The final goodbye

Today marks my last month of working with Beyond Distance and the University of Leicester. Looking back nearly three years ago when I first joined this prestigious and internationally renowned research centre, I count myself lucky to have been given the opportunity to share in the Beyond Distance vision. I started as a WoLF working on a mobile learning project collaboratively with Leicester College. WoLF was both interesting and challenging, opening up my world to technology mediated mobile learning. The HP pocket PCs we gave to Teaching Assistants who participated in the project at the time are today dwarfed by the power of the I-Phone. One key thing I learnt from the WolF project is that, with the right kind of contextualised learning support, the “techno-stressed” can overcome their fear of technology and go on to achieve excellent grades.

Like a chameleon, I changed my colours from a WoLF to a GeCKO. The GeCKO project compared the environmental impact of blended and face-to-face learning. A key outcome of GeCKO was a framework for measuring the carbon footprint of teaching and learning in higher education.

The IMPALA projects had been ongoing long before I joined Beyond Distance. In a bid to extend the endless possibilities of podcast technology, IMPALA4T investigated the use of student generated podcast to support student transition into higher education. One of the major findings of the this project was that a “hot and cold knowledge” menu, served in the right doses and at the right temperature can make the difference between students dropping out of University or going on to achieve a degree.

In my time with Beyond Distance, the project which perhaps captured my attention and sustained my interest most was perhaps the OTTER project.  Before OTTER, I had always been a proponent of “Education for All”, and a great believer in the fact that Open Education “provides people around the world with an opportunity to access high quality learning opportunities”. The OTTER team was fantastic. With a “butcher” (apology to Ale) as a project director, a nit-picky copyright officer, savvy learning technologists and a contemplative project coordinator, my work as open educational resources (OER) evaluator was bound to be enjoyable. I am convinced that the CORRE framework, a key outcome of the OTTER project, is bound to make the work of academics who are interested in turning existing teaching materials into OERs much easier.

Looking back, I am amazed at how my contact with Beyond Distance has challenged my own thinking on what learning should be all about, and how to envision learning futures. Apart from the already-mentioned projects, from CHEETAH to DUCKLING, OSTRICH to MOOSE,  and SWIFT to CALF, the world of learning in higher education is a world of possibilities.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Beyond Distance team, especially Prof. Gilly Salmon. Without doubt, the knowledge and experience I have gained from working at Leicester will be invaluable in my new role as Information Literacy Officer at Aberystwyth University.  To me the acronym BDRA means more than “Beyond Distance Research Alliance”, it also stands for “Britain’s most Distinguished Research Attraction”.

Adieu, farewell to you all.

Samuel Nikoi (30 September 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, 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 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):, and on Nick Short’s presentation (“Androids in Africa”)

Brendan’s blog on his journey through the labyrinthine google-opoly task:

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:

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

By Gabi Witthaus, 12 Jan 2010

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