I attended the World Conference on Educational Media and Technology (EdMedia) organized by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). The conference was held in Victoria from June 24-27 at the Victoria Conference Centre. This is a truly global conference and we were lucky to have it hosted just down the road, so it was a great opportunity to attend.
Participants by world region
The first day of the conference was keynoted by Mitchel Resnick from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His talk, Sowing the Seeds for a More Creative Society, addressed the need for more problem solving and creative applications in our learning designs. Mitchel spoke about the Scratch programming language which allows users to create stories, games animations in a visual rich and approachable environment. Scratch was created to support creativity and allow students to easily create projects which use real machine coding principles. Mitchel stated that the project does not intend to allow students to simply ‘learn how to code’, but rather allows them to ‘code to learn’ and become creative thinkers in society. Starting early with projects in Scratch might enable students to have a better understanding of the way that the web and software programs work, introducing them to concepts like variables, arrays, if statements, and other programmatic concepts.
The latest developments in the Scratch software allow users to take advantage of peripherals such as webcams and microphones which allow an even richer input and possibility for interactive projects in Scratch.
A great piece of advice that Mitchel left us with, when assessing any new technology is to determine where the possibility and who is actually doing the creating when interacting with the tool. Mitchel warns that most toys on the market and most educational technology software currently does not allow the user to be creative, and most often simply allows transmission or consumption of content. His advice is that we really should be focusing on tools which allow the user to express themselves and be creative thinkers.
The second day keynote was by Sidneyeve Matrix from Queen’s University. Her talk titled Your Digital Impact: Online Professional Development Strategies for the Timestarved addressed the need for academics to engage in social media and actively manage their online presence and reputations. Sidneyeve gave a number of valuable recommendations for academics interested in building their online presence while recognizing that it does take time. This is a challenge for us as we already have academics who believe they do not have time to engage with educational technology.
Sidneyeve recommends academics claim their digital identity online, link their research and teaching accolades, and ensure they regularly audit their own social presence to uncover any ‘digital dirt’ which might have a negative impact. Sidneyeve also recommends ensuring you own your personal domain name (Even suggesting that domain names make great gifts for your kids, etc). If you are not prepared to set up and run your own domain you can use a nameplate site such as About.me or Flavours.me to claim your space on the web. Also recommended was academic blogging which allows academics to share their work more openly allowing others on the web to discover their work. I am a huge advocate for academic blogging and encourage VIU bloggers to join the blogging network on our campus at http://wordpress.viu.ca/.
New to me was the Google Author Rank tool which allows people who maintain website online to connect their online content to their Google Plus profile. This allows users to see content from people they have in Google Plus circles more easily. So if I maintain a Google Plus circle of notable scholars in educational technology I can easily identify them in my search results if they have set up Google Author.
Recognizing that online professional development and reputation management takes time, Sidneyeve suggested we start small by creating and sharing bite sized digital artifacts. It might be an interested graph or infographic from a paper we are working on, a teaching and learning resource which we helped develop (OER), or a review of a book we read. These small artifacts can be identified and shared in the course of our day to day work, they just need to be identified and we need a place to share them on the web.
The third day of the conference was keynoted by Roderick Sims from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia. Roderick was a stand in keynote as Gardner Campbell from Virginia Tech was unable to attend, but his talk was one of the best at the conference in my opinion. You may have already seen Liesel’s post about the talk which I made her watch upon returning from the conference. She was also very interested in the talk and has reflected on it in her post, so I will not rehash those points already made.
Roderick reminded us that the promise of educational technology is not a new one, as we have seen numerous innovations in the past which were meant to ‘revolutionize’ education; from the printing press, television, Internet, mobiles. Roderick used the Gartner Hype Cycle to demonstrate this. Also warned of was our tendency to forget about the research when a new hyped up technology enters the mainstream. Roderick feels this is currently happening in the MOOC movement as the very organizations which are designing and hyping up the MOOC’s seem to be forgetting the research base and theory which exists around learning/ instructional design and human computer interaction.
Roderick proposed an online pedagogy which is: learner centred; active; contextual; problem based; social; and emergent. The example below shows a potential learning design which takes into account these elements, and in truth could be conducted either online or face-to-face.
Roderick commented that we should whenever possible ensure that our learning designs require that the student be creating something: an artifact, a paper, a multimedia object and require that the creation be learner centred; active; contextual; problem based; social; and emergent.
Themes for the workshops at the conference included Infrastructure, Tools & Content-Oriented Applications, New roles of the Instructor & Learner, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI/CHI), Cases & Projects and Universal Web Accessibility. It was an action packed schedule with each hour long session containing up to three similar presentations. The days were long too, with sessions going from 8:00am till after 6:00pm!
I have prepared a few reflections on some of the most memorable presentations from the program.
