Wednesday, December 24, 2008

E-Learn 2008: A Brief Report

I am pleased to post here a breif report of my participation in the E-Learn 2008 held at Las Vegas, USA from 17-21 November 2008.

Pre-Conference Symposium on “E-Learning in Asia”
Date: 2008/11/17
This pre-conference was the highlight of the conference, as it could enable a group of people in Asia who are engaged in the cutting-edge of applications of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and e-Learning to be at one place. There were 12 presentations from Korea, Japan, China, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Singapore, Philippines, Taiwan, including two research presentations from USA and Australia covering Asian e-learning. I presented the Indian scenario with a focus on IGNOU’s online learning activity. The presentation is available at my Slideshare site.

The overall scenario of Asian e-learning shows rapid growth in infrastructure including broadband, more use of blended learning, use of web 2.0 technologies with an overall interest to reach the unreached. Countries like Japan, Singapore and Taiwan have done tremendous development with the use of e-technologies for teaching and learning, and there are lessons to be learnt for all of us. While technology is available, there is also a need to train all the stakeholders both on technology and learning related issues.

Date: 2008/11/18
The conference started with a brief introduction by the organizers without much fun fare. Richard Beraniuk of the Rice University presented the first Keynote on “Open access education: Building communities and sharing knowledge”. He presented the case of Connextions as a platform for open education resources. In his presentation he emphasized liberation of text pages from books to page, shelf to global interconnected repository, closed to open source, costly to free, and slow production to fast production and revision. He emphasized the quality issues in Open Educational Resources (OER) and the use of “Lenses” to determine context specific quality.

On this day, I attended other parallel sessions related to Wikibook development experiences, use of e-learning for transformative learning and activities of the National Centre for Supercomputing Applications at University of Illinois (this is the place where Mosaic, the first web browser was developed).

Date: 2008/11/19
The Keynote presentation was by Mark David Milliron, CEO of Catalyze Learning International, who talked about new generation of learning, emphasizing the use of game-based learning, social networking, mobile phones, high impact videos, etc. According to him, we all working in the field of technology in education should stop talking about “Technology will improve learning”. Rather, we should tell technology can improve learning, if designed and applied well, he added.
On this day, I attended other parallel sessions including an award winning presentation from another Indian participant (Mr. Popat Tambade), and other invited lectures. Associate Professor David Wiley presented his thoughts on “Openness and the disaggregated future of education”. He emphasized that the world is changing from analog to digital, tethered to mobile, isolated to connected, generic to personal, consuming to creating and closed to open. In such a situation how higher education can remain unchanged, he asked. Today, if you look at the internet traffic the top 50 sites are where people can share, he added. In view of all these he called for policy reforms in higher education to address the emerging needs of the society and the learners in an open society. He gave the example of Open High School of Utah, as a change model based on use of Open Content. In the process he emphasized that “in order to change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”.

In the evening, there was another presentation by Lucifer Chu of Taiwan on OOPS project in which he is engaged in localizing the MIT Opencourseware materials into Chinese.
I chaired a session covering here presentations on bookmarking/tagging, good practices in e-learning and maintaining excelling in teaching online.

Date: 2008/11/20
Prof. Roy Pea of Stanford University presented the Keynote on “Fostering Learning in a Networked World” based on the report of the Taskforce on Cyber Learning of the National Science Foundation. The main point of his presentation was that the 21st century learning has to be mediation-based situated in a learning ecology framework. In the process he said that we must remember the change surrounding us, particularly the “always on” mobile, location content GPS services, open platforms, could computing, immersive technologies, open educational resources, and participatory media culture. He emphasized that the participatory nature of media brings in new complexity in the teaching learning process.

Margaret Driscoll, of IBM in an invited lecture on “Recent trends in Content development” identified three different types of instructional design approaches: course-centric, knowledge centric and Do-It-Yourself mode, and analysed these from the point of role of learners, organization and cost/funding. She said the trend is towards the use of instructional design by assignment, meaning that ID specialists are more and more looked upon as support agent to subject specialist who does the instructional design by themselves as assignments. She also said rapid e-learning or rapid ID is the order of the day, and no organisation is ready for undertaking a more rigorous process of design.

I attended the panel of the newly released handbook on e-Learning, and received the book award for the best question asked in the session.

George Siemens from the University of Manitoba presented an invited lecture on participatory trends in media and education, based on his developing theory of “Connectivism”. Within this, he also talked of the tensions in education: formal/informal, epistemology/ontology, structure/exploratory, open/closed, pace/depth, reputation/accreditation. He presented the lecture using a new technology called “PersonalBrain”, and also talked of technologies such as Digg, eHarmony, Diigo, LiveMesh, Twitter, etc.

Date: 2008/11/21
The Keynote on the last day was presented by Dr. Ellen Wagner, Founder of Sonoma Partners, who talked about the gaps in sustaining e-learning innovations. She said the gaps are between innovations and implementations, between research and practice, between academic institutions and corporations, between product and solutions, and between traditional e-learning and emerging e-learning.

On this day I attended other parallel sessions and presented my paper on “Using Asynchronous Conferences to Support Wiki Skills Training and Development of Distance Learning Lessons”. The presentation was well received with interest on the support and the framework developed for analyzing support.

Lessons and Reflections:
The conference was attended by over 1100 delegated from over 65 countries. However, there were only 2 Indian delegates. It was reported that the conference attracted over 987 proposals and only 391 were accepted. Of these there were about 20% dropouts as seen from cancelled presentations. It is interesting to note that such absentees are noted by the organizers systematically to discourage such paper presenters. The whole even organization was maintained using technology and thus, there were very few hands engaged as volunteers. There were no lunches served making the conference a tidy one engaging only in academic work.
Academically, the keynote and invited presentations were the highlight of this conference, and the opportunity to discuss issues of common concerns in such a gathering is highly contagious for creative works. Personally, the conference was a satisfying event for me in my career goals, as I could share my ideas to peers who are working in similar areas. As my presentation was on Wiki related topic, it was highly satisfying to see so many presentations on wikis and the emphasis by invited speakers on open education, open educational resources, etc. establishing that my current research interest is in line with the latest and emerging area.

My sincere thanks to Prof. V.N. R. Pillai, Vice Chancellor, IGNOU and Chairperson and members of the Travel Grants Committee and other officials and staff for making it possible for me to attend the conference.

I am also thankful to the Association for the Advancement of Computers in Education (AACE) for inviting me to talk about “E-Learning in India” and for waiver of registration fees for the conference.