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JISC-CETIS 2006: Linking Formal and Informal learning

Christina Smart and Sarah Holyfield
Last modified 27 Nov, 2006
Published 27 Nov, 2006
A report from the JISC-CETIS conference held in Salford on the 14th and 15th November. This year, the focus was on "the gap between learning within the (fire)wall of a well-established institution and learning on the wild web and beyond."

This year’s conference broadened out from previous conference themes of the e-Framework for Education and Research and Reference Model projects to wider issues of how to link formal and informal learning, acknowledging the impact and potential of web 2.0 technologies on learning in formal post-16 education. The conference also saw the launch of the new JISC-CETIS service. Under the leaden Salford skies invited delegates met at the Lowry Centre to reflect on recent developments and discuss the priorities for the next year.

The conference wiki contains slides and notes from all the sessions.

The Keynotes

This year's conference included three stimulating keynote presentations as well as the working group sessions.

Bill Olivier

JISC Director of Systems and Technology Development

The JISC Strategy

Bill opened the conference by outlining JISC’s current thinking and development of the JISC strategy for 2007-2009 through which JISC aims to provide ‘leadership through the innovative use of ICT’. JISC funding is provided through top slicing and as such needs to provide community benefits which must offer ‘value for money and be sustainable’. Bill considered issues of technology adoption within institutions, where the pull of institutional strategy meets the push of technological innovations. He related the JISC model of funding projects with IDEOs rough innovation pattern, and stressed that there needs to be great engagement of the user community in software development.

Increasing community engagement in the innovation process

Increasing community engagement in the innovation process

JISC is working with AUA, UCISA, CETIS and HEA to engage the early adopters to bridge the well known chasm of technology adoption within their institutions. Of course the reference model/domain map projects worked exactly in this space between student and practitioner needs and technologists. To conclude Bill looked at the themes for the conference and asked groups to spend as much time thinking about how they connected with other groups as thinking about their own specific issues.

Oleg Liber

Director of CETIS

The new JISC-CETIS service

In August 2006 CETIS changed from being a JISC project to becoming a JISC Development Service. Oleg Liber explained that the work of JISC-CETIS had changed in the following ways and is:

  • now a service, no longer a project
  • working more closely with new JISC programmes
  • focusing on the E-Framework and soa
  • building on Reference Models
  • has launched a new website:

JISC-CETIS will continue to support:

  • e-learning interoperability and standards
  • partnerships
  • projects
  • community

In the next phase from 2006-2011 the service will look at the role of e-learning technology standards acknowledging that ‘there are more ways to provide interoperability than IMS standards.’

Oleg introduced the parallel sessions of the conference and elaborated the conference theme asking: ‘in the current context can institutions exploit these external web 2 technologies and what does that mean?’ he outlined the questions at the heart of each parallel session. (See sessions below).

Ernest Adams

The philosophical roots of game design

This year’s conference included a new theme on gaming and synthetic worlds and the role these can play in education. In his keynote Ernest Adams a guru of the gaming world considered the conflicting philosophies behind game design. On the one hand design is driven by English philosophy – with the analytical approach embedded in the technology. But games design also includes romantic narratives of the French philosophical tradition, which appeal to our hearts and draw us into the game. Ernest suggested that this conflict has been a hindrance to games design. He drew parallels between the current developments in the internet and how the Victorians must have felt about steam in the 19th Century, and reminded us that ‘just because the technology has improved – it doesn’t mean the games have got better’.

To illustrate his point he considered the literary basis of many of the most popular games, like the Matrix and concluded that they are about heroes setting off on quests to save the world, with narratives influenced by epic adventures like the Icelandic Sagas and Beowulf – in other words 1000 year old literary formats. Ernest pointed out that more modern literary formats were very difficult to make games of, concluding that “Games just can’t do ‘The Grapes of Wrath’”. He summarised that ‘the games industry strives for romantic ends through classical means’ and ‘video games are nerd poetry.’ Looking to the future Ernest wondered whether the games industry needs new heroes to touch our hearts and our minds, heroes like Leonardo da Vinci.

