Adelaide, May 2003


The Educause conference was a good one. Even though there was almost no recognition that the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector exists, the standard of presentations indicated that there has been an improved awareness of elearning issues among university teaching staff over the last three years (See my report on the Distance Education conference in 2000.)

The Adelaide Convention Centre was a superb venue, and so it should be as it was purpose built for such events. Facilities were wonderful, food, trade exhibition, and technical support were all near faultless.

The assortment of keynotes was perhaps a little on the admin and IT architecture side of things for me – I can never get enough of information about teaching and learning in e-environments. There were some standouts among the keynotes – notably Brian Hawkins, President of Educause, Michael Sice from Australian Community Broadcasters, and Darrell Williamson from Smart Technology.

Some observations:

Day 1

I attended a couple of sessions on converting lectures to an online audio format. A noble enough goal, and these sessions were very well attended. Clearly university academics are keen to explore this option for catering to off campus students, but as Michael Fardon (University of WA) noted, this may not be the best way for academics to reconceptualise their teacher-centric methodologies.

Diane Oblinger (keynote speaker) from Microsoft gave a fine presentation that paraded much data (from Neil Howe and William Strauss in their 2000 book Millennials Rising) that supports Microsoft’s position as a provider of elearning solutions. She quoted studies revealing that US teenagers like working in teams, and are far more social learners than their parents’ generation. 94% of US teenagers use the Net for homework, 56% prefer using the Internet rather than the phone, and 75% regularly use Instant Messaging tools. (see related article on Turoring GenX)

Day 2

“Without image, thinking is impossible.” (Aristotle) So quoted Michael Sankey from the University of Southern Queensland (USQ). His session focused on the fact that current university materials completely ignore the fact that anywhere between 30 and 50% of all students are visual learners. He cited the amazing statistic that in 2001 85% of all teaching materials from USQ did not have one picture! He contends that as modern day students are multiliterate academics need to take this into account when designing learning materials – a fact that I think most VET staff have already taken on board because of the different profile of the average VET student. Studies show that a large majority of students (74 – 85%) who had taken courses with multimedia learning materials found them easier to do, and spent less time completing the course.

Les Burr from Charles Sturt University presented some interesting data from studies that analysed the nature and kind of communication in online student forums. The average ratio of messages read to the number of messages posted he said was 25 to 1. The number of posts per person decreases with an increase in the number of people in the forum (so increased ‘interaction’  does not necessarily promote more interaction!). His study also revealed that females, rural students, and mature age students are over represented in forum discussions. 

Day 3

The first keynote of day 3 was Brian Hawkins, Educause President, on The Transformed Academy. “Change,”  he said, “is transformational and discontinuous – not incremental; desiring continuity in this environment is dysfunctional.” Course, credit hours, curriculum, community, and campus have all changed with the advent of a ‘disruptive technology’ (the Internet).

Keynote speaker David Sice from the Digital Delivery Network opened many eyes with examples of how community radio broadcasters are using satellite delivery, and how this model of broadcasting unhooks programs from timeslots. There were follow up workshops later in the morning that I couldn’t attend, but others' comments were very  favourable. Clearly community radio could have a lead role in delivering digital educational programs if partnerships with existing institutions are forged.

One of the highlights of the conference for me was an illuminating session on the final morning of the conference involving a collection of live presenters from various points of the US. Steve Gilbert, and Jonathan Finkelstein from Learning Times were among the presenters and Alan Carrington chaired the session from on the ground at the conference. Steve introduced his notion of Low Threshold Applications (LTA’s),  and its companion theory, personalizing pedagogy. They were webcast into the conference hall with the aid of a product called Ezedia.

As is often the case with this kind of presentation many sat in awe at the spectacle before them, but again comments heard later indicated that those who had been at this session had been moved by what they saw. Now it just remains for we true believers to convince others of the power and potential of this kind of presentation.

The conference concluded with an extraordinary number of giveaways - PDAs, mobile phone accessories, and software - and I was the lucky reciopient of a copy of ezedia's MX software. "A poorman's Director" someone said, and I'm sure that will kill some of my spare time when it arrives.

Michael Coghlan
May, 2003


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