Information & Communication Technologies in Education conference 2015, Roznov

Just arrived home from another conference on learning with technologies, this time in the soft air and tree-covered hills of Eastern Moravia.IMG_7334

This is a conference with a major focus on PhD development in a neighbouring group of countries hosted by the University of Ostrava. Delegates and presenters attended from Slovakia, Ukraine and Poland as well as the Czech Republic and all these languages, as well as the official language of English, were spoken throughout the event. Proceedings are published in English and presentations are offered with English titles and sometimes English slides, though in deference to the largely non-English participants, the presenter’s own language was often used verbally. The official and compulsory PhD sessions in the conference offer a third and final opportunity for doctoral researchers to gain feedback, hopefully constructive, on their work before moving to final submission and viva in the following year.

I had been invited to offer the opening presentation on Designing with Technologies for Collaborative Learning, a topic which related to an editorial I had written for Interactive Learning Environments last year. Fortunately I was able to review the papers for the conference prior to my presentation and this helped me to get a flavour of the interests and pre-occupations of the participants. Many were focussed on specific projects involving technology in teaching at various levels – a notable example being Ota Kéhar who spoke of a problem based learning task involving public domain astronomical data to get students to learn about using Excel. My perspective is always that thinking about learning precedes and takes precedence over the use of particular technologies. I reviewed some of the key learning theorists who have guided our thinking on the value of interaction and collaboration in learning, before turning to the team perspective of designing learning fit for the 21st century, with academics working alongside developers, technologists, administrators and specifically the students themselves, to find ways of learning together with technology. It was fun to get participants using Poll Everywhere in the presentation, not a well-known way of using learning technology in this part of the world, where worksheets seem to be the most popular learning task.

The conference included much serious effort to gain traction with today’s educational technology. Tony and I were made welcome, but gained hugely from the presence of friend and colleague Dagmar El-Hmoudová, who was herself presenting in the PhD section of the conference yet made the conference particularly enjoyable for us with her ready humour, great company and excellent instant interpretation from Czech to English. We were also grateful to Pavel Kapoun (also the Executive Editor of the ICTE journal) who led us ably on a tour of the local Wallachian open air museum, after I’d enjoyed a brilliant cold and sunny swim in the open air pool at the interestingly named Hotel Relax…

What did I take away? lovely memories of the place, humility at the language abilities of many people in this region, and a clearer understanding of the reticence which many retain about expressing themselves publicly on the web, even if they are aware of the benefits of social media.

ECEL08 Cyprus

Well attended conference in Agia Nappa – glorious surroundings with direct access to beach. Despite the sun and sand, the conference provided quite enough stimulus to keep me away from the distractions. Delivered paper on “identify crisis: who is teaching whom online?” which was well supported and led to lively discussion. My research proposes a transition from teacher to learner using online environments for teaching, which can be seen as empowering or upsetting, depending on your point of view.

As learners begin to get to grips with the huge possibiities of accessing information and differing perspectives over the web, there is more reason to justify challenge to what teachers say in the classroom, more ways in which they can develop confidence in online identities and metamorphose from the quiet person at the back of the class, to the pro-active challenger online. Good stuff. Unless, that is, you define yourself as a teacher by seeing yourself in charge in the classroom. Then there are stressful encounters ahead. Where now does your authority come from? To set the curriculum, to design the online course area, to ask the questions, to pace the interaction and appearance of learning artefacts. Do you have that authority any more?

Of course teachers do still have authority online – especially upfront when they are designing interactions and activities and content. But they are no longer the sole architects of their students “course”. Web integration allows students to use other HEIs for notes and ideas, monitor currency of content and find others to ask questions – possibly talking directly to far distant experts. Challenging when we work out what teachers are meant to be doing. But still plenty of opportunities for “good” ie inspiring, questioning, problem-based teaching.