support.
Horizon report:
2.8 Social Learning: Sustaining the Innovation of New Practices and Technologies. In a talk on multi-institutional efforts to deliver and develop technology services Vivian Forssman tackled the thorny issue of how one makes best use of the limited budget that remains after supporting traditional core IT services in order to support the use of social software. The approach here was from a pragmatic perspective: the typically under-resourced IT manager working in a large educational institution with the concomitant barriers that plague such establishments. It was clear that there were no easy answers but unclear which definition of social software was being used in this talk, as it seemed to rest mainly on the deployment of a blog and wiki platforms. The pathway chosen to attempt to provide a viable, scaleable and robust solution to sustain innovative practice was to place effort and resources in creating a collaborative partnership to build and share resources. The ever popular open source and lightweight Drupal content management system was chosen as the blogging environment installed at BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology) with blog-skinning carried out by the central services teams. The project went outside of the institution to source expertise and has involved local educational technology companies (including advisors such as D’Arcy Norman). 

The presentation described some of the blogs that were being developed, the different sites and the flexible level of functionalities that can be made available when using the Drupal engine, for example multi-user blogs, blogfolios (a limited, cut-down Drupal instantiation) and learning object repositories using categories, and many instances where blogs became central hubs within a community of practice. A number of key issues were raised which reflect the problems faced by institutions globally: how blogs and wikis fall into our Acceptable Use Policies and how copyright issues can be dealt with adequately (which also raises many issues surrounding data protection); the need to address issues of integrating social software with portals for ID management; the importance of trust and personal relation management when sustaining a multi-institutional platform; and the need to develop policies regarding students’ access to blogs when they leave the Institution. In many ways it was disappointing to see that, despite much evidence in support of the value of blogs and wikis to the learning and teaching process, there remains limited and sporadic institutional commitment in terms of time and staffing costs to make this open educational approach a reality for our learners.
2.9 A presentation was given by a group at the University of the Pacific on ‘Dialogical Reflection in the Digital Age’. Like many educators, Jim Phillips and Erick Marmolejo grappled with the nature of reflection – a term that often eludes definition.Their use of what they called ‘dialogic reflection’ was focussed around reflective activities based on a play between the academic vs. professional portfolio, with the production of artefacts and samples accompanied by reflective statement with a summative assessment process right at the end. They identified the general problem with the reflective process, that is: opinion-laden task lists do not get at the heart of the strength of reflection; feedback loops can be slow; and not enough time is allocated to reflection which results in very little reflective speak, or in other words only play around reflective dialogue. (As Kathleen Yancey points out in her book “Reflection in the writing classroom” - reflection is always a fiction where students write specifically to the needs of the tutor.)
The key philosophy behind their methodology lies in pushing tutors to unlearn traditional approaches to writing instruction paralleled with the use of reflection as a means to individualise instruction and personalise learning. Here they proposed a simple set of steps: a general introduction to students on reflective writing; a podcast with provocations to begin reflective writing process; a podcast to teach evaluation strategies and try and reduce the latency of feedback; develop the students’ repertoire of providing evaluation (it is worth noting here the instructor has not yet been involved); a podcast with advanced provocations; assignments submitted to the small groups; and finally the instructors provide feedback. By the final steps the students have had time for three lots of feedback and should have an advanced evaluative repertoire and therefore a better quality interaction with the tutor. This process of engendering dialogue as part of good reflective practice seems to work, but there remains a question of how do we get over the cost-benefit analysis that students make in terms of doing a reflective piece of writing versus completing an assignment in another of their subject areas?
2.10 And finally, probably the talk that Steve most wanted to attend in advance of the conference was given by Alan Levine, Laurence Johnson and Heidi Trotta from the New Media Consortium and Seton Hall University and addressed ‘The Next Generation of Digital Learning Spaces: Exploring the Frontier of Virtual Worlds’. Multi-user virtual environments and in particular Second Life (SL) are creating a buzz at the moment (see also the Horizon report 2007 on technologies to watch). This session was different, being constructed around two live audiences: ‘us’ as the actual audience and a virtual audience of avatars seated in a theatre type space within Second Life and interacting through facilitators. Did this actually work? Possibly, although Steve found it utterly distracting and it made him question the hyperbole surrounding the current applicability of shiny new virtual environments to education.

NMC have moved into Second Life in a big way, monopolising a substantial chunk of land within the SL grid, and have combined an astonishing array of interlinked islands (or sims as they are also called) into a variety of educational areas. The presentation was an overview and introduction to Second Life and the possibilities virtual worlds offer both from a technical perspective and from an educational one; the slides (see below) give details. What was slightly disappointing was that once again, as with each emergence into the mainstream of a new technology, what arises first in discussion is the primacy of the technology itself. Perhaps this is understandable, yet we must balance the realm of technical engagement with the important and more challenging work of exploring the pedagogical implications and avoid leaving these crucial issues trailing in second place.
Blogs and resources:
As a final note and after a very enjoyable and rewarding trip, Jacquie and Steven would both like to extend their thanks to ALT for their support in attending this conference.

Jacquie Kelly
JISC infoNet

Steven Warburton
King's College London 

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