“As Chair of the Research Committee, I'd like to say how pleased I was that ALT was running such an event. It was totally appropriate for the ALT Research Committee, and I hope that we can make this a regular happening.” (Robin Mason, Chair of ALT Research Committee)
“Who else but ALT can challenge the community but also represent the community interests over the long-term? For me this is the essence of our role as a scholarly society.” (John Cook, Vice-chair of ALT Research Committee)
The above two quotes, from Robin Mason and John Cook respectively, were made about the Association’s first ever Research Committee symposium, which took place last November in Oxford. The two day event was based around the theme “How can HE and FE be transformed for 21st century learning?”, and was supported by CAPITAL (Curriculum and Pedagogy in Technology Assisted Learning).
Earlier this year ALT became a partner in a proposal to Becta by Sero Consulting and the Learning Science Research Institute (LRSI) at Nottingham University to carry out research into the future of learning with technology, including trends, disruptions and new modes of learning. The purpose is to inform the next stage of the Becta Harnessing Technology Strategy. The resultant project, CAPITAL, runs initially between April 2008 and March 2009.
The symposium was one component of the broader research, and ALT and its Research Committee are grateful to Becta (as well as to Sero and LSRI) for enabling the first of such research events. The activity matched one of ALT’s aims - to “raise the profile of research in learning technology, establishing learning technology as a discipline in its own right”. Indeed one of the strategic priorities for the Association for the period between 2007 and 2010 is to “run a biennial research symposium for leading researchers in the learning technology domain”.
The 35 invitees were drawn from the CAPITAL partners as well as HE institutions, the FE sector, the NHS and the IT industry. The event, operating under the Chatham House rule, was guided by some specific questions circulated in advance which asked whether “21st century learning” is a meaningful category and, if so, what are its characteristics? The question was framed taking into account recent factors including the Leitch agenda, HE/FE support for a lifetime of learning, the diversity of learners, the nature of any transformation needed, and the technologies required. It also considered the Government's own e-learning objectives, and any barriers to these and how they might be overcome.
In advance of the symposium colleagues were asked to reflect on their work in the learning technology domain over the last several years (whether as a researcher, as a policy person, as a practitioner, or in a combination of these), and decide on insights gained for reference during the event.
The symposium’s first day was planned around three broad themes:
- Hindsight: How has HE/FE changed in recent years? What has happened that we expected? What has turned out differently?
- Insight: What are the trends, disruptions, enablers and barriers?
- Foresight: Should HE/FE be transformed to enable new types of learning and, if so, how and under what scenarios?
The agenda for the second day was more fluid and was based around the output from the first. As well as hearing and discussing specific inputs, attendees worked in structured groups which considered and reported back on the issues and themes. In between, after dinner at the end of the first day’s work, six colleagues provided brief and very individual reflections on aspects of their own involvement in learning technology.
The main outputs from the second day were five scenarios which attempted, in the terms of the symposium, to offer imaginative foresights of aspects of the future. Some were explicitly linked to recent policy and technology developments; others were more free-flowing. All were creative - and presented and discussed with gusto.
The first imagined a one-year programme being piloted at eight higher education institutions across the country and designed to support the development of student autonomy by providing learners with a common base of skills, abilities and attitudes to develop them as holistic lifelong learners. Another described an institution where students could access everything they needed to learn with the powerful technologies they all carried in their pockets. A third scenario included an approach involving the creation and use of boundary spaces, online places where formal and informal learners canmeet, talk and exchange stories and information to enrich their personal learning journeys. In the fourth all learning experiences have been integrated into a universal lifelong credit framework based on a sophisticated learning record and linked to improved fulfillment and levels of employability. And finally there was a presentation of a system which provides access to a unique range of learning and teaching resources for students in FE, HE and schools; profiling uses student and teacher course affiliations to automate access to relevant and timely materials; user tracking, review and ranking feedback on the quality of resources further refines the process.
The CAPITAL project will be preparing a report from the symposium and ALT will be convening a one day follow-up review meeting in Birmingham in February. This will give participants an opportunity to provide feedback prior to CAPITAL’s final report to Becta.