Seminar report: The Future of eLearning: Collaboration, Engagement and Practice

The Future of eLearning: Collaboration, Engagement and Practice

Melbourne University 8th June 2012

This day-long seminar was organised as part of the dissemination process for a study of student team virtual projects, which was presented in the second session of the day. Only the keynote address is covered in detail here. If anyone would like more information on other parts of the program, please leave a comment to that effect.

Keynote address – Professor Ray Land (Durham University)

Speed and the Digital: the implications, meanings and risks of speed for the digital university.

This thought-provoking session was divided into three sections. What follows is a summary only and does not attempt to cover all points discussed.

Knowledge is able to be generated and disseminated at incredible speeds in the 21st century and this will impact on the cloistered university model by ‘punching holes’ in the walls. Some, such as Harvard, have embraced and actively participated in the destruction of the monolith while others continue to resist. Universities tend to function on the old ‘slow time’ and print culture, whereas the outside world operates in ‘fast time’ and digital culture. Universities will be forced to adapt to the new time frames. Disadvantages of the new culture include fragmentation of knowledge into small bites and the instability of digital knowledge in a world where documents can be easily altered, the obvious example being Wikipedia. Once there are no original hardcopy documents left, how will we know what was true and what has been amended?

Other major challenges to arise are in developing new pedagogies that are suited to the new way of working. What forms of technoliteracy will we need and what will success look like? A hilarious video from You Tube about the possibility of a 5 minute university degree illustrated the new speed of the world.

New technologies have the capacity to offer education to all who desire it. Document storage, reproduction and dissemination now have effectively zero cost, removing practical barriers for sharing. Barriers that remain include intellectual property rights and academic advancement through publishing in peer –reviewed journals. In a new order, would career advance be based on number of citations or even by number of blog hits? Clearly there are some major issues to resolve. Research demonstrates that open educational resources (OER) would have overall zero cost, essentially replacing the current costs of journal production and subscription. OER does require a huge change in mindset, which was well summarised in a quote from Abraham Lincoln: ‘The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.’

The future of computing and human-computer interactions was discussed using the book ‘The Age of Spiritual Machines’ by Ray Kerzweil as a basis. By 2025 he predicts that automated teachers will be common and by 2030 computers will be demanding rights. Scary stuff in some ways, but made entertaining through the inability of a computer to understand Scottish accents (You Tube video).

Other sessions

Presentation of the results of a study into Business education in the 21st century. The study assessed students working on projects in virtual groups and what knowledge and materials are needed to support them. The resources developed through this project are available for use here. Having students working in virtual teams during their study is part of their preparation for work. In a typical veterinary blinkered view of thinking only of practice I first thought that this type of preparation had little relevance to veterinary science but later realised that it is hugely relevant in some fields such as public health emergencies.

Parallel paper sessions – I attended the stream ‘Current elearning applications’ which had speakers from business (use of group wikis for virtual projects – Chinh Nguyen, University of Melbourne), veterinary science (use of HTML-based cases to review and enhance current learning – Dr John Inns, University of Melbourne), accounting )a preliminary study into the use of eBooks by staff and students – Albie Brooks) and from healthcare (interdisciplinary (including midwifery, medical imaging, mental health nursing) and ,  training using avatars in Second Life – Jennifer James, RMIT University).

Closing address – why an e-strategy: considerations and deliberations – Belinda Tynan from University of Southern Queensland (USQ)

Belinda outlined reasons why an online strategy is needed and how it may vary between institutions. USQ plans a lot of resources around the student learning journey and what they will need at various stages through that journey. By handing out technologies like iPads they get the staff using the same tools as students and so can ensure that material is usable across multiple platforms. USQ is in the process of licensing all their materials under Creative Commons and they will soon be accessible. They have also just started offering free courseware.


About rebekahmcbrown

I am a veterinarian with a special interest in instructional design and developing eLearning in the veterinary and medical areas. I write teaching materials for both face-to-face and online learning as well as writing and editing articles.
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