Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 15 January 2009   Friday, January 30, 2009

ISSN 1748-3603

Cover Page »
Feature article
Building a better future – planning and designing innovative, intelligent educational buildings
Conference reviews
Perspectives on learning design – a report on the 3rd International LAMS and Learning Design Conference
FOTE – Future of Technology in Education 2008
Technology reviews
The eBeam – interactive whiteboard and capture system
eXe – e-learning XML editor
Project updates
Developing open content – the POCKET perspective
Web 2.0-style resource discovery comes to libraries – the TILE Project
ALT research news – transformed for 21st century learning
Technology and learning – a trade association perspective
Commentary launched: Education 2.0? Designing the web for teaching and learning
The Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ascilite) update
ALT news
ALT Journal (ALT-J)
Chief Executive's report
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FOTE – Future of Technology in Education 2008
by Sarah Sherman and Frank Steiner

Information Technology has a more important function and a faster changing role in the academic sector than ever before. In a competitive market where students are demanding cutting edge IT services all day, every day, institutions are judged not just on their pedagogic capabilities but on the value-added services they provide to students. IT is seen by students as one of the most significant areas when choosing a college or university. Herein lies the problem: the MySpace and Facebook generation now expects more from their IT, and these expectations are not just putting demands on institutional infrastructure but are also challenging the essence and methods of learning delivery.

With this in mind, the University of London Computer Centre's (ULCC) [1] held the Future of Technology in Education event (FOTE) on the 3rd October 2008 at Imperial College London. This brought together leading technology organisations and nearly 250 e-learning/IT practitioners from the academic sector. There was a total of twelve presentations during the day with opportunities for delegates to ask questions during panel sessions after each block of presentations. Tim Bush, ULCC’s Sales & Marketing Manager and organiser of the event, explained that he wanted an event to showcase the potential of new technologies and methodologies (e.g. cloud computing) [2] for the education sector and to focus on its use in building communities.

This report reviews six of the presentations, which were particularly engaging. The event started with Samantha Peter, who works for Google Enterprise in Business Development. Sam introduced the concept of cloud computing, which many of us use without even realising. The three main drivers for innovation in this area are the falling costs of storage for increasing amounts of available space, broadband becoming ubiquitous and an increasing amount of content. Sam talked about the struggle that enterprise technology has in order to keep up with consumer requirements and the challenge of enabling collaboration in tools created for individual users. She explained how Google has aimed to ease these difficulties by developing tools such as Google Mail, Google Chat and Google Documents. These tools utilise the cloud by leveraging Google’s reliable infrastructure, enabling collaboration in a way that was not possible before (as in the case of Google Docs), and benefiting from the fast moving pace of innovation. Sam concluded with the prediction that by 2010, 20% of all business applications will be in the cloud. She recommended that organisations focus on their core business to succeed in this competitive world. Employees, teachers and students will need better tools - and will find them whether or not they are supplied by the organisation. She said “the move to the cloud is imminent – it is a case of when, not if.”

Ian Forrester from BBC Backstage talked emphatically about portability and why we - the users - should make sure that our personal data belongs to us and is under our control. Every online user has rights and users need to be educated in how to assert them. Ian worryingly highlighted how users are not able to delete all traces of themselves; Facebook claimed that deleting users would cause errors in the social network links however they were overruled. Ian explained that data must be portable; users should be able to licence their content and specify how it is used. He recommended the use of creative commons licensing wherever possible and to use online services that allow this. He also suggested reading the end-user agreement when you use a service. For example, the original licence for Google Chrome (Google’s web browser) claimed ownership of everything users did in their browser; public pressure made Google realise their mistake and the licence was changed.

Alastair Mitchell, co-founder and CEO of, talked about social collaboration tools for staff and students. He suggested that the name web 2.0 encompasses many myths and fictions, and that it may just be a new way of describing what we already do. Alastair’s view was that, rather than reinvention, we are doing the same things but better with new tools and means of information and communication. Collaboration is confusing, complicated, crowded and costly. It is not just about email, wikis, intranets or forums; using these tools alone may form a part of collaboration but Alastair explained that it involves using all of these tools together. Users’ needs are easily forgotten in the push to use social tools; Alastair pointed out that companies can learn from social networks by looking at how they engage with users and identifying what makes them easy and fun to use.

