Universities and the Pioneering of the Internet

A brief discussion amongst Beyond Distance colleagues regarding the BBC television programme “The Virtual Revolution,” raised the question of what role was played by education in the pioneering of the internet. “The Virtual Revolution” made only a very brief mention that it was four universities, linked together as ARPANET, which comprised the forerunner of the internet. In fact, universities, research and education were the shaping, driving force behind the entire development of the internet.

J. C. R. Licklider, whilst working as a Professor of  Psychology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1960, published a paper entitled “Man-Computer Symbiosis” in which he wrote, “The hope is that, in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today.”

Licklider, J.C.R., “Man-Computer Symbiosis”, IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics, vol. HFE-1, 4-11, Mar 1960. Eprint

In 1962, Licklider wrote memos detailing his idea of a “Galactic Network,” a globally-connected set of nodes through which users could access documents and data from any other node. Later that year, when he was appointed head of computer research at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), he managed to convince his teammates and successors of the value of the idea of the computer network. It was DARPA which realised Licklider’s vision, bringing ARPANET online with the four universities in late 1969. The idea was for researchers to be able to share data and information with each other, regardless of location.

Other internet developments occurred at research institutions and universities. Packet switching was developed by both Donald Davies of the UK National Physical Laboratory and Leonard Kleinrock at MIT; the Domain Name System (DNS) at University of Wisconsin, Mosaic (the predecessor to the Netscape browser) at University of Illinois. And of course, Sir Tim Berners Lee first proposed the idea of hypertext whilst working at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.

Not only has research and learning shaped the internet, but consequently the impact of the internet on research and learning cannot be overstated. Distance learning, in the past only carried out on paper and by snail mail, has been revolutionised by e-tivities and multimedia material delivered via the internet. Distance and on-campus students alike benefit from podcasts and other materials organised and offered 24/7 to anywhere by means of virtual and personal learning environments. Here at Beyond Distance in January 2010, while snow paralysed much of the UK, we were able to virtually gather dozens of participants from every continent except Antarctica to study and discuss learning futures through our completely-online Learning Futures Festival. Even if television misses this side of the story, we will continue to develop the education side of the internet story.

Terese Bird

DAY 6 at LFF2010

… with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore and Marcus Bentley

T’was the day after Monday, and all over town –
Many noses were frozen, and much snow fluttered down…

Good thing this is an online conference, because getting in to Leicester for 9 am on this Tuesday would have been a nightmare…

The day began  with Gilly’s daily address which through pre-recorded, went rather well. I found the idea – suggested by Gilly, that each educational institution was an enterprise that needs to evolve – to be quite interesting. Considering the different parts of the world that participants have been joining sessions from, the discussions, questions and comments related to experiences and observations from a range of varying contexts. An energetic debate focussed on an emerging trend of a more pronounced consumer mentality of educational ‘shoppers’ (students and parents) and that this might force forces HEIs to adopt adversarial business models because they have to compete more and more with each other.

Following this was Tessa Welch’s keynote address which suggested that the main value of OERs (open educational resources) in Africa’s context is that they provide momentum for the surfacing of good quality existing resources as OERs, which would otherwise remain undiscovered or remain locked within institutions or publishers. She drew extensively on SAIDE’s experience in a pilot OER project resulting in the adaptation and use of a module in the teaching and learning of mathematics in six South African institutions, and also on the lessons of experience in taking this to scale for a teacher education space on the OER Africa platform. The discussion sessions for this keynote followed later in the day.

At 1100 GMT, five bravehearts joined Simon, Terese and Paul (aka Johnson, Aallyah and PD Alchemi) in Second Life for the Oil rig evacuation, and though this was only the second time that this session was run in SL. Attendees found it to be most enjoyable. Some of them admitted to be scared by the ‘fire’ that led to the evacuation scenario.

The OTTER team led 22 attendees through the Open Wide workshop at 12 noon, which focussed on reward and recognition for academic staff for making teaching materials freely available as OERs. The presenters suggested that despite the recent, dramatic increase in the number of OER repositories in the UK HE sector and some altruistically motivated academics making their teaching materials freely available for re-use, concerns remain regarding appropriate reward and recognition for staff contributions of OERs.

