My conference report from ED-MEDIA will emphasize only what I learned, since the conference is huge!

Keynote Presentations

Throughout the keynotes, attendees used Twitter and the hashtag #edmedia to create a back channel that was projected onto the screen behind the speaker. This was enriching and gave the presenter instant feedback afterward in addition to the questions.

Stephen Downes' Beyond Management: The Personal Learning Environment (audio here) contained useful remarks about promoting free learning, connecting nodes like neurons in the brain, some of which I've heard in different forms during the CCK08 Connectivism Course last fall. Cool Things That Were New to Me:

Discussion with Stephen Downes (audio is here)

A couple of the keynotes had time set aside after the presentation for people to move on to other sessions or stay for discussion on the keynote. People are always learning; you don't have to teach them how to learn. The problem is to get you to learn what you want them to learn. In many ways, of course, Downes wants to deconstruct the entire educational system, and is aware that not everyone wants to hear about that. One question criticized the seeming goal of equality in networked learning: if there is no "expert", what is the role of expertise in a network? Downes noted that the drawing of connections by the "nodes" in the network (learners) is what is important, rather than the content itself. Dmytro Roman raised two questions. The first was about the Connectivism course last fall, and George Siemens handed the mike to me for a bit to give the student's perspective. Dmytro also raised the question of how to get young adults who have been raised in the K-12 passive environment, to do the tasks necessary and have the motivation to create their own learning. He has very similar concerns to mine about how to make connectivism work in the system we have now, concerns which I've previously experienced make Downes impatient. He did, however, bring up some Cool Things That Were New to Me:

It occurred to me during this session that to get faculty to consider new ideas and tools, use must get easier: a lot of the technologies are still too hard to use and need to be grasped at too micro a level, such as RSS feeds and browser add-ons. I look forward to the time when such tools are invisible.

Rick Schwier: Pursuing the Elusive Metaphor of Community in Virtual Learning Environments
Rick Schwier
Photo by Kristina Hoeppner
(4nitsirk on Flickr)

I am a fan of Rick Schwier via the Ed Tech Posse podcast, and I've noticed before his tendency to bring concerns of humanity into technology discussions, in addition to being a very gentle person himself. Here he dealt with the metaphor of "community", where learners create their own environment. "Interaction" isn't the key -- it's how much people are engaged, how intensely. Cool Things That Were New to Me:

Rick also shared a story of seeing kids on a train txting each other, but holding up the phone to the train window as their friend was leaving instead of sending the txt. When he asked why they did that, the kid told him because it costs 25 cents to send it. Reminded me very much of my experience on the plane.

Alan Levine
Photo by Kristina Hoeppner
(4nitsirk on Flickr)
Alan Levine: It's the Craft, Not the Tools: 50 Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story

I have viewed Alan's presentation materials for this before, so it was great to watch him show us cool stuff, using my new favorite tool, Cooliris, as a presentation format. I bookmarked several new apps, including Live Mesh (in Beta, for synchronizing and accessing files from multiple locations), Blabberize (for which he could see no serious use, but I can see myself as Elizabeth I), One True Media (where you can mix photos and videos with effects), Phrasr (where you type in a phrase and see what images come up) and pretty much overloaded my presentation Delicious bookmarking list in Facebook. Alan helpfully lists all the tools on his blog.

Brief Paper Session: Integrating ICT in Preservice Teacher Training

My friend Kristina D.C. Hoeppner from the University of Luxembourg presented on the ways hers institution is using technology to train pre-service teachers. I found it interesting that, like the Program for Online Teaching, her group had to form themselves, which meant less support but also more control. She referred to one of the challenges as "competency development", meaning that some people don't know what they're doing with technology. Her focus is not on a particular tool, but rather having students grasp the application and the concept, so they can transfer skills to any system. This transferrability, which I encourage through promoting support for multiple course management systems at MiraCosta, she found to improve when Mahara (an e-portfolio system) was implemented. Her institution also archives all courses at the end of each year to provide students with access even after particular classes are over.

Kristina is, BTW, a wonderful photographer. That's why I've used her photos so much on this page.

Brief Paper Session: David Whittier's Time Online: Faculty Methods and Satisfaction Teaching Online and in Classrooms

Although intended to be one of three paper presentations in the session, the other two didn't show up, allowing more time for discussion (and debate!). Faculty surveyed at the Boston University School of Education were less enthusiastic, less satisfied, less productive, and spent more time communicating with students in online classes than on-site. However, the structure of technology was not the cause of their decrease in satisfaction. They are encouraging faculty to start with an on-site class, and try hybrid classes and synchronous sessions. Whittier referred to the lack of momentum in online classes versus the energy in a physical classroom.

In the room were several dissatisfied online teachers, complaining about the massive amounts of time it takes to teach online. There was also myself and another experienced online instructor (Keryn Pratt) with similar approaches to mine.

