brief report of ICEL 2015

Set in the translucent seas between US and Cuba, Nassau gave us a conference setting which eased the mind and surrounded us with warmth and courtesy. The island seems focussed on its near future, with the hopes of the College of the Bahamas fixed on becoming a University shortly, and the hopes of the Government fixed on solving the delays in the latest tourist spot, Baha Mar, where four towering hotels built by Chinese workers with Chinese funding stand almost ready but stalled for the want of final agreed conditions and money.


So too in ICEL 2015, there were clearly established visions of distance learning enabled by learning technologies and pedagogies using all the current phrases – flipped classrooms, learning analytics, social media and audience response systems for interactive learning and gamification, yet the overriding sense was of teachers around the world still enthralled by gadgets, testing the latest projects from the big publishers desperate to infiltrate classrooms and colleagues who shared enthusiasms but often failed to bring other teachers into an awareness of online learning potential.


The keynote on day two, Dr Edward Bethel, spoke a good deal of common sense about rapid product development cycles which left us chasing our tails as implementation was just starting when the whole landscape of technology would shift again. As teachers we are still in the blind spot of consumerism rather than working alongside tech developers, so tossed much of our learning into the filing tray as new media and student practice trended ahead of us. He also underlined the digital divide as little to do with technology and a lot to do with the persistent and possibly growing social divide. We might well see a sea of smartphones in student hands but learning and business practices remain sticky, resistant to change. The smartphones, without an understanding of learning and the huge access to potential global knowledge they offer, were likely to be used primarily for selfies and fast chat with existing friends.


My paper was a critical review of the literature to date on flipped learning as this is a topic of the moment which is attracting such interest. I rather suspect that, despite its potential, in practice relatively few teachers will implement it fully. There are challenges, few of them technological, more of them to do with engagement and good teaching and learning design for the class sessions, which many will avoid. My conclusions suggest that there are particular circumstances, such as heavy cognitive load and considerable factual detail, where students can benefit from flipped classrooms, but this should be used with care. Inevitably the novelty of a flipped classroom approach will pall with students if over-used. Also the model works to some extent against constructivist and self-directed learning, by imposing considerable teacher control over input, rather than opening up search and evaluation opportunities offered by the Web.


What did I personally take away from this conference? Some good guidelines on learning game design, continued enthusiasm for the amalgamation of problem based learning with online tools and a framework for online course design from Carroll and Burke (2011) – all of these gave me food for thought as I continue to design and innovate where there is a serious need for improved engagement with learners. But let’s not throw the interactive lecture and class- based workshop away in the process, these continue to prove their worth with learners and good teachers.

DSC00288 the table at dinner, great colleagues, great food!

The other things I bring back are a wonderful warm sense of the healing power of sea, sand and sunshine, and a precious hour-long conversation with an inspiring Junior High School teacher from Nassau. She made sure I saw the real Bahamas, its closed society with continuing poverty, its paid for masters degrees rife across those with power and influence and its continuing lack of opportunity for women. She will be someone with whom I want to keep in touch.

Proceedings at


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