Disseminate from Day One

I recently attended the ALT-C conference “Into something rich and strange – making sense of the sea-change” (7-9 September in Nottingham). As usual, it was a really good conference; I felt that every session was packed full of information on good practice, experimentation, research, and innovation in learning technology. Although I heard a most inspiring keynote from Sugata Mitra on his life’s work beginning with the installation of ‘hole-in-the-wall’ computers for children in rural India, and although I heard the winning research paper about 5 years of data-gathering on students’ use and purchase of mobile devices, probably the most practical take-home message I received was from a ‘graveyard-shift’ session by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) on the importance of dissemination and sharing our findings. The HEA was asking us, “What else can we do to get the word out regarding some of the great work that is being done?” They pointed out that many funded projects treat dissemination as something done only at the end of the project, when a paper is written and presented at a conference. In fact, there is so much lost with that approach, so much discussion that is forfeited, so much networking and reflection which could enhance and improve and extend the reach of the study. Dissemination should be done from day one.

This resonates with the drip-drip theory of publicity — that if you often, even daily, put out little drips of information about a project or event, it is more effective than just a few big informational outputs.

I’ve had opportunity to discuss these issues with postgraduate students, especially those working on PhDs.  I often hear them say that they don’t think they should talk about their work at all with anyone outside their team. I can understand not wanting to reveal one’s research secrets in advance of publication. However, I think this reticence denies them valuable opportunities to bounce ideas off other experts and receive support from others.

I for one left ALT-C realising that I need to approach each of my projects with the willingness to ‘disseminate from day one.’ We at Beyond Distance are pretty good at disseminating our findings, with this blog and blogs for each of our research projects as well as workshops and other activities, but we can always improve. I need to be much more faithful in my blogging. A little bit, and more often is better than stressing over fewer, bigger communications. Twitter, of which I am already an avid user (I am tbirdcymru and the Beyond Distance Media Zoo is BDMediaZoo), is built for exactly this. Because the bottom line is: if we do great work but don’t effectively communicate it, have we actually completed the great work?

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and Assistant Media ZooKeeper

Beyond Distance Research Alliance

Finnish academics visiting Beyond Distance

Ten Finnish academics from Laurea University of Applied Sciences are visiting Beyond Distance this week. Their overall purpose is to learn about our research in e-learning and learning technologies, our projects and our approaches to learning design. A two-day Carpe Diem workshop has been organised as part of their visit.

Our visitors come from a range of disciplines including health care, business and management, tourism, safety and security management, languages and of course, learning technology. They have engaged with our work very enthusiastically, and they have gelled very well as a group – most of them didn’t know each other prior to their trip to Leicester.

Although I was expecting this, I am still surprised by how competent and knowledgeable our Finnish colleagues are in the field of learning technology. For example, all of them were familiar with Second Life, knew what wikis were and how they can be used (in fact, many of them have been using wikis with their learners for some time), and none of them was put off by the ‘complexities’ associated with using learning technology. All fluent users of their VLE (Optima) and very relaxed about Web 2.0… this compares very favourably to my experiences with academics elsewhere, including my colleagues at Leicester.

We’re half-way through the week and we’ve all learned a lot from each other. A fantastic opportunity for mutual development and future collaborative work.

Dr A Armellini
11 November 2009

ALT-C 2009: a great conference, a winning team and open-source laptops

Winning the ALT Learning Technologist team award of the year wasn’t the only reason why the ALT conference in Manchester was truly enjoyable. Inspiring keynotes, highly interactive seminars, effective networking and loads of fresh ideas made this event a success.

Martin Bean‘s keynote address was excellent. There was one point, however, that I would like to challenge. Martin said that he’s had many discussions with high-profile politicians such as Education ministers. Martin referred to them as “idiots” for even contemplating the idea of giving laptops to schoolchildren on a large scale. He cited some of the issues associated with programmes such as One Laptop per Child – challenges we have known for years and that are unlikely to go away, especially in the developing world. These include pedagogy, technical support, training for staff, logistics and designing for online environments. But more to the point, wearing his previous hat, maybe he didn’t like it that those devices do not contain Microsoft software?

We know that many politicians’ agendas may have little to do with benefiting children or enhancing education through appropriate uses of technology. We also know that with a few additional elements in place, the impact of projects like OLPC can be significantly amplified. David Cavallo’s keynote address in ALT-C 2008 may provide a few answers to Martin’s concerns.  

I was born and bred in Uruguay, where a version of OLPC is running and will be extended to other aspects of learning technology and connectivity. Despite my own initial doubts (in line with Martin’s), I can now see that the project has changed the lives of many children and families – forever. How the change has taken place and how it continues to take place has been extensively documented and is a matter for another blog post – suffice it to say that 4 years ago you never saw children sitting with their laptops outside their schools on a Saturday afternoon. Now there is something in the air that attracts them there: a wireless signal… and a range of skills that most of those kids will need in future but didn’t have before.

Sorry, Martin, much as I enjoyed your presentation, I cannot agree with you on this one. Giving a $100 laptop to each child does not make someone an idiot. In fact, it could be money very wisely spent.

A. Armellini
15 September 2009

Seeking a new learning horizon

Forecasting the future has come in for a fair bit of disbelief recently, hasn’t it? (Hollow laughter greets the future for the weather in the UK, the safety of New Orleans, global economics…)
I’m on holiday but reading about the future. I’m hoping I’ll be more creative with one eye on a sunny sky merging to a hazy Mediterranean horizon.

But I need to force myself into challenges in such a setting! How about this: “anyone who attempts to write about the future should take warning from all the failures of the past” (the great ‘forecaster’, Sir Arthur C. Clarke).

Almost everyone agrees that we are in the midst of one of the fastest and most profound technological revolutions in the history of the recorded world. On the whole I think technology could be one arena where forecasting could be possible. The difficulty is that not everything that can be produced by humans for a purpose IS actually created and if it is, it may not be adopted, at least not within living memory (space elevators?). Conversely, failures of imagination become very comic after later wholesale acceptance (Telephones & “The world has a need for maybe 5 computers…”).

Those of us who are educators in this technological world, tack across the waters picking up the wind where we may, pulling on board those people and things that might contribute to an amazing future for 21st Century learning. My little boat is full of geo-mobile devices as I contemplate my next research journey. What’s in yours?

Gilly Salmon

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