I wanted to know how long these 80 or so instructors had been teaching online. I made the point that if the faculty had greater online experience, the results might be reversed. Online instructors who are innovative and experienced, who adapt their workflow and pedagogy to the online environment, tend to be very satisfied with teaching online but show great dissatisfaction with the provided technologies because they are too limiting. Inexperienced faculty tend to be very happy with the technology they're given, because they use it for management. My colleague agreed, but it was disheartening to hear from an instructor who was forced to teach online and hates it, another who updates his materials continually but has another instructor in his department who never does and just automates everything, and others who are still doing things like answering every email and responding to every post.

Outside the Sessions: Learning at Lunch and Dinner

Of course, one learns just as much in casual conversation as in formal sessions. More CTTWNTMs:

David Merrill: ----"What Makes e3 (effective, efficient and engaging) Instruction?"

This keynote was a counter to all the connectivist theorizing about self-organizing networks, and indeed the connectivists were
David Merrill

Photo by Kristina Hoeppner
(4nitsirk on Flickr)

using Twitter during the presentation to plan an attack, albeit gentle and ideological, for the post-talk Q & A. Merrill said that even with networked learning, there is still a role for direct instruction to help people learn content. This type of instruction should combine the best practices of computer-based tutorials, constructivism and problem-based learning, learning communities, and online teaching. I should not be "versus", but "and". He developed five principles of instruction that mirror a number of other sets of advice:

  1. Activation - must activate mental models people have and build on them, modify what they already know
  2. Demonstration - of skills being used, show rather than tell
  3. Application - doing
  4. Integration
  5. Real world tasks to apply the learning
Merrill claims that the usual formula for instruction and assessment is backward. We should start with the tasks that need to be done, the final objective, then design a progression of tasks in order to help people achieve that level. Reminded me of what we're doing in History with Student Learning Outcomes, which unlike the SLOs in other departments are very much focused on a skill set rather than content knowledge.

Unfortunately, he also believes that survey courses are a waste of time, because they provide so much content there is no choice but to memorize. I disagree, seeing the survey course as the place for the learner to learn how to tame the massive content by using the skills of the discipline! He also feels that technology makes it possible for instructors to handle more students, but his starting point on this was something like three classes per semester so he lost me there too.

James Morrison: Addressing the Problem of Faculty Resistance to using Educational Media in Active Learning Instructional Strategies

I attended this session because the topic is so pertinent to the Program for Online Teaching, where we see various things that I might call "resistance". In general, I heartily respect such resistance to any approach that doesn't fit with an instructor's pedagogical goals -- I would never want anyone teaching online who was "resistant" to the idea. Also, I was interested in seeing James Morrison since he heads up Innovate journal, where I had the honor of having a paper turned down for publication. :-)

Instead of lecturing to us, he put up a couple of slides and then had us get into groups to do our own active learning, first determine causes of resistance, and then solutions. He was rightly noted as the first keynote speaker to actually do active learning instead of just lecture to us! The result, however, was interesting but not enlightening. Faculty resist because they fear losing control of the class, they are not technology experts, they don't get enough support, and there is no payback for such work at most institutions. These can be solved by throwing money at the problem: release time, massive tech support, etc.

But although it wasn't discussed that much in this session, I had interesting conversations elsewhere about the main challenge being one of ego. Instructors must be confident enough to not be afraid to try new things, even in class, even when they aren't the expert. It's OK not to know all the answers. And from my viewpoint, if you think your students know more than you about technology, then what better place than class to try some out, with presumed experts all around? It almost comes down to personality. This idea can definitely be expanded, as it permeates the whole issue of education and technology.

During the session, Frances Bell, who was not at the conference, happened to tweet asking about how we can all help each other, and my answer was different than it would have been before the session: get away from your comfort zone, avoid "teaching" your area of strength. Made me feel better that I get to teach so rarely anything about medieval fulling mills, which are my specialty.

Other Sessions

I dropped in on a couple of other sessions, but as usual was frustrated by the small sample size in so many of the studies. There are so many people publishing minor research to get a PhD. From a technology standpoint, the most interesting and discouraging session was Thomas Edgerton's Moodle presentation. Edgerton has mastered the ill-documented but wonderful branching lesson feature in Moodle. Unfortunately his solution is to start with blank PowerPoint slides as a kind of template (titles only), then adapt everything inside the lesson. Everything he said about having images in jpg and html pages made perfect sense to me, but I couldn't figure out why one needed to start with PowerPoint instead, though he assured me that was necessary. I think I may head toward some kind of XML editor someday if I want to do lessons, because the PP workaround seems very cumbersome. I'm afraid I was also disappointed at the poster sessions, since so many of the ones featuring pedagogy had spaces but didn't show up. Of course, as was pointed out to me, most of them were featured online, but I think only for the duration of the conference.

Will That Be For Here or Take Away?

Last list: things I've taken away from this conference:
edmedia twitter feed
Photo by Kristina Hoeppner (4nitsirk on Flickr)