Over the last six years, Innovating e-Learning, aka the JISC e-Learning Online Conference, taking place 22-25 November, has become a must-attend event for those interested in enhancing their practice with technology. And each year, a hard core of seasoned online conferencers is joined by delegates new to the event, who are surprised, even shocked, by how much they gain from the experience.
‘Excitement, challenge, the opportunity to think beyond the confines of my world’ was how one delegate described last year’s conference. Another spoke of ‘learning so much without leaving my desk’, neatly capturing some of the significant advantages of the JISC online conference – its convenience and cost effectiveness.
JISC’s latest radio Show, JISC On Air, explores some of these the benefits as well as opening up issues covered by this year’s theme, Learning in Transition. In the company of keynote presenters, Bill Rammell (Deputy Vice Chancellor, Plymouth University), Mike Sharples (Professor of Educational Technology, The Open University) and Ewan McIntosh (CEO, No Tosh), Sarah Porter, Head of Innovation at JISC, sums up the surprising richness of online conferencing.
‘I think we do get more interaction. We do get a better depth of discussion. We’re using a number of different environments to help people to have as rich an experience and as human an experience as possible.’ Sarah Porter
After all, where else could you engage in a full-on debate with a leading expert when your day job is a teacher or curriculum manager? At this critical time for further and higher education, perhaps the greatest value of the JISC Online Conference is the chance to engage with challenges, controversies and new media formats, with minimal cost and inconvenience into the bargain.
Take for example the question of what students want and need from further and higher education. Many will be inspired by Exeter University’s session in Theme 1 of this year’s conference on Students as Agents of Change . In this session, an educational developer and recent graduate of the university explore an innovative partnership between undergraduate students and academic staff that researched and co-developed technology-enhanced solutions for learning and teaching. But for Bill Rammell, there are inherent tensions between the model of partnership and the expectations of those buying into higher education:
‘I think, as time as gone on, as academic thinking has gone on, as the way that universities position themselves has developed, we are convinced that the best model is a model of partnership. But, at the same time, there is an expectation from students – rightly – that their lecturers know more than they do.’ Bill Rammell
A further source of controversy explored in the pre-conference debate recorded for JISC On Air is that surrounding open educational resources – a forward-looking enterprise or a risk in a competitive, consumer-led environment? For Sarah Porter, the risks could turn out to be gains:
‘People are thinking we’ve invested money and time in this, we don’t want to open this up. But what we’re finding, in fact, in terms of brand is that by opening up resources it can really strengthen the institution’s brand because it gives the student the opportunity to go and sample the learning environment.’
Open practice across the sectors, session 6 of the Online Conference, will take this debate further and I, for one, can’t wait to see how it shapes up.
This year’s programme also features an opening keynote by David Puttnam (producer of classic films such as Chariots of Fire and Midnight Express and now Chancellor of The Open University) and a lively Pre-conference Activity Week – an eclectic mix of demonstrations and live presentations ranging from a practical guide from JISC infoNet on implementing mobile learning to a demonstration by South Tyneside College of distributing digital information via iTunes. From guidelines for virtual classrooms to a demonstration of new technology-supported approaches to designing and approving courses from, the breadth of new ideas in the pre-conference week alone provides ample incentive to take part.
So whether you are interested in the keynote speakers, the main conference sessions or the pre-conference activity programme, or just feel you want to get to grips with what’s happening in the world of technology-enhanced learning, register now to take advantage of the pre-conference activity week commencing on 15th November.
And to whet your appetite, listen to what the keynote speakers have to say on JISC On Air: Learning in Transition