Wednesday, September 07, 2011

From Pecha Kucha through work based learning to emotional affect in learning

L'embarras du choix...
Next to the keynote, the first day at the 18th conference of the Association for Learning Technology (#ALTC2011) had so many interesting sessions on the programme that it was hard to choose (in French: l'embarras du choix - hence the picture above). One slot was pre-scheduled, as I had to chair the session, but the others were yet to be filled. So what did I learn? Here's the short version.
  • The first session I attended was the first ever ALT-C Pecha Kucha and ePoster session, with 2 Pecha Kucha presentations and 3 ePosters. In contrast to the original 20x20 PechaKucha format, ALT has chosen a 9x45 format, in which the speaker gets to use 9 slides, which automatically progress after 45 seconds. The concept is: be well-prepared and stick to your message. The presentations covered two cases of blended learning. The first presentation by colleagues at the University of Huddersfield stressed the importance of social skills for blended learning in groups. They reported on how they used critical friendship groups to get the students to actively interact during their online learning activities. Unfortunately for the OUNL, such a model is hard to adapt to our model of solitary distance learners without the cohort to build those groups. The second presentation by University of Glasgow reported on a structured learning activity involving wikis, in which first-year philosophy students were grouped into small groups with clear assignments about collecting information before meeting in tutorial sessions. The effects of this approach on student scores were remarkable, but I wonder whether that was related to the use of the wiki or the clever design of the learning activity. The ePosters were not given a time slot, much to the surprise of the submitters who were there to answer questions. The next ePoster sessions repaired this flaw, and added time slots for ePoster discussion.
  • Lunch was good, as it was next year. Great opportunities to talk to people. The number of tweeps I have been talking to these last two days is amazing. For that reason alone, the ALT conference is worth my while. During lunch break I talked to James Clay, one of the web presence co-ordinators on the programme committee, who has set up a small TV studio, and uses Justin TV to bring an informal live TV channel from the conference. Of course I installed the app on CELSTEC's Android phone and made a number of short recordings, which were immediately streamed to the server. A very interesting video recording, sharing and broadcasting platform which allows low-threshold recordings with mobile applications, but also higher end grassroots broadcasting with a setup like the one at ALT in the video below.

  • Watch live video from sverjans on
  • After lunch I chaired a session on Emotion and Pluralism with two proceedings papers. Finding the room in the maze of the EC Stoner building was tough, and only about 15 people managed to get in the session, but they got their money's worth. The first paper by Liz, Gill and Lachlan from the University of Greenwich presented the PANDORA project, a multimedia training environment for high-level crisis management in which they have been researching and developing a module that deals with the role of emotional affect and stress for decision making in severe crisis situations. Their tool allows a trainer to simulate semi-realistic crisis situations, with the explicit purpose of duplicating the emotinal and informational stress load. I kept wondering whether future crisis managers - so-called Gold Commanders - who might well be experts in World of Warcraft or other strategic games, will be more suited for handling such crises. The second paper by Chris Jones from the UK Open University and Gregor Kennedy from the University of Melbourne was of a completely different nature, in that it discussed research paradigms, and argued for taking a pluralist perspective when doing research in learning technology. They argued that new LT researchers often have a (socially) predetermined perspective about the type of research that they will be doing, with too little focus on the research question and its interaction with 'suitable' research paradigms and methodologies. Both papers were followed by a very good discussion with the audience.
  • For my next slot I attended a session named 'Worlds of learning' with three short papers. The first presentation by colleagues from the Japanese and Canadian Open Universities discussed research on the use of a Moodle-compatible audio applet named Nanogong for students learning English. It reminded me very much of the setup developed in the WebCEF and CEFcult projects in which I participated, where students record their own oral language utterances and are assessed on those. The second paper by colleagues from the ePortfolio centre at the University of Nottingham reported on a study of the use of the Mahara ePortfolio system with a group of Biosciences masters students during a 2-month industrial placement. The research reported positive outcomes, especially on the administrative burden of the university placement co-ordinator. Students were reported to use the ePortfolio system as if it were a special kind of Facebook. I kept wondering whether such a short term pilot would tell us anything about the long-term use of an ePortfolio tool. The final paper of that session was presented on Prezi, and discussed the instructional design practice at BPP - the first commercial university in the UK. I kept thinking about the wieldy process of developing distance learning materials at our own university, and couldn't help but wonder if thorough, structured and streamlined instructional design processes are the right way to go for any HE institution. The argument was that the students expected course modules to be similar and standardised. I'm not sure such a well-structured but time-consuming process is the right answer to the growing need for situated and just-in-time learning.
  • This feeling was strengthened during the last session of the day, a workshop called 'Employer engagement' on work-based learning (WBL) and all the issues involved in that. We were presented with a short background from some JISC-funded projects dealing with work-based learning, and then asked to contribute to three themes related to WBL. The intention of the workshop was partly to get feedback on the parameters involved in the 'Work Based Learning Maturity Toolikit', a self-assessment type instrument to judge institutional maturity with regard to work-place learning. During the discussion, which was quite relevant for my recent work with colleagues from the Zuyd University College, where we looked at a group of students from a Dutch ICT consultancy firm who are taking a degree in Networking Infrastructure while being employed full-time. Turned out that most of the issues we ran into, were well known in my group, especially within Mark Stiles' group at the University of Staffordshire. Negotiation between employer, employee and institution is the key element in work-based learning, but also change efforts in the HE institution, and at the employer site are crucial for success. From experience I know that it is hard to get university staff to look at what 'the customer wants', rather than what we have 'on offer' in the institution. A very informative session, indeed.
All in all a very fruitful first day, in which I had some good conversations, started following a number of new tweeps, met some old friends, and started blogging again. I also noticed that I prefermy laptop for tweeting, rather than the HTC smartphone I borrowed from CELSTEC.

Note from editor: Is this the short version? This post is much too long, BOO!

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