John M Hickey from Apple spoke about building 21st Century learning environments and how the shift from passive consumer to active participant changes the expectations of students and the role of the tutor. Podcasting, as an “anytime, anywhere” solution to learning that can easily integrate with existing virtual learning environments, was an example. According to John, experience with podcasting in US institutions has indicated that this technology makes learners more engaged in class; they are using podcasts to preview content and to review and/or catch up on lectures. John also talked about iTunes U which helped US universities to reach a worldwide audience by making their lectures publicly available. iTunes U provides the opportunity to set-up internal and external profiles, which can be managed separately to maximise exposure and engagement.

From the academic perspective, Tom Abbott (Warwick University) and Miles Metcalfe (Ravensbourne College) talked about the institution of the future. Tom, the University’s online communications officer, described a number of projects at Warwick to demonstrate how institutions should be deploying new and creative media technologies in a usable and sustainable way. The need for a tighter network supporting creativity at Warwick was identified to enable staff and students to work together and create something which truly reflected the essence of Warwick. This meant a challenge to do more than just film lectures and add them to YouTube. Tom explained that digital content must be generated in other ways. Warwick has three spaces to enable creativity and allow project work to take place: the Learning Grid (student-owned), the Teaching Grid (staff-owned) and the Post-Graduate Reading Room. An example of such a project is the locally designed flat-pack video booth, which provides a cheap, portable and collapsible unit containing a PC, a touch screen and a webcam, which can be put up anywhere to make video capture ubiquitous. “Warwick Shoot Out” invites students to create films, shot over a weekend and edited on the camera. This enables skills development and gets students used to handling equipment and software. Warwick also runs a podcast competition. In conclusion, Tom advocated supporting the extraordinary and the innovators, but building sustainable structures for the ordinary.

Miles Metcalfe, Head of IT, delivered an entertaining yet thought-provoking presentation on Ravensbourne’s 2010 move to a bespoke modern building and how this provided the College with an opportunity to review how it delivers learning and teaching. Design and communication have been transformed by computers which, in Ravensbourne’s case, are generally becoming user-owned. With this model in mind, Miles suggests that IT departments will have more money to spend on more sophisticated equipment, which will integrate with any user-owned technology, for example, adding services that are not freely available on a laptop. Miles proposed that proprietary software could be loaned to students and that SaaS (Software as a Service) or open source substitutions be freely recommended. He then asked what the function of IT services might be. As learners become practitioners, there is a need to negotiate a public identity. IT services will need to integrate extra-institutional practice, for example students’ MySpace pages, into institution-bound learning. Learners will be bringing a personal part of their environment into their learning space and will integrate it with services provided by the institution. “IT departments are good at making a silk purse out of a pig’s ear”, said Miles. Finally, he advocated that institutions become OpenID providers (and allow OpenID logins) as well as Shibboleth Identity Providers. He recommended Open ID as his preferred vehicle for authentication because it applies a user’s, not an institutional, identity.

In conclusion, the FOTE conference gave delegates a wide-variety of engaging speakers from a carefully-selected group of technology organisations and institutions. Speakers provided their own insights and opinions about web 2.0 technologies and how these will be deployed in the future. ULCC’s Tim Bush and Frank Steiner were delighted by the huge interest made by so many in the community – so great, they had to change the venue to one with a larger capacity - and even then there was still a waiting-list for delegates. Perhaps this indicated a need for a one-day technology-focused event. FOTE 2009 is planned for the summer and it is recommended that potential delegates sign up as soon as bookings are open.

For further information (including the FOTE newsletter and registration details for FOTE 2009), visit

To view videos of the 2008 presentations, visit:

Sarah Sherman
BLE Service Manager, The Bloomsbury Colleges

Frank Steiner
Sales and Marketing Assistant

[1] ULCC, the University of London Computer Centre, was established in 1968 and is highly-respected within the academic and not-for-profit sector. ULCC’s services include: co-location and managed server hosting, podcasting, web development, desktop support, e-learning, digital preservation, video streaming and managed network services.

[2] Cloud Computing is Internet-based ("cloud") development and use of computer technology ("computing"). The cloud is a metaphor for the Internet, based on how it is depicted in computer network diagrams. It is a style of computing in which IT-related capabilities are provided “as a service”, allowing users to access technology-enabled services from the Internet ("in the cloud") without knowledge of, expertise with, or control over the technology infrastructure that supports them (Wikipedia, Jan 2009).

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