Tuesday, September 06, 2011

First day at Alt-C 2011 - Opening keynote

This year, the Alt-C conference is held at the University of Leeds, and its theme is "Thriving in a colder and more challenging climate", referring to the economic cutbacks in (higher) education throughout the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. As a member of the Programma Committee Executive, I've been involved in the review and editing process, and it's been a very good experience sofar.

Opening & keynote
The conference was opened by the mayor of Leeds, a reverent adorned with an impressive official chain, who referred to the multi-cultural character of Leeds as the third biggest city in the UK. Then, the conference co-chair John Cook introduced the keynote speaker Miguel Brechner, the project leader of the Uruguayan One-Laptop-per-Child project Ceibal. He held a very inspirational talk about the project in which all Uruguayan children in the state school system (some 450.000 kids in primary and secondary education) were given a laptop that is connected to the Internet (99%) both in school and at home. This video he showed, gives a good impression of the project. Others - such as the ever productive Steve Wheeler - have blogged about this session. My major lesson from the session was:
  1. This kind of project is not about ICT or infrastructure, it is about social change, about teacher training, about social support mechanisms, about political will and endurance.
  2. Access to Internet is fast becoming the major factor in education. As Brechner forcefully stated: "The Ceibal project transformed access to computers and broadband Internet from a privilege to a basic human right.
  3. What can we learn from this, and why can't we offer the same broadband coverage in our part of the world? Some UK colleagues asked a question during the session, about how they could help the people in Uruguay to further this project. Somehow this question felt wrong (as noted by others). It's more: what can we (in the 'civilized' developed countries) learn from this? One thing I feel is that it should not be left to commercial providers alone to get everyone 'connected'. Miguel even mentioned rural areas where the laptops and broadband arrived before electricity did!
  4. Access to Internet means access to social media. I and others wondered how the kids were using their access to Internet to get to social media. Interestingly Miguel asked: "What is social media?" He then said: "Well, they're all on Facebook", which left me wondering whether their use of Facebook is similar to the way my kids are using it.
All in all, a good start to a good day. More reflections coming up later.

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