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EdTech 2009 – Does Location Matter?

EdTech 2009 kicked off with a keynote address by Niall Sclater, Director of Learning Innovation at The Open University. The distance learning provided by the OU has always helped the house-bound, prison inmates and others disadvantaged by time and space to participate in higher education.

Niall’s talk “Does Location Matter?” showed how the free dissemination of quality-audited, course materials in programmes such as the OU’s OpenLearn and MIT’s Open Courseware have brought the resources used by their registered students to a global audience.  Of course,  teaching materials are not everything… physical presence on campus gives students all the social and networking benefits of university life which a virtual presence cannot really replicate, at least at present, … and without registering and paying fees the students won’t get a qualification.

Moving beyond the provision of content, Niall looked at how virtual worlds could help deliver a richer and more social experience to students.  However, we start with what we know and virtual worlds can end up replicating the structures and limitations of the physical world.  In the mid 1990s, Niall and colleagues developed  the Clyde Virtual University.  It welcomed students with images of a lecture theatre, a library, a café and an examination hall. The library contained links to resources, the café links to discussion boards and the exam hall to online assessment.  This imagery recreated the boundaries of the physical university and did nothing to foster collaborative learning. Today, virtual worlds can be created with tools like Second Life and OpenSimulator but our avatars still sit in virtual lecture theatres and search for resources in the virtual library.  We can even buy land and build our own home.  Perhaps with time virtual worlds will dispense with these metaphors and allow new forms of interaction. Perhaps at that point new ways of teaching and learning to harness these new ways of interacting will emerge.

About 150 delegates attended EdTech 2009 in the National College of Ireland. Others participated virtually by watching live streams of the keynotes and exchanging comments using Twitter.

Thanks to the NCI photographers for permitting the use of these images.

One Response to EdTech 2009 – Does Location Matter?

  1. Barry McIntyre says:

    Well done to the EdTech2009 committee for a great conference and in particular to NCI for their professionalism throughout the conference.

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