Thoughts on ELI conference

Last week I attended the ELI conference in Austin, Texas to present on the progress to date of the SCARLET project and early evaluation findings. The conference was full of provocative ideas and innovative uses of mobile technology, most notably Chris Dede from Harvard who spoke about the EcoMOBILE (Ecosystems Mobile Outdoor Blended Immersive Learning Environment) initiative.

This allows students to record data similar to evidence collected by scientific researchers about a pond ecosystem using mobile devices. Students can access special environmental features through an Augmented Reality interface, providing information that would not otherwise be apparent in the natural environment. It enables them to connect the abstract ideas they are learning in science class to experiences they have in the real world.

AR is pivotal in providing additional information that connects to the classroom learning and provides students with a more immersive experience than traditional text books learning can. Simple multiple choice questions constantly reinforce learning and as one of the students put it -“..the questions are related to what you can physically do.”

Mobility, Analytics, and Deeper Learning

I presented on SCARLET as part of an innovation showcase, after which delegates were invited to ask questions in breakout sessions and view demonstrations of the content. Slides can be downloaded here. They were very interested in learning more about the methodology from a pedagogical perspective and how they could use the toolkit to produce similar content for their institutions libraries. I was able to showcase some proof of concept ideas for other subject areas enabling them to see how applications of AR could be scalable/sustainable in the future. It was apparent from presentations on iPad evaluation  that students from American institutions are using handheld technology and engaging with the environment in a big way, this will only increase with the delivery of faster 4G networks and devices that can facilitate increased CPU power.

Georgia State University discussed the idea of collating student evaluation through tablet devices in libraries as opposed to gathering data through the scheduling of focus groups and online surveys. It was interesting that their initial feedback showed that students were more eager to contribute when it was delivered on a medium they were familiar with. Students were drawn to a tool that they use in everyday life to connect with their friends, check email and watch on demand programming. You could argue that the established clipboard and pen approach of feedback is now alien to them, and therefore harder to engage with. Likewise, the online survey lacks appeal as it is restrictive, unoptimised for mobile consumption, requiring the student to set aside some time to sit in a PC suite to complete. In a world where the efficiency of time management is increasingly precious, this will prove difficult.

If Not Now, When?

Adrian Sannier’s opening address announced that HE is on a precipice and education needs to evolve quickly. The model of a teacher delivering to a class has not changed over the last two hundred years, we have added technology to make it “cooler”  but in terms of transformation which the market expects, education is sadly lacking. He likened education “more like church than commerce.” unwilling to change and adapt. He used Wolfram Alpha to answer a mathematical equation giving it everyday context, as opposed to the way that the majority of students learn through long linear workings that have no narrative.

His solution was to change teaching from a “solo sport to a community based research activity” offering a support network, this in an incredible challenge as expectations are so high. To achieve this it is imperative to create partnerships (between institutions and industry) that work towards learning goals that are performance driven (student centered) rather than product driven (generic one size fits all). Although it was aiming to be deliberately provocative and finished with a sales pitch for his company (Pearson Publishing) LMS , it was interesting to hear how new learning models are evolving to become student focused, ensuring education no longer facilitates the few but encompasses the many.

Overall, the conference was a fascinating opportunity to see the innovative developments that are taking place in Teaching and Learning in North America, particularly within the mobile arena. It is my hope that SCARLET can employ some of these inventive approaches to benefit the project and form partnerships with institutions to embed the final toolkit providing a valued learning experience.

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