By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education
The 23rd annual World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications (ED-MEDIA) took place from June 27 to July 1 in Lisbon, Portugal. The event brought together approximately 800 participants from 60 countries. At the backdrop of the beautiful Faculty of Letters Campus at Lisbon University, teachers, researchers, software vendors, instructional designers, administrators and multimedia authors discussed future directions at the crossroad of education and technology – which happened to blend perfectly with experiencing Portuguese hospitality!
ED-MEDIA attracts participants from various fields such as pedagogy, educational psychology, computational science and information science. Organized by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), the annual conference takes place at various locations in the US, Canada, and, approximately every third year, Europe. The attendees of this year’s event experienced a packed conference program. In addition to various keynotes, invited lectures and an extensive graduate program track, approximately 600 presentations, posters, workshops and symposiums were competing for their attention. This report mirrors my own eclectic view based on four conference days that allowed participants to choose from up to twelve concurrent sessions.
This year’s host, the University of Lisbon, is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary. Lisbon’s educational tradition reaches much further back, as António da Nóvoa, rector of the university, pointed out in his welcoming address. The medieval University of Lisbon was founded in 1288. Despite its embeddedness in scholarly tradition, Prof. Nóvoa challenged the Humboldtian ideal and encouraged the participants to come up with new visions for teaching and learning, a task he sees as the crucial aspect of higher education. Nóvoa’s prompt nicely set the stage for the first keynote speech. Alec Couros, from the Canadian University of Regina, opened the conference with a talk on networked learning. His talk focused on the individual’s challenge to create a positive digital identity, particularly in “the blur,” where professional and personal life intersect. “We live in a world where privacy is no longer possible,” asserts Couros. Where content used to be private by default and public by effort, these parameters have switched, with consequences especially for adolescents: “Open social spaces and the process of digital identity creation need some forgivability.” Alec Couros is renowned for his work on massive open online courses – he explains “I see myself as a network sherpa.” This fall, Couros will teach another open course entitled Social Media and Open Education (EC&I 831). Probably, some of ED-MEDIA’s attendees will experience first-hand Couros’ credo “sharing is more important than ever.”
“Knowledge needs to be free,” “relationships trump content,” “distributed weak ties can solve complex problems” – in short “openness is a virtue.” This proved to be the leitmotif of several keynotes. Eric Duval’s talk describes ways of personalizing the learning experience by tapping into tracking data. He suggested that universities should follow the data takeout model of Google (Website, video). “We should personalize students’ learning experience and allow the learner to move the data we accumulate from one education provider to the next.”
George Siemens promoted the idea of changing the academic culture through digital scholarship, visibility and accountability that come with social translucence: “Formal peer review articles are vital, but bring out the personal me to comprehend the academic, intellectual me!”
The twilight zone of formal and informal and scholarship was also the topic of the keynote debate between Martin Weller (Open University, UK) and Antonio Figueiredo (University of Coimbra, Portugal). “In the next decade, digital scholarship in open journals, blogs and social media will achieve the same status in academic settings as traditional scholarship – true or false?” The majority of the audience, invited to vote on the subject, held with the perseverance of traditional scholarship – 2/3 of the respondents voted that they do not see digital scholarship drawing level. Actually, many of those who joined the discussion stressed the importance of genre diversity, e.g., one attendee claimed: “First of all, it seems to me that this talk is about blogs, blogs, blogs. There are other ways, like peer-to-peer networking, which are fantastic ways of achieving serendipity. Secondly, I am concerned about the idea that blogs equal the scientific article. There is a difference between my scholarly work and the storytelling approach I have in a blog post. Both are good, we need both ways.” Another audience member pointed out the importance of reading the classics like Vygotsky: “Technologies come and go fast, great ideas are hard to come by.”