The afternoon sessions began with Emma Kimberley’s presentation on the University of Leicester’s Graduate School Media Zoo initiative that supports postgraduate researchers. This paper took an overview of the challenges of supporting and connecting postgraduate researchers at UoL through the development of a physical and virtual ‘research forum’ based within the University  Library. An interesting discussion ensued, with reflections from several participants on their own experiences of support that they had as postgraduate students.

At 1500 GMT, David Wolfson’s (an independent education consultant) paper titled ‘Eight Years Old and Already Collaborating Online’ focussed on what the future holds for HE (considering that today’s 8-year olds will be entering HE in about a decade), describing a stepped approach to successful online teacher- and student-led learning in schools. Practical evidence  – from senior leaders and learners at over 100 schools of all types and sizes as they set out to use learning platforms – was brought to bear on the proceedings.

Later, Stuart Johnson, David Morgan and Matthew Mobbs from the University of Leicester shared their experiences of using social media (especially  Facebook and Twitter) to engage with students about issues deemed important for Student Development and the Students’ Union at the university of Leicester’s Student Support Service and Students’ Union. A lively discussion followed with a range of practitioners contributing their experiences from different aspects of providing and receiving pastoral and learning support for students.

Following the Second Life Campfire, the last paper of the day was from Dr Richard Mobbs, which challenged listeners to put the ‘PLE in to the VLE’. VLEs being more often than not designed to meet the needs of the institution, rather than the learner, the time – Richard claimed – had come to integrate new developments like online social networks, mobile technologies, widely-used social software applications and others to provide ‘more PLE’ within the context of the main VLE provision.

This is a screen-grab from Twitter on what people were saying about LFF2010 on Tuesday evening. One keynote from a previous day has proven inspirational and the attendees of the SL Oil Rig Evacuation from earlier in the day sound happy!!

That Was The Day 6 That Was … now Day 7 awaits. Enjoy!

– Jai Mukherjee / 13 January 2010

Day 5 at the LFF and still going strong…

Monday 11 January saw another series of extremely stimulating discussions at the Beyond Distance online Learning Futures Festival (Registration still open for late adopters who haven’t got on board yet!) We were privileged to have Professor Ian Jamieson, recently retired VC of the University of Bath, and recipient of an OBE in December, as our keynote speaker. He made a heartfelt plea for speeding up the pace of change in the higher education sector, to keep pace with students’ expectations and changing approaches to learning. An interesting side issue for me in this session was the back channel conversation about student satisfaction surveys, and the point that many students express dissatisfaction when they are being challenged or stretched in their studies, but on later reflection may state that exactly those moments were the most transformational for them.

PD Alchemy and Aallyah then led our intrepid Second Life delegates into the virtual Genetics Lab which is being developed by the SWIFT project at Beyond Distance. Unfortunately my avatar (Daffodil Moonwall) had some connectivity problems and so was unable to join in, but according to a couple of cryptic twitter posts, it seems that certain avatars underwent a spontaneous genetic modification during this session. Indeed in the Second Life Campfire session later in the day, Daff noticed that the general level of whackiness of the conversation had reached unprecedented heights – a possible result of whatever experimentation took place earlier in the day?

Returning to the mainstream programme: at noon Alejandro Armellini and Gilly Salmon led a session on “The Carpe Diem journey: designing for learning transformation”. Carpe Diem is the tried and tested workshop process developed by Beyond Distance at Leicester to support academics in using their VLE (virtual learning environment) effectively. Discussion here centred around the ways in which academics had responded to the training, and the transferability of this process to a range of educational contexts.

We were then treated to a fascinating description by Magdalena de Stefani from Uruguay of a blended teacher development project using Moodle for language teachers in provincial and rural areas of her country. Magdalena shared with us a dilemma she faced in terms of whether to view her students as “customers”, with the concomitant notion that “the customer is always right”. She felt that she had perhaps been too “respectful” of her students in this regard, thereby depriving them of some potentially transformational challenges. (This resonated nicely with the issues arising during the keynote address.)