Observations of a Reluctant Online Professor: How I Survived the Switch to E-Learning: David Detritch, The University of Tennessee at Martin
David reflected on his own journey moving from in class to online teaching. He recounted how he had available online courses which had been developed by others but remarked at the amount of work required to localize the material for his own needs. In the process David discovered how important it was to constantly be reviewing at the courses he was developing through the role of a student. Even taking part in another instructors’ course is a good way to do this. As an instructor see what the experience looks like form the student perspective, they are then in a better position to build quality courses in the future.
I hope to build this into our own faculty development plan and have instructors take on the student role in course sites as often as possible. In doing so they can see what it the various tools look like from the students view in order to inform their own practice.
In terms of keeping tabs on student progress, David reflected that he found it easier to identify stragglers in the learning management system. He recounted that students easily fly below the radar in class and may only reveal their disconnection through assessment. By building his online courses with regular assessment and checkpoints he noted that it was less possible for students to fall behind unnoticed as interaction is necessary to grade. Here we are talking about learning analytics or data trails which show user interaction with learning materials which can be collected in online learning environments.
Visualizing Learning Analytics: Designing A Roadmap For Success: Halimat Alabi, University of Victoria
I really enjoyed this presentation and found it to one of the most current at the EdMedia Conference. Halimat’s presentation was based on her Master’s research at UVic in the burgeoning are of leaning analytics. I Thoreau’ly enjoyed her application of Henry David Thoreau specifically the approach “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see”. A good reminder of the importance of proper explanations when using visualizations and analytics as it is easy for users to interpret things differently then originally intended.
Also discussed was the notion that learning activity data structures and appropriate visualizations may differ across different disciplines, something I never actually considered before. Surely different tools and software applications may be used to generate data trails in different disciplines, but would an analysis of similar activities throughout disciplines differ significantly? This is one of the more intriguing things about learning analytics, that each analysis could be entirely unique, but still offer something in the way of a bigger picture.
I was very interested in Halimat’s latest PhD research in which she applies the Adaptive Control of Thought—Rational (ACT-R) model, a cognitive architecture theory developed by John Robert Anderson at Carnegie Mellon University. She has chosen to use existing learning interaction data available from the Carnegie Mellon DataShop for the early part of her analysis. Using the existing datasets which have already been validated and cleansed by researchers allows her to begin her analysis much quicker, or at least to test out some ideas for a larger study. This is such a fantastic idea, and very well in line with the principle of the open data movement. I will certainly be following up with Halimat to her more about her research.
A folksonomy-based recommender system for learning material prediction: Benedikt Engelbert, University of Applied Sciences Osnabrück
This was another fascinating presentation on developing a system for lecture casting which takes into account the motion of the instructor being recorded. The system uses an Microsoft xBox Kinect receiver, a motion sensing input device for the Xbox 360 video game console which enables users to control and interact with the Xbox 360. The Kinect receiver had been hacked to control a video camera which tracks the users movement and feeds a lecture capture system, which allows students to re-watch the lecture as a video recording. The University of Applied Sciences Osnabrück uses OpenCast Matterhorn which handles the video and media streams and deploys the captured lecture to the learning management system.
Narrowing the Distance: Bridging the Gap Between Teaching Online and Faculty Development (Thesis Summary): Beth Rochefort, Northeastern University
This presentation was extrememly valuable as we embark on our own faculty development programs here at VIU. Beth did her doctoral research on developing faculty capacity for teaching online. I managed to locate her Doctoral thesis and her paper for the session is available through me (for my colleagues interested in the topic).
Beth shared the instructor resource centre at Northeastern University which looks like a thorough collection of resources available to faculty to support elearning. In addition to these resources instructors can take courses with the institutional learning management system on various topics. Again reiterated was the value in having instructors engage in courses in a student role. So while learning something new in the LMS, they actually gain a greater insight into how they might use the LMS as well.
An important consideration for teaching and learning centres which was raised was the need to report back to faculties and departments about who is coming to our workshops. Most often instructors attend the workshops we offer for their own development. So departmental heads don’t necessarily know who is taking workshops from the teaching and learning centre but they problable should, for their own internal cross training and for internal recognition.
Student perceptions of the reuse of open educational resources – A case study of the social outreach group SHAWCO in Cape Town, South Africa: Michael Paskevicius, Vancouver Island University
I also made a poster presentation at the conference this year, which was a great opportunity to share my masters research in South Africa. The presentation went great and I managed to talk to a number of individuals intersted in open education and how it is impacting the developing world.
Overall EdMedia was a very positive experience and I was happy to engage with the very international community of educational technology specialists. There were a number of additional presentations worth reflecting upon but I have used this lengthy post to sum up the most relevant to VIU and our centre.