The conference’s focus on open education could have easily raised the false impression that information and communication technologies and online education are ubiquitously accessible assets. Hence, Patricia Leigh’s invited talk about the digital divide brought up an important complementary view. Her work centers on ethnographic research encompassed by critical theory: “We need to go beyond the statistics of who has access and who has not. Critical social theories provide a viewpoint that allows examining historical and sociological reasons, dominance, oppression and power structures. We cannot understand the digital divide without understanding the analog divide. The inequities of the past, such as slavery and segregation, set the stage for the inequities of today.”
Last year, ED-MEDIA introduced a “graduate program,” and this year it has become a full fleshed “conference within the conference,” comprising 16 half hour and 5 one-hour talks. “It is all about how to,” explained Jan Herrington from the Australian University of Wollongong. Throughout the graduate track, volunteers from the conference’s executive committee familiarized newcomers with the research culture of ED-MEDIA. Participants received talks on open scholarship, design based research, methodological considerations and theoretical foundations – e.g., an introduction to constructivism. In addition, the graduate track sessions gave hands-on advice on practical skills like writing grant proposals, navigating the job market or making the most of an academic conference. The latter subject “How to work a conference to make it work for you” was delivered by Catherine Fulford from the University of Hawaii and is also available as a Youtube miniseries, giving advice for successful networking: “You’ll make friends for a lifetime. Remember, this is your tribe. Educational technology, instructional design, our whole field is a very small group of people.”
This year’s ED-MEDIA introduced a great way to enrich the conference’s poster session, Pecha Kucha, the Japanese word for chit-chat. A select number of presenters is allowed to present 20 slides, shown for 20 seconds each. Personal discoveries during the poster session were Mark Brown’s Pecha Kucha on “Open Educational Resources in Australia: a Cross Sector Environment Study” and the Project “OER-Commons-Greens” – a web site dedicated top collecting OERs in the realm of sustainability.
Another innovation during ED-MEDIA 2011 was the launch of Academic Experts: “Academic Experts is an academic expertise resource and community connecting thousands of academics and professional specialists who have participated in AACE conferences, authored journal and proceedings articles in the EdITLib Digital Library, and served as members.”
It is utterly impossible to adequately summarize the topics of ED-MEDIA. As David Kennedy, invited speaker from Hong Kong University, jokingly remarked: “Clearly the theme of this conference is …. ‘What is my favorite pet!’” However, certain trends stand out, such as open learning, e-books, mobile learning applications and the effects of lecture capturing. Prof. Kennedy presented, for example, results from a project on using smart phones as learning devices – outside and inside the classroom, challenging the typical mobile-free classroom setting: “Students used to pass notes in class. Did they ban paper?” A heated discussion erupted around openness and standardization – particularly of educational apps for mobile learning. Prof. Kennedy offered a balanced view on the subject: Apple’s ecosystem, on the one hand, can be perceived as problematic; on the other, it offers a consistent environment with high usability.
In spite of some organizational slip-ups like missing name tags during registration on Monday and Tuesday, the conference site was characterized by its efficient organization and helpful atmosphere. Even more important, the ED-MEDIA 2011 conference continues to be academically competitive with an acceptance ratio for full paper submissions of 50% this year. Eleven submissions were honored with an outstanding paper award.
On Thursday, I was able to present my own current research activities centered on personal learning experiences with open educational resources. Given my research interests, I particularly enjoyed the vivid discourse on the topic of openness in education and academia. My experience was tainted a little bit by the cancellation of a two-hour symposium on the co-creation of open content. Alas, given the amount of presentations, each day was accompanied by program changes, additions and cancellations…. My favorite part of the conference was the last keynote from Andrew Law, Director of Open Media, Open University (UK). He described the open education activities of OU to support informal learners and tackled an important distinction: access and availability do not necessarily lead to engagement or activity.
All in all, I left Lisbon with plenty food for thought and inspirational ideas. Hence, I conclude the report with the one Portuguese word that probably all conference participants learned during their stay: “Obrigado!” Thank you!
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