By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education
The bi-annual conference of the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI) took place from August 29 to September 3 at Exeter University – “probably one of the best Universities in the World.” Approximately 1600 researchers with backgrounds in pedagogy, psychology, social sciences and educational technology traveled to the South-West peninsular of the UK to discuss educational ideas for “the dawning age of the Internet” (conference program). Delegates came from more than 35 countries and from every continent: Chile, Canada, South Africa, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. The largest contingents came from the Netherlands and Germany, followed by the UK and Finland.
EARLI has a reputation for its high standard of academic contributions and is a must-go-event for many researchers in the learning sciences. Numerous PhD students and postdocs use the opportunity to present their work, discuss research designs, and debate their findings and implications with more senior researchers. This year’s acceptance rate of papers and symposia was about 68%. Overall, the program comprised approximately 600 presentations, 160 symposia, 65 roundtables and 150 posters.
Additional formats included panel discussions and ICT demonstrations. Attendants had to choose from up to 28 parallel sessions. The packed program, distributed across Exeter’s hilly campus, challenged the participants’ sportiveness and perseverance. A battalion of helpful student volunteers kindly steered the conference attendees in the right directions and supported the overall relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Prof. Debra Myhill, the local conference manager, also highlights this point:
I think EARLI 2011 was special because there was a real team spirit amongst the organising team and a high emphasis on trying to be helpful and welcoming throughout the conference. In advance, we spent a lot of time on ensuring the quality of the programme – checking coherence of sessions and ensuring good keynotes – and many delegates have commented on the quality of the academic programme. The venue is very attractive – Exeter’s campus is a lovely one and created a great environment (although the hills troubled some delegates). Overall the conference was a great opportunity for a wide international audience to share and exchange high quality research of international significance.
The keynote talks covered a broad range of research topics and each offered an exciting, up-to-date and in-depth overview of the specific subject. However, one had the feeling that the average duration of 90 minutes sometimes exceeded the attention span of the audience. Luckily, the recordings of all talks are accessible online. My personal recommendations are the talks of Sharon Ainsworth on multirepresentational learning, Frank Fischer on collaboration scripts and Gert Biesta on democratic education. View the keynote recordings in the virtual conference space.
An aspect “that made this year’s conference particularly interesting was the discussion of future directions for the EARLI community, e.g., the symposia on research methodologies by Debra Myhill and on theoretical and methodological foundations by Jörg Zumbach. As a prominent field in teaching and learning research, the domain of educational technologies is encompassed by a broad variety of methodological approaches – from controlled experiments of single applications and ethnographic studies of complex online environments to case studies of individual learners. Though quantitative methodology and the information processing perspective are dominating the scene, the EARLI community comprises a wide variety of theoretical and methodological approaches. The different research foci are organized into 22 “special interest groups.” I am a new member of SIG 10, which looks at learning from a situated, sociocultural perspective.
To foster the publication of high quality research on how learning and development are embedded in social and cultural activities, EARLI announced the launch of a new journal, Learning, Culture and Social Interaction. This new publication platform is particularly tailored towards sociocultural approaches as represented in SIG 10. The editors Anne Edwards, Harry Daniels, Neil Mercer and Roger Säljö have created a multidisciplinary journal and invite contributions from domains such as psychology, anthropology, linguistics, sociology, communication studies and education research. It serves as a link between the research associations EARLI and ISCAR (International Society for Cultural and Activity Research).
How to publish in high ranked journals is one of the most pertinent questions for young researchers. Unsurprisingly, the session “Meeting with the Editors,” which offered advice on publication strategies, acceptance and review policies from the editors of Learning and Instruction and other reputable EARLI journals, was very well attended. The content has been recorded and is now available as a Youtube series.
Given the diversity of the community and the sheer amount of presentations, it is impossible to summarize the conference topics. Table 1 is an attempt to visualize the thematic breadth and depth by providing an overview of the paper session topics:
In conclusion, EARLI provides an excellent opportunity to get an overview of the state of the art of the learning sciences and offers a complementary view to the educational technology perspective. Attendees looking for innovative technology use and emerging educational technologies are better served by the AACE community. EARLI attracts basic research and field research with methodological rigor and allows for reflection of learning theories, cognitive and metacognitive processes as well as situational and sociocultural influences. The city of Exeter provided a charming backdrop to the international convention, though for many international visitors the simple act of crossing the street proved to be a daily struggle. As cognitive psychologist Tamara van Gog pointed out, “Schema automation can kill you!” This goes to show that basic research can indeed be applied to everyday situations!
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