Jim Farmer

Center for Scholarly Systems Architecture, Georgetown University

Blended Learning: Pragmatic Innovation

At the end of the two days delegates were given a useful reality check from Jim Farmer at the close of the conference which helped to focus minds on the immediate future. He talked about the useful things he had picked up from previous JISC-CETIS conferences and had taken back to colleagues in the US. One example was that the US are now developing a course catalogue specification and will involve the XCRI team in the work. He complemented CETIS on its conferences and concluded that the reason they were so effective is that everyone knows each other – it’s the value of the community.

Jim reminded us that although more US students attend college – the highest rate of graduation of anywhere in the world was in the UK, but he warned of what the effects of the increase of participation rates had been in the US. The cautionary tale is that the additional students are less prepared for higher education and as a result actually are more costly to support.

In terms of course content Jim looked at his own degree and looked at the ‘explosion of knowledge’ that had occurred in recent years, reminding us we now expect much more of students.

On the issue of the introduction of fees Jim commented that in the 1970s the US government viewed education as a public good and it was therefore paid for by the public, now the view is that students benefit from education and should pay for it themselves. The introduction of fees in the US system has resulted in high levels of student debt and falling enrollments.

Finally, focusing on the role of educational technology in teaching and learning he said that students liked the blend of technology and traditional lectures, and encouraged us to ‘focus on where the benefit is’ for example Calculus doesn’t change much from year to year so would be worth investing in.

So what should JISC and JISC-CETIS do next? Here’s Jim Farmer’s list:

  • Focus on the relationships between e-learning and pedagogy – use Schools of Education more
  • Shift to pilot integrations and implementation
  • Fund development of services or functions unique to higher education
  • Document and promote the successful
  • Give the community some idea of timescales, and
  • Focus on the immediate future.

A very useful list of priorities for the next 12 months.

Working Group Sessions

The purpose of the conference was to share thoughts and priorities for the coming year. In each of the conference parallel themes participants were asked to develop proposals for action. At the end of two days each group were asked to summarise their discussions with a single picture and slide!

Future of Education Media

Facilitators: Sheila MacNeill and Phil Barker

This session looked at issues surrounding the creation, sharing of, and access to, educational content.

The two day session covered the following questions:

  • what type of content is most likely to be created e.g. blogs, wikis, audiovisual recordings of lectures etc?
  • where they are likely to be stored e.g. VLEs, YouTube, library?
  • how they are likely to be discovered?
  • and how they are likely to be used?

Their final slide:

Staff and Students simply sharing social stuff

Staff and Students simply sharing social stuff

A full account of the session and presentations [] can be found on the Conference wiki at :

Identity, Portfolios and Personalisation

Facilitators: Peter Rees Jones, Simon Grant, Helen Richardson

The session covered:

  • identity and e-Portfolio: what are the key issues that need to be worked through? which of these issues might be taken forward at an event in spring 2007?
  • personalisation and e-Portfolio: a scenario scoping the services relating to e-Portfolio and identity provided a starting point for discussion
  • assessment and e-Portfolio: what are the services making use of e-portfolio, especially for formative and diagnostic assessment? what are the implications for personalisation and what are the role of competences?

Theses discussions were summarised in the final slide:

Identity, Portfolios and Personalisation

Identity, Portfolios and Personalisation

Sessions notes and presentations are on the Conference wiki at:

Personal Learning Environments: inclusion, pedagogy, informal learning

Facilitators: Oleg Liber, Sharon Perry, Lisa Corley

The Personal Learning Environments session looked at tools for personal use as well as content, and what this means for learners.

Questions raised included:

  • What do we mean by personal learning?
  • What sort of environment would support this?
  • Is this a purely technical question, or is it organisational, pedagogical, social or political?
  • From a pedagogic perspective, what is the connection between PLEs and Learning Design? And the eFramework?
  • What does this mean for our institutions?

At the end of two days of discussions the two groups' summary slides were:

Group 1

Lets re imagine the bubbles

Let's re-imagine the bubbles

Group 2

Adaptability of learning equals small pieces loosely joined

Adaptability of learning equals small pieces loosely joined

The session slides and notes including a comprehensive report from Dai Griffiths can be found on the conference wiki at:

Architecture of services and mashups

Facilitators: Wilbert Kraan and Sam Easterby-Smith

The Architecture session focused on service oriented approaches and the role that mashups might play in new infrastructures.

