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Highlights from the third theme of the Innovating e-Learning Conference 2006

Ros Smith
Last modified 04 Apr, 2006
Published 03 Apr, 2006
The third theme of the JISC Online Conference ‘Innovating e-Learning 2006’ brought the event to a close with a lively mix of creativity, innovation and technology.

Stephen Heppell’s keynote paper ‘Bringing creativity into practice’ laid down a challenge to the post-16 sector – to be prepared for the next generation of ‘terrifyingly confident and ingenious’ children enrolling as young adults in post-16 education and training. Noting little mention of creativity in recent government strategies for the sector, Stephen saw this as a worrying breakdown in continuity between schools and post-16 education.

The sessions in Theme 3, including the ‘In context area’ (which contained submissions from the Open Call), were centred on a) mobile and wireless learning and b) learning through gaming technologies, and c) the related theme of physical learning space design. Within these parameters, there were three key focal points:

  • Collaborative e-learning practices (e.g. group work and supporting online learning communities)
  • Sharing learning practices between institutions
  • Traversing virtual and physical spaces.

Titles of sessions under this theme reflected those areas of interest: Towards a theory of games-based pedagogy, Exploring the role of learning with mobile and wireless technologies, Learning Spaces: emerging trends, Mobile learning on a VLE, and Authenticity and professionalism: transactional learning in virtual communities.

Use of the newer technologies - including that demonstrated in the ‘In context area’ - was strongly supported by enthusiasts from the UK and abroad, who exchanged advice and experiences, for example, on usability and compatibility across different platforms, but also reflected on pedagogical and institutional issues affecting the widespread adoption of learning with mobile devices, simulation tools and gaming technologies. Stimulating questions provoked debate on topics such as: Can mobile devices such as 3G phones and PDAs be used for genuinely interactive learning, or simply for content delivery, such as driving test theory? What role should tutors play in learning through simulations? Can simulation tools capture the complexity of real world situations, or are users simply acquiring skills in learning the rules of a particular simulation? How can institutional barriers, such as time allocation for teaching sessions and required number of contact hours per week, be prevented from impeding interest in gaming as a tool for teaching and learning?

In ‘Towards a theory of games-based pedagogy’, Russell Francis, Oxford University and Richard Sandford, Futurelab, argued for the development of a shared language, distinct form the terminology used in commercial games, to develop the potential for gaming with the broadest community of users. They also noted the need for further action research to determine the scope for gaming as a tool in education – in assessment, for example. In ‘Exploring the role of learning with mobile and wireless technologies’, delegates debated with Geoff Stead, CTAD and Lilian Soon, formerly at Thomas Danby College, whether it is possible to use these technologies on a wider scale in teaching and learning, or whether the spontaneous, personal, and therefore potentially disruptive nature of the mobile phone - the most frequently cited example of m-learning - would prevent use of such devices in the classroom.

There were disappointingly few links made between the lively session led by James Clay on mobile and wireless technologies and a usefully reflective one on learning space design, where the impact of mobile and wireless learning is in reality already being felt. However, in ‘Learning Spaces: emerging trends ‘ Alexi Marmot, AMA Alexi Marmot Associates, and Tom Hamilton, CETL in Creativity at the University of Sussex, discussed in depth issues relating to the design of spaces for 21st century learning, including whether the physical presence of an institution is likely to shrink as online course delivery and learners’ involvement in online communities increase. What emerged strongly form this session, (as it did from the session from Paul Maharg (University of Strathclyde) on simulations and transactional learning in virtual communities), was the merging of ‘worlds’: physical spaces are now less easily demarcated, as online and mobile learning bring the ‘back regions’ of institutions – corridors, entrances and under utilised social spaces – into play as learning environments. Equally innovative was the use of a virtual town at the University of Strathclyde, in which students could develop practices they will need in their professional work as lawyers. The role of situated learning, the authenticity of task related to student experience, and the development of discipline alongside ethical knowledge, preoccupied discussants in this engaging session.

Stephen Heppell’s remark in the keynote discussion, ‘In the 21st century, we have choices and this makes for change’, became the byword for these 2-day debates around creativity and innovative technologies. It only required a scintillating discussion around the closing keynote from Chris Yapp, Microsoft, to round off an invigorating online event – and that duly arrived with a challenge from Chris to decide how £100 million could be spent in a new build, based on what had learnt at the conference!

Needless to say, there were plenty of suggestions!


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