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December 10, 2006

ASCILITE and LAMS conferences, Sydney 2006

Well, thats another two conferences to add to my impressive list this year. Here's a brief report.

ASCILITE is usually compared with the ALT-C conference in the UK, although this isn't entirely accurate as ASCILITE seems on first impression to be a much more intimate affair. There were a few interesting sessions, although I think all suffered from an overload of presentations that got me shuffling about a bit (I must have some sort of attention disorder - or does everyone feel like this after the third presenter on a single subject wanders up to the stage?).

Highlights were a very nice, matter-of-fact case study of podcasting from a lecturer at SFU; lots of work with role-play scenarios largely stemming from some original pioneers and then spreading virally across australia, and a critique of research methods and the constructivist perspective that was interesting but would have benefitted from going a bit deeper on exposing some of the research weaknesses evident in much academic elearning work.

My own contribution to ASCILITE was to present a paper on PLEs; as has become a habit on such occasions I didn't actually do much relating to the paper, abandoned my slides before starting, and just stood and talked for a bit. I went over the history of PLEs, and explained some of the similarities in the experiences of Colloquia and Elgg from a PLE perspective. People seemed to enjoy it, which was good, and I got a special applause for being the only slides-free presenter...

Following on directly from ASCILITE was the LAMS conference. Despite the title, this was actually quite broad ranging, using the concept of learning design as a touchpoint for a range of presentations and discussions. So, even if you aren't using LAMS you might like to check out the blog and podcast.

Highlights here were for me the work on pedagogic planners - structuring approaches to the design of modules, although "pedagogic" is I think not the best word for it. What we instead saw from the remote presentation given by Diana Laurillard was a kind of planning tool of the "What if..." analysis variety that used two underlying models: one of logistical impact of various activity types (time resources needed, scalability of groups), and another of the cognitive variety of those activities at a fairly high behavioural level (e.g. "attending", "analysing"). This results in a grid that calculates proportions of time spent in various 'cognitive' (I would say behavioural myself) activities, against total contact time and student workload.

This is quite similar in structure to a product I used to work with a long time ago for helping companies decide on their telecommunications strategy; this used a database of prior usage by employees combined with tariff models for various suppliers, and you could play around with different suppliers and tariff scales to see what would happen to your telco costs.

In his keynote Ron Oliver also presented a behavioural view of design that used some slightly finer-grained behaviour types (e.g. "reading", "arguing", "critiquing"). Interesting how, when it comes to the practical management of activity, a behavioural approach makes more sense than to invoke constructivist concepts directly. I know at Edublog Stephen Downes really disliked my characterization of teaching and studying as work, but I think its a useful perspective.

There was definitely something interesting here worth exploring, and it would be useful to look at what kinds of models could benefit planning tools like these. For example, using a cybernetic approach, or plugging into ERP models. We're also I think starting to develop enough experience with some of the 'newer' activities such as blogging, podcasting and collaborative wiki editing that these could be made explicitly part of the planning process in addition to more traditional VLE-based activities, which may be a way of promoting a more diverse approach to elearning with a much wider range of teachers and lecturers than the 'early adopters' already immersed in edublogging.

Closing out day one was a great overview of the digital strategy of New Zealand, which is all based around some simple concepts - the 'three C's: Connection, Confidence, and Content. These frame activities centred on three groups: government, business, and communities. As strategic frameworks go, its actually pretty good, as it does I think capture some of the key values and is simple enough for anyone to understand and fit their own work into. Well, it certainly makes for easier digestion than the UK's e-strategy! (Actually, this is the second time I've seen it presented, and each time it makes me think of De Kerckhove's book "Connected Intelligence", a book I wonder if George Siemens read before doing the whole connectivism thing...)

There were also some discussions around uptake, especially in schools (and the tendency of schools to ban everything they hear about), on managing research activities (and how research planning relates to learning design), and lots of other sessions, not least of which a lot of technical stuff on the new LAMS v2.0. Quite a packed two days overall; I got a lot out of this one. The only low point, in fact, was my own presentation, which even I found a bit boring (though to be fair its hard to describe the structure of a JISC programme in a lively and entertaining way).

Well, back on the plane now to Manchester - goodbye summer, hello again winter!

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