IADIS 2010 – The Gateway to the Black Forest Becomes a Window to E-Learning

Stefanie PankeBy Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

IADIS, a professional organization that engages in activities fostering the information society, organizes each year a multitude of conferences worldwide in the field of e-learning, information and computational science, human computer interaction, e-health and e-commerce. It was my pleasure this year to attend IADIS e-learning 2010, held from July 26-29 in Freiburg, Germany. In one of the session breaks, I had the opportunity to talk to the program chairs Prof. Maggie McPherson from the University of Leeds and Prof. José Miguel Baptista Nunes from the University of Sheffield. Both Miguel and Maggie have been involved with IADIS for many years and have been organizing the e-learning conference since 2007. The interview material complements my own eclectic view based on four conference days, 25 sessions, and approximately 100 talks.

The program chairs operate independently from the IADIS secretariat. “We are academics, so our job is to ensure the quality of content and program,” said Miguel, clarifying their role. Let’s have a look at the numbers: They received 225 submissions from more than 39 countries. The board of reviewers approved 50 full papers, which equates to an acceptance rate of about 22 %. In addition, the conference program included numerous short papers, reflection papers, poster presentations, and a doctoral consortium. The organizers were particularly proud of the forty delegates who came as non-presenting participants, which they interpreted as an indicator of the conference’s increasing attractiveness and maturity.

The e-learning conference was part of the IADIS Multi Conference on Computer Science and Information Systems 2010, July 26-31, which included seventeen separate events and attracted a total of 1237 submissions. Asked about the benefits of being part of a multi conference that brings together disparate fields such as e-democracy, games and entertainment, visual communication, wireless computing, and human computer interaction, Miguel explained that, beyond mere managerial effectiveness, the organizers can profit in multiple ways: “For us, as academics, the interesting aspect is to have the possibility to get in contact with people who, although not in our area, may have common interests.” Maggie added that this is equally true for the participants: “Because it is a multi conference, you might sign up to come to the e-learning conference, but you have the option to attend sessions in the other conferences and that perhaps unexpected view of another discipline might change your mindset about how you do e-learning and you might have serendipitous flashes of inspiration from attending a session outside your own discipline.”

Plenty food for thought and inspirational ideas were offered also to those attendees who focused on the e-learning conference. Across all sessions, recurring themes of discussion were how to engage the learners, how to efficiently produce learning material, how to qualify e-teachers, and how to create an online pedagogy that embraces diversity.

Several presentations dealt with the topic of students’ motivation. Javier Sese’s (University of Zaragoza) talk investigated the role of social motivation in e-learning, moving the focus away from the individual learner to socially embedded actions. José Conde (University of Madrid) discussed effects of playful competition on student learning. Dr. Anthony Yau (University of Hong Kong) presented his web based training tutorial, “Smart Learners,” which was designed to help students monitor their learning goals and develop self-management strategies. My favorite proposal to enhance student-centered learning was presented by Dr. Pirnay-Dunner (University of Freiburg). L-MoSim is a system for case simulations that automatically generates various learner personalities. Instructional design students have to deal with the question of how to best support the individual learning agenda of their respective case study.

Numerous short and reflective papers gave an overview of emerging practices in the field of e-lectures. Walther Nagler (University of Graz) created a live-screencast of his presentation, “Capture Your University.” Prof. Jan Torsten Milde presented the strategy for lecture recording at the University of Applied Science in Fulda. He recommended the tool Oxford Papershow as an easy to use alternative to tablet PCs. The e-learning center in Fulda found this tool especially suitable for digitizing mathematical lectures, which usually rely heavily on chalkboard notes.

Given my background in qualifying university teachers for using online teaching methods, I was particularly interested in the talk by Len Webster (Australia’s Monash University) on creating a personalized higher education teaching qualification. Monash University offers a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education to its academic teaching staff. The course comprises 600 hours of learning material and is structured as two compulsory and six elective modules. Equally insightful was the talk by Margot McNeill on how well teachers’ learning goals and assessment strategies fit together. Her research indicates that while many academics intend higher order learning outcomes for their students, they are unsure how to articulate these learning goals or how to design appropriate assessment tasks.

Quite a few presenters touched upon issues of access, equality, gender, and intercultural exchange. One example that prompted a vivid discussion was the talk by Prof. Elisabetta Gola (Università degli studi di Cagliari) and Prof. Roberto Muffoletto (Appalachian State University) entitled “Developing a multicultural learning experience in Web 2.0.” Students’ feedback captured in short videos formed an engaging part of their presentation. In one of these videos, an Italian learner points us towards the challenge of offering occasions for informal communication in the structured world of e-learning: “Online collaboration is nice, but I also like to have a coffee with my fellow students.” Other problems raised in the discussion were how to counteract anglocentrism in intercultural learning when English is the lingua franca of most courses and how to find acceptable common meeting times for synchronous communication. Many members of the audience could identify with Roberto’s laconically presented lesson, “If you work on a global scale, time is not always your friend.”

One truly remarkable aspect of the conference that distinguishes the event from larger, and arguably more established, symposiums is its highly cooperative and helpful atmosphere. As usual, quality of content and presentational skills varied widely among the participants. However, apart from receiving a certificate, each presenter could count on a warm applause and at least one or two questions from the audience. In addition, the city of Freiburg with its historical university buildings and picturesque downtown proved to be an excellent host. “The only bad thing I can say about this city is that you absolutely cannot wear high heels,” said Professor Colla Jean MacDonald, Canadian researcher and keynote speaker, referring to the ubiquitous cobblestone pavement.

