I've just spent a few enjoyable days at the EDEN annual conference in Valencia. I gave a keynote presentation together with my colleague Maruja; she presented the EU policy perspectives whilst I focused on practice. For our workshop on digital competences, we produced a brochure containing relevant projects.
Martin Bean, the OU's Vice Chancellor, gave an enlightened presentation in which he referred to formal learning taking place in the context of informal social clouds where students interact with their peers. The OU has conducted a study of their students which highlighted that learners seek real-time interaction with personal expression. They dislike anything that gets in the way of this. Consequently the OU is trying out a number of projects that support student interaction. He referred to the OU's cooperation with Google and gave the example of an investigation that was carried out to find out why so many people entered the search word Pompeii at the same time that the servers almost crashed. It transpired that there was an episode of the BBC's popular Dr Who programme on TV and he visited Pompeii. This was an example of the thirst that people have for learning and how it can be triggered by the simplest of events. Martin emphasised the importance of considering People, Process and Technology. He indicated that for too long the focus had been on the hardware and software associated with elearning, when it should have been on the brainware. If Martin matches up to his promises and is able to convince his colleagues at the OU to embrace the opportunities that he described, then the university is in for an important transformation which will be significantly impacted by ICT.
George Siemens, from the Athabasca University in Canada, described the challenge of learning in the modern age as a "combat for lucidity". With so much information now available at our finger tips, he said that the Internet has made us dimmer and what is needed is a move towards critical thinking and deep thought. He suggested that the emphasis currently placed on the need for multitasking is just an excuse for people who simply couldn't concentrate on anything for very long. Continuing this radical and controversial line of argument, he said that he no longer believed in the traditional course, which remains "the currency of the educational system" - his argument being that universities simply cannot keep up with the constant growth and change taking place in information. However, I feel his argument does not hold if universities do the right thing and focus on developing learners' competences, including the ability to deal with rapid information development, rather than on the transfer of knowledge.
Grainne Conole, from the OU, led a very interesting and interactive workshop for the OPAL project. We discussed the working definition for Open Educational Practices proposed by the project and the key issues to be addressed. In a very short period, by using short brainstorming sessions intermixed with the rotation of participants between tables, they obtained valuable input for their project. It is clear for me that Open Educational Practice has come of age and must go hand-in-hand with the use of Open Educational Resources (OER).
About my research
My research was set in the context of the European Commission’s eTwinning initiative and it looked specifically at the use of eTwinning Learning Events (non-formal learning). It examined how the community influences the development of teachers’ competence in online collaboration and discourse, and it considered the contribution of social aspects and online moderation.
I am very grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Julie-Ann Sime from Lancaster University, and to my eTwinning soulmate, Tiina Sarisalmi, for their invaluable support. And to my examiners, Prof. Marilyn Leask from the University of Bedfordshire and Dr. Don Passey from the University of Lancaster, for their valuable advice.