Snapshots from ECEL2014


Great conference in Copenhagen, hosted by Conference and Programme Co-chairs: Dr Rikke Ørngreen and Dr. Karin Tweddell Levinsen, Research LAB: IT and Learning Design, Department of Philosophy and Learning, Aalborg University. This was the 13th European Conference on ELearning which attracted a strong entry this year – 74 academic papers selected from 173 abstracts, 9 PhD papers, 1 Masters research paper and 10 work in progress papers. A large number of academic posters were also on display this year. In total 160 delegates attended from 32 countries certainly not restricted to Europe.

Also great company as this year Brighton Business School contributed to the support of four of us to attend the conference: Andrea Benn, who ran a mini track on A bespoke curriculum – how far is this feasible?, Beatrice Segura Harvey, who graduated with BSc International Business this summer and presented the essence of her final dissertation research on Technology on CALL: improving English Language learning in a Spanish context, Nourah Alshaghdali, presenting her PhD research in progress on Quality of Women’s learning experiences in the digital age in Higher Education in Saudi Arabia and mysself presenting the outcomes of the Hastings Digital Learning project – co-written with Craig Wakefield: Developing Confidence in the use of digital tools in teaching.

Professor Chris Dede from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education gave a great keynote featuring immersive learning opportunities for schoolchildren which was a world away from clunky Second Life applications – EcoMUVE found at http://ecomuve.gse.harvard.edu/
He spoke about three contexts for learning – the classroom, the “real world” and learning communities all of which could be achieved through physical, blended and online spaces. Something I like to talk about – learning, unlearning and relearning – also featured stongly, and learning analytics made its initial appearance at this early stage of the conference – developments we cannot afford to ignore.

The second day keynote was from Prof. Torben Elgaard Jensen, Department of Learning and Philosophy, Aalborg University Copenhagen on “Reconfiguring Users: Tracing how users find their way into the world of developers and designers“. Prof Jensen is an anthropologist and offered a different perspective on technology design including the tension between users and designers in commercial applications – offering some ideas for parallels with users and designers in learning. Short outline here http://academic-conferences.org/pdfs/ECEL/ECEL_2014-Jensen-Keynote-Abstract.pdf

Following ideas from our BeL research group (CIMERE) hosted European Conference on Social Media this summer, I set up the conference on http://www.epilogger.com to track the conference Twitter hashtag #ECEL2014. Resulting overview of the social media side of ECEL2014 can be found at http://epilogger.com/events/european-conference-on-e-learning-2014
We achieved 456 tweets and 57 photos with many external web links posted over the two days of the conference – not a record but a great souvenir of what interested people there.

What were the key issues and eye-catching ideas at the conference for me?
First I would draw attention to Dede’s report at https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM1352.pdf which draws out the shifts of focus needed for connected learning in post- secondary education. Educating for employability and citizenship take over cognitive content as vital learning outcomes. Learning analytics are beginning to show up at this conference though there is much more out there than was visible here – every commercial provider and individual designer of VLEs and learning tools is turning their focus to tracking engagement in learning resources.

Three particular papers stood out for me: Karin Levinsen and Birgitte Holm Sorensen’s paper on Evaluation as a powerful practice in digital learning processes offered a well- grounded action learning approach enabling schoolchildren to define their own learning outcomes in their own language. This isn’t as anarchic as it may sound and produced clear improvements in both engagement and academic achievement where teachers were able to give considerable control to learners. It doesn’t negate the teacher’s role, simply altering it to support rather than constrain learning.

Another paper from Chad Zhart and Adam Hudson on The Tired model of Higher Education gave a very honest account of a self-paced, online programme where working professionals wishing to gain degree accreditation could if they wished work alone and gain the qualifications they needed in faster than usual time. Of course admissions were pivotal here – applicants had to have sufficient grounding and professional experience to work this way. And the programme was clearly causing some HE antagonism in-house. This didn’t require much teaching presence, only assessment. Interesting challenges shared.

The other paper sticking in my mind was Maggie Carson’s lovely presentation of her online Leadership module delivered to healthcare professionals at Edinburgh. We had discussed her move to fully online delivery some time ago when I was external examiner on this PG programme. Maggie demonstrated how the move of the traditional teaching aid – the Jelly Baby Tree – originally designed for schoolchildren, was used effectively to engage and support the development of a connected learning community using good facilitation skills and a discussion board. Going to show that it is never just about the tools, it’s about the pedagogic care and understanding of learners’ needs that creates learning stimulus.

During the conference we were joined by Roger Bell of the University of Worcester, who is working with me to review and deliver a freshly validated version of our BA Business Administration Topup course online through NCC Education. And I was happy to meet with Karin Hamilton Jakobsen of Ventus publishing (www.bookboon.com) who is based in Copenhagen to discuss the nearly ready second edition of my online Business Research Methods Ebook. Apparently the old version has already had 90000 downloads this year! I am being greatly assisted with the revisions for the second edition by Dr Joseph Martelli of Findlay University, Ohio.

The Conference ended with a couple of lovely surprises – an invitation to me to deliver a keynote at a conference next year, and much more importantly, the Prize for the best PhD paper at the Doctoral Symposium being awarded to my and Avril Loveless’s PhD student, Nourah Alshaghdali!

Well done Nourah, Beatrice, Andrea and a good conference for Brighton Business School.

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