C.J. MacDonald teaches at the University of Ottawa, where she leads a research and development group on e-learning and e-health. Her keynote was a treasure chest of practical examples and theoretical frameworks. She shared her 10+ years of experience in implementing e-learning in a traditional university setting, starting from “the e-learning contradiction,” a term her research team coined in 2005: “Few professors use more than Powerpoint slides, though at the same time the PR department claims the university’s learning climate to be innovative, using cutting edge technologies and operating on a global scale.” C.J. encouraged the audience to finally move beyond the endless “what is better” debate. As she pointed out: “No face to face teaching has undergone the research e-learning went through to gain credibility.” At the same time, she critically discussed the need for quality assurance in e-learning that focuses on sound pedagogical principals, supports critical thinking, and creates a community of learners. “There is crappy e-learning out there, and that is what hurts us. When e-learning is done well, it is really good; if it is done poorly, it is really, really bad.” C.J. exemplified her thoughts by presenting learning material developed by her team, for example the “Conceptual Frameworks Learning Object,” which takes students on a journey in which they clarify their research ideas. Beyond interesting implementations, C.J. presented assessment instruments, e.g., the model “W(e)Learn, a Framework for Online Interprofessional Education,” which includes an evaluation toolkit.

The introductory keynote by David Patterson, project director at Learning Light Limited, UK, provided an industry-oriented perspective. His presentation combined examples of blended solutions for non-traditional learners with market research on trends and challenges for e-learning businesses. Another invited talk was held by Dr. Bob Barrett, professor, School of Business, American Public University. In addition to teaching online, he has also worked as a trainer to help new instructors transition from face-to-face teaching to online learning. Bob emphasized a feeling of connectedness in online learning that transcends the classical classroom setting. Being available to students virtually anywhere and at the same time having detailed knowledge about their personal background and learning setting at home creates strong bonds between teacher and students. This allows Bob to support his students in many ways that go beyond the traditional role of the instructor – even if he has to deal with child birth or heart attacks during an online session.

In the closing session the program chairs announced the best paper awards that were assigned in five categories. Beyond their academic excellence, the winners represent very well the width of the conference topics:

  • Best quantitative research paper: The Korean research team Myunghee Kang, Heeok Heo, Minjeong Kim and Nara Yoon presented “The impact of ICT Use on New Millennium Learners’ Educational Performance,” a nation-wide survey of over 1.000 10th grade students. The researchers measured educational performance in the cognitive, affective and socio-cultural domain.
  • Best qualitative research paper: The submission “Students’ Use of IT in Learning: An Ethnographic Study” by Margot Mac Neill and Ming Ming Diao used photo ethnography to learn more about technology mediated learning at Australia’s Macquarie University.
  • Best case study: The article “A Virtual Community of Learning, a Case Study: The Nasa Indigenous Community” by Roberto Carlos Naranjo Cuervo, Luz Marina Sierra Martínez and Tulio Rojas Curieux, from the Columbian University of Cauca, described how information and communication technologies can help to facilitate ethnic education. Their research focuses on supporting the indigeneous Nasa community in preserving their culture, including their native language, Nasayuwe.
  • Best emergent technology: Madeth May gave the last presentation of the conference. He was quite concerned that “nobody will show up.” Instead, the last session was one of the best attended meetings of the conference, and his paper, “Travis to enhance online tutoring and learning activities: Real time visualization of students tracking data,” which he co-authored with his colleagues Sébastien George and Patrick Prévôt, received an award for technological innovation.
  • Best short paper: The Taiwanese researchers Ching Hui Chen and Chiung Sui Chang presented an interesting paper on “The study of mobile gaming in elementary science learning.” Mobile devices were used to construct a game-based learning system for elementary science learning. The learning content focuses on the concept of the food chain in the underwater world. The researchers measured learning motivation, teamwork skills, and learning achievement.

All in all, the organizers were extremely content with the success of the event. One major achievement was seen in the shifting profile of presentations with fewer papers focusing on technology and more on the fields of pedagogy, educational psychology, and information science. “We have much softer papers, which are in my view much more interesting for understanding the phenomenon of e-learning,” explained Miguel. “The technical aspect of e-learning is to a certain extent easy to understand. The use of e-learning by the learners is what we are much more interested in.”

For next year’s conference, IADIS e-Learning 2011, which will be held in Rome, Italy, the organizers hope for more submissions with a clear research structure – especially from the realm of qualitative research. Maggie encourages participants to think about more collaborative research designs. Instead of doing “just another case study,” e-learning researchers should look for partners at other institutions to implement a shared methodology that focuses on pointing out the similarities and contrasts between both settings. She said, “If people did a bit more combined research tactics, we might get more transferable results.”

The event’s preparation leaves some room for improvement. The conference program was released only a few days before the actual event, which caused organizational challenges for some presenters. For a truly multidisciplinary week, it would have been beneficial to have an overview of all sessions within the IADIS multi conference. However, since the conference site provided an excellent wireless network, on Friday I managed to look beyond my own nose to get a glimpse into the program of ICT, Society and Human Beings as well as the Web based Communities conference. Also, browsing through the full proceedings of MCCSIS 2010, which was distributed to each participant, allows for discovering a multitude of interdisciplinary connections.

Summing up, the embeddedness in an interdisciplinary setting; the warm, cooperative atmosphere; and the appreciation of qualitative research make the IADIS e-learning conference a special event; and the eternal city of Rome will hopefully see vivid discussions of new trends and ongoing puzzles in e-learning research and practice.

2 Responses

  1. […] ausführlicher Bericht zur Tagung ist im Educational Technology and Change Journal dokumentiert. von → Uncategorized ← Proceedings IADIS 2010 Noch keine […]

  2. […] ausführlicher Bericht zur Tagung ist im Educational Technology and Change Journal dokumentiert. von → Tagungen ← E-Teacher aus Ulm gestaltet […]

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