The session aimed to produce:

  • An up-to-date picture of which services are deployed between what systems
  • A list of services that need development and deployment next
  • An outline of the optimum service integration type for these services

Final slide:

A mashup is only a mashup when it adds value

A mashup is only a mashup when it adds value

A full account of the session is available on the conference wiki:

Assessment and personalisation

Facilitators: Rowin Young and Clive Church

This session looked at various factors surrounding the personalisation of online assessment.

The session covered:

  • Informal and personalised assessment: what is it and how do we do it?
  • Workflows and services for personalised assessment
  • Technical barriers and opportunities for personalisation in QTI
  • A realistic perspective on personalisation
  • The awarding body perspective

The final slide summarised their conclusions:

Joining up and joining in,we dont want to start again, again

Joining up and joining in:we don't want to start again, again

Full session notes and presentation are available on the conference wiki:

Future of Education Institutions

Facilitators: Vashti Zarach and Scott Wilson

Future of Education Institutions session considered what the short and long term future will be for institutions and the factors that will influence developments.

Questions raised included:

  • Wider global and societal trends affecting future educational institutions.
  • Existing and emerging technologies likely to have increased use and impact in future institutions.
  • Imagining the future: possible innovations not yet dreamt or discovered which could impact on education.
  • Will educational “institutions” as distinct, concrete physical entities still exist in the future? What form will future institutions take?
  • The human angle: what will the educational experience be for learners, academic and admin staff in the future?
  • A formal or an informal future for educational institutions: what do we think is most likely?

The final slide:

Keep it wierd, real choice and diversity

Keep it wierd, real choice and diversity?

Further session notes and a great flickr slideshow of this group's discussions are available at:

There were also two new themes this year.

Identity, Games and Synthetic worlds

Facilitators: Paul Hollins and Scott Wilson

This session looked at the role of simulation and gaming within formal education and informal education like Second life, covering:

  • Experiences to date - what has(n't) worked and why?
  • How can games with an educational purposes work in HE?
  • Flash-based games
  • Hi-fi synthetic worlds (Second Life, WoW, GTA: San Andreas)
  • Lo-fi synthetic worlds (Habbo Hotel, CyWorld)
  • Alternate reality games (PerplexCity, Waking City, Troy)
  • Identity: projected, real, assumed...
  • Platforms: NintendoDS, PSP...
  • "Net generation", Prensky etc

This group's final slide

Learning to take games seriously

Learning to take games "seriously"

Full notes of the discussions can be found at:

Thinking the Unthinkable

Facilitators: Brian Kelly, Steven Warburton, Josie Fraser and Mark Stiles.

This session led by UKOLN considered what else JISC might do to support institutions and the community.

The session aims were

  • To have an open discussion which will critique mainstream orthodoxies in the JISC development environment.
  • To seek ways in which tensions between orthodox approaches and radical approaches can be addressed.
  • To make recommendations to JISC and CETIS.

Final Slide:

Focus Group Ignores the Elephant in the Room

Focus Group Ignores the Elephant in the Room

Notes from the discussions can be found at:


The JISC-CETIS conference is an annual opportunity for innovators in educational technologies to take shock of where we are and where we’re going. This year’s conference did not disappoint. On a personal note for me and others it’s a chance to meet old friends make new ones and put a finger in the air to see which way the wind might be blowing over the coming months. No doubt the next set of Capital Programme e-learning projects will be influenced by discussions at last week's meeting.

We’d like to hear about how the conference was for you. Would you like to share one or two main thoughts you took from the conference? Please leave your comments here – or send us a link ( to your own blog or wiki posting.

Useful snippets

Paul Walk"We should be using mash-ups for linking data between institutions, where there are no authentication issues and no political baggage."

Mark Stubbs"Let’s go for the quick wins using data already in the public domain, like first destination statistics – freeing up time other things.

have you a snippet to add to these?


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