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Last week I attended the Future of Technology in Education Conference (FOT13) held at ULCC. I went along with a couple of hats on. Firstly, with my Open Education Working Group hat on I was interested in hearing about any new open education initiatives, both in the UK and abroad. Secondly with my LinkedUp hat on I wanted to find out more about open education data activities, so for example are we going to be getting any data out of MOOCs?

Fireside chat

Fireside chat by LCD Imperial

Despite having 3 female plenary speakers (hurray!) the morning was a little disappointing.

While Nicola Millard, Customer Experience Futurologist, BT made some interesting points about our change in working practice (her idea that she needs ‘Coffice’ to work – good coffee, good cake, good connectivity and company – would tickle all you remote workers!) and delivered it impeccably without slides or notes, she didn’t really say anything that ground breaking. In the UK we’re all aware in the consumerisation of Higher Education, but I felt that her suggestion that education needs to be as ‘easy as Amazon’ was a little off the mark. While I agree with her view that “wowing does not create satisfaction but getting the basics right does” I think we are in dangerous territory if we just try to make everything easier, education is really about a lot more than ease of use. That said she had a really good story telling technique and I liked her ideas around social networking related to institutions – do you want people to graffiti the inside of your building or the outside?

Job title aside, Alicia Wise, Director of Universal Access at Elsevier, began her talk by being upfront about her organisation’s ‘backward thinking’ with regard to open access. Elsevier are engaging with the open access model and are apparently launching one open access journal week on average…but they are still a commercial company. While Alicia explained that she wants to see content “swish effortlessly round the web” the Twitter backchannel pointed out Elsevier’s growing R&D spend and exploration around journal rental had ultimately resulted in bigger profits. Alicia was in a tricky position but I was pleased to hear her touch on ideas around opening up research data saying that it currently has “high importance and low availability”.

In a talk entitled Webcasts in education: Mythbusters! Gwen Noteborn, Researcher, Maastricht University didn’t really bust any myths; she just confirmed that webcasts can be a really useful teaching and learning tool. At the Maastricht University EdLab they put students and lecturers on a level grounding and working through tech needs together and have experienced a 15% increase in student passes in sessions that used webcasts. They also found that ‘lazy’ students will look at the webcast and only access the sections they need while more ‘conscientious’ students watch the whole webcast (it could be argued that the ‘lazy’ students are just those who know how to work the system – more strategic.) Maastricht have been using Mediasite as their webcasting tool.

The morning concluded with a fireside chat (with real fire!) on implementing change in education. Discussion topics ranged from how we make technology easier for learners, how we get academics using technology and engaging more, and usability. Once again the focus seemed to be a little too much on how technology can make education easy and less on how it can make education better. [Though I go along with the idea that simple to use tools are a good thing].

Lindsay Jordan in blue

Lindsay Jordan in blue by Santanu Vasant

After lunch Lindsay Jordan, Educational Developer, University of the Arts London woke us all up by launching on to the stage in a full-body blue lycra leotard (“why so blue Lindsay?”) She then gave a really interesting talk looking at the differences between online and F2F learning. She explained that the drop out rates in distance/online learning are often to do with life events, but even more to do with isolation. Through a demo of the cupsong and a piano solo Lindsay explained that what we (sometimes) need is bite size learning and (sometimes) less flexibility. The term eventedness also came up – this is the idea that you are part of a shared endeavor – an event. David White has written a blog post about the term and I hope to revisit the ideas behind it for this blog in the near future – all very relevant to event amplification.

Eventedness by David White

Eventedness by David White

Martin King’s talk was by far my favourite of the day. His 101 slides dealt with opening up formal learning through diversity. He talked about how we will deal with 3 billion minds coming online – “the network event horizon of global connectivity”. Most of these will be from developing countries, many will have disabilities, many will be very young or very old and education will have to change to meet what they need. Access to Internet is currently only available to a third of world population but in the next few years new technology will be able to really help open up education and democratize access to information. Martin concluded by pointing out our western elitism and that “we are no longer the centre of our own universe”.

From Martin King's talk: 3 billion new users online

From Martin King’s talk: 3 billion new users online

Kevin Ashley, director of the DCC (my old place of work!) gave the next presentation on Research data: bothersome burden or treasure chest? Kevin explained that 164 HE institutions in UK received over £4.4 billion in research funding last year. Research funders worldwide are placing increasingly stringent requirements on researchers and research institutions regarding data produced by research. There are a huge number of reasons for opening up research data, and he covered quite a few, for example open data greatly increases research citation rate.

The penultimate talk was from Matthew Yee-King, Goldsmith University on MOOCs: a view from the trenches. In a highly practical talk that considered the approach taken at Goldsmith in creating the Creative Programming for Digital Media & Mobile Apps Coursera course, Matthew also took time to touch on issues like why institutions create MOOCs (a marketing exercise?) and dropout rates. He put forward some interesting statistics: the creative programming course had 95k enroll, 38k active and 6.6k finish. The majority of those participating were already had Bachelors or Masters degrees, making the argument that MOOCs are continuing education for those already educated not the democratisation of HE. Matthew was also frank about the moderation of forums and how they had deleted inappropriate comments, making the MOOC not quite so open.

The final talk was given by Diana Laurillard, Professor of Learning with Digital Technologies in the London Knowledge Lab and Assistant Director for Open Mode learning at the Institute of Education. Diane discussed pedagogies for large-scale student guidance and began by asking why are we spending millions on MOOCs for those who already have degrees? And why are offering MOOCs for free when students (in the UK) are paying £9k? Diane explained that the approach we are taking will not satisfy the worldwide demand for higher education (currently estimated as ~ 100m per year (UNESCO)). Her suggestion is ‘education economics’, moving from the current norm of a 1:25 staff student ratio to a much higher ratio. To do so we need to consider ways of improving and sharing the pedagogies that achieve high quality student support and attainment on the large scale. Technology may well be the answer but we need to invest and support teaching innovation. Diane ended by saying that for her education is not like any other industry – I’d have to agree.

It did feel a little like we were only just getting to the heart of the matter at the end of the day, and it would have been good to talk a little more about this future. A future where more people are online than ever before and they deserve an education. When open education goes beyond sharing a few courses as a branding exercise. But a great day nonetheless.

And one last thing, the FOTE Web app is great!

foteapp