Shiv Rajendran, a co-founder of languagelab.com, stayed within the theme of English language teaching by sharing his experiences in the use of Second Life as an EFL teaching environment. (See Shiv’s blog here.) The trigger for the establishment of languagelab.com in Second Life was Shiv’s online meeting with a German who could not speak a word of English, but learnt sufficient English within two weeks to be able to participate in online games. How did he do it? By playing online games… Some discussion ensued in the session about whether Second Life is a game or not (Daffodil thinks not, but that’s for another blog post), and this conversation continued almost seamlessly around the campfire in Second Life a couple of hours later.

Alan Cann then led a thought-provoking session on Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and lifelong learning. He described how he and colleagues had taught students to use some basic Web 2.0 tools such as citeulike and delicious for social bookmarking, as well as Google docs for collaborative writing. This fitted in nicely with Stephen Downes’ Sunday keynote on pedagogical foundations for personal learning and Kathreen Riel and Tami Saj’s presentation, Survive and Thrive in a Social Media Workplace – as well as giving us another opportunity to use the great term coined by Matt Mobbs – the “Social Media Brain“.

The final session of the day was about learning support for mobile learning by Beyond Distance’s Samuel Nikoi and Palitha Edirisingha, with reference to the WOLF project. Sahm made sure we ended the day with a bang, culminating his presentation with a rousing call for 24/7 mobile learning support for learners.

Elluminate recordings of all the sessions are currently available to conference delegates in the conference environment (as mentioned earlier – it’s not too late to enrol!) and selected recordings will shortly also be available in the public domain.

Finally, thanks to our conference delegates who have been blogging about the festival:

Ignatia Webs – on Phil Candy’s keynote address last Friday (“Any Useful Statement about the Future Should At First Appear Ridiculous”: Discuss): http://ignatiawebs.blogspot.com/2010/01/lff10-phil-candy-concentrating-on.html, and on Nick Short’s presentation (“Androids in Africa”) http://ignatiawebs.blogspot.com/2010/01/lff10-androids-in-africa-by-nick-short.html

Brendan’s blog on his journey through the labyrinthine google-opoly task: http://malleablemusings.wordpress.com/2010/01/10/google-opoly-at-lff10/

And mickelous who mentions the LFF in his post about Technology in the snow.

Last but not least, thanks to suchprettyeyes for creating a twapperkeeper archive of the tweets: http://twapperkeeper.com/lff10/

Please do post comments here or tweet to let us know if you have blogged about the Festival 🙂

By Gabi Witthaus, 12 Jan 2010

Learning Futures Festival Online 2010 (Twitter #LFF10): The mid-way point

I’m writing this blog on Day 5, just over halfway through our Learning Futures Festival Online 2010. I thought it might be  a useful point to note down some initial observations.

Overall, for me, it’s been a novel and fantastic experience. With my techie colleagues Terese, Richard and Emma, the physical Media Zoo has formed a suitable base of operations, with one desk used solely for vital equipment such as chocolate, Wagon Wheels and coffee.

The days have been long and the challenges diverse, but satisfying. For example, a wobbly wireless connection on the first day saw us move quickly into hard-wired mode for presentations. We’ve also been responding to a steady stream of help requests from delegates. Most of all, though, we’ve supported each other by shouting ‘PRESS THE RECORD BUTTON!!’ at the appropriate times.

Thus far, the online conference software provided by our sponsors Elluminate Live! has performed faultlessly, and the excellent suppport of our Elluminate liaison, Sophie, has been much appreciated. All proceedings thus far have been recorded and placed on the festival website (and will be made available to the public in due course).

The festival website, provided by our sponsors All Things in Moderation, has been excellent and under the control of Emma, who has done a great job keeping it fresh and updated. And I’m looking forward to the final day, when 10 ebook vouchers will be given away by our sponsors Routledge: Taylor and Francis (3 in Second Life!).

And, most important of all, the keynotes, papers and workshops have all been of the highest quality: engaged, intelligent, current, practical … I could go on. And our delegates have been fantastically enthused.

Considering our delegates and speakers are based all over the world, I’m very much a convert to this sort of conference. (Read Gilly’s blog about the environmental benefits.)

As long as we don’t suffer the trauma of the first day, when the supply of biscuits reached dangerously low levels, the final four days of the festival should be as good as if not better than the first four.

Simon Kear

Learning Technologist

PS The conference is still open!

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