Future Visions (thoughts on the Intrallect Seminar)

Last Friday I attended the Intrallect Future Visions Seminar in Edinburgh. The brief for the four speakers was to look no further than three years forward, anticipate advances in technology but focus on the the benefits that people involved in in education will see as a result of these advances. The meeting venue had the advantage of having an interactive voting system, which meant there was a good level of interactivity for the audience during the presentations.

Martin Morrey of Intrallect kicked the day off with a look a the repositories space. He began by reflecting on some of the common assumptions of the 90’s. Remember when we all believed that the future lay in intelligent tutoring systems with structured, well catalogued, adaptive content . . . Well as we all know the reality hasn’t quite been like that. Systems aren’t really that intelligent, and we’re still struggling with the issues (both technical and pedagogical) of creating adaptable, reuseable content. The rise of google and social tagging have also challenged our assumptions about metadata use and creation. So what is the short term future for repositories? Well, Martin put forward the case that in the next three years repositories will be much more configurable. He envisioned single systems supporting a range of object types. Services will be in place for identifier registration, there will be a range of vocabulary application profiles, license registries and common authorisation and authentication services. Content will be able to be easily be reached and consumed by a range of learning systems which will be able to give users a variety of views of content.

Next we had Anne Eastgate, Director of the BBC Jam project. Anne gave an overview of this £150 million (yes, that’s right 150 million) 5 year project (2003-2008) development project which is producing freely available content for 5-16 year olds in the UK. Many of you will be aware of the controversy this project created when it was first put forward, with many commercial companies worried that this project would give the BBC an unfair advantage in the sector. To allay some of these fears, the project has been limited to producing material for 50% of the curriculum, but is still facing major hurdles from both the EU and the UK government in getting all the content it is producing online.

Although the content is freely available via the BBC Jam website, it has been restricted to a UK only service. The material has been produced using SCORM 2004 so it can be used in learning environments;. However reuse of the content is restricted to the target age range, so although much of the content maybe of use the the FE and ACL sectors, they wouldn’t be able to get a licence to run the materials in their VLEs. The BBC is currently negotiating licence arrangements with local education authorities for school use. The licence arrangements are primarily to ensure that the content is used with the appropriate age range of learners there are no additional charges for the content.

Despite the political problems faced by the project, content has been developed and is available now. All the content has been developed taking a learner centred approach and from the demo we were shown it is really engaging and interactive.

Colin Milligan, of the University of Strathclyde (currently project manager for CDLOR project) then looked at issues of identity and personalisation. Currently there is no one definition of personalised learning, however most people would agree that it is learner centred, flexible and customisable. The changing landscape of the education sector with growing numbers of part-tme students and the increase in informal learning has lead to the recognition of a need for new ways of measuring achievement. These changes go hand in hand with the developments in the online world and how people are adapting to those changes. For the first time we are faced with students who are coming to University with access to richer technology in their homes (or in their pockets) than are provided by many institutions – who needs a university email account anymore?

Colin took us on a whirlwind tour of the Web 2.0 landscape, outlining the potential that webservices can have for education by allowing more learner control over access and organisation content, as well as more flexible and appropriate collaborative tools for content creation and sharing eg. netvibes, flickr and zoho.

Changing the system is obviously not going to happen overnight, but with more students coming into higher education who have been working with say a portfolio system in schools maybe one driver for change which institutions will not be able to ignore.

The last presentation of the day came from Chris Pegler of the OU who looked at new learning activities and what will we want next? Chris took the opportunity to remind us of the challenges that we are still facing in e-learning. Although the potential is there for lots of positive additions to the learning landscape we are still being held back by other factors, technical and more importantly social. I particularly liked her question ‘is it rude not to look at someone when they are talking to you?’ – unsurprisingly the audience very much agreed with this statement, But when we start to think of this in a learning situation does this still apply? Should students always been looking at a lecturer? Is ‘continuous partial distraction’ acceptable? How many meetings do we all go to and sit and check our emails? Why should we expect students to be any different?

Using the kit in our pocket can also lead to its own set of challenges such as finding common programmes which everyone has – the lowest common demoninator, but these might not necessarily be the most appropriate for the learning activity.

Are we in danger of creating a new digital divide between the students who have 24/7 online, broadband access and those who don’t? Traditionally online success has been measured by the quantity of messages posted – is this really relevant? Increasing our students are working on a just in time basis so don’t have time to read/post lots of messages. Should we looking to synchronous activities more? This is something Chris is doing in her teaching. Web 2.0 technologies give a huge amount of choice, but do students want (or indeed need) that level of choice?

All of the presentations were engaging, raised lots of questions, though of course not all of the answers.
I felt it was a really good, stimulating day – well done to everyone at Intrallect for organising it.
Presentations from the day are available from the Intrallect website.

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