July 24, 2016

Conference in Africa: E-Learning Innovations

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The Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development, Nairobi

The Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development, Nairobi

What: The 4th E-Learning Innovations Conference and Expo provides an opportunity to showcase cutting-edge research, innovation and contemporary e-learning practices. The main theme: Powering Growth

Where: KICD, Nairobi, Kenya

When: September 12-16, 2016

Who: Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) is the conference host and convening partner. The Institute’s core function is to conduct research and develop curricular for all levels of education below the university. Website: http://www.kicd.ac.ke


  • Prof. Erwin Sniedzins, Gamification Architect
  • Gene Wade, CEO of One University Network
  • Prof. John Traxler, Research Prof. Digital Learning
  • Mr. Rajeev Gupta, CEO & Founder mElimu
  • Prof. Peter E. Kinyanjui, Chairman, KICD Council.
  • Mr. John Kimotho, Snr.Deputy Director / Deputy CEO, KICD
  • Mrs. Esther Gacicio, Assistant Director, KICD e-Learning section
  • Dr. Julius O. Jwan, Director & Chief Executive Officer KICD
  • Dr. Penina Lam, Consultant World Bank, CGAP Gateway Academy


To register, go to http://elice.co/product/elice-2016-registration/

To make a presentation at the conference, go to: http://elice.co/speakers-application/. Applications must be received by 15 August, 2016


A look at online learning and digital wisdom from Madeira

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Curral das Freiras (Nun's Valley) in the centre of Madeira

Curral das Freiras (Nun’s Valley) in the centre of Madeira


Madeira is a Portuguese island in the Atlantic about 200 kilometres west of north-west Africa. I’d never been there before this year, but now it’s twice in two months. The first time I had an eight hour stop-over when travelling by ship from Puerto Rico to Malaga in Spain. This time I took almost a week, not just to attend a conference, but also to have time to explore this amazingly beautiful island, which has many different kinds of flowers, such as hydrangeas, clematis, nasturtiums and birds of paradise, all growing wild on the mountain sides.

The island of Madeira is basically a huge extinct volcano rising over 6,000 feet, often almost vertically out of the ocean. This leads to exciting bus rides, which tend to take the high road to get round the coast and the deep ravines.

The conference

I was here to give a keynote speech on ‘Teaching in a Digital Age’ in the e-learning strand of the 10th Multi Conference on Computer Science and Information Systems in Funchal, Madeira during July 1-4. The conference was organized by IADIS, the International Society for the Development of the Information Society.

Those of us who are specialists in online learning tend to forget that online learning is just one aspect of the information society. What this conference did was to bring together participants from the various branches studying different aspects of the information society. The conference was multi-stranded and covered the following areas:

  • e-Learning
  • Theory and Practice in Modern Computing
  • Game and Entertainment Technologies
  • ICT, Society, and Human Beings
  • Web Based Communities and Social Media
  • Interfaces and Human Computer Interaction
  • Computer Graphics, Visualization, Computer Vision and Image Processing
  • Information Systems Post-implementation and Change Management
  • Connected Smart Cities
  • Big Data Analytics, Data Mining and Computational Intelligence

I was the keynote speaker for the strand on e-learning.

Above the clouds at Pico d'Areeiro

Above the clouds at Pico d’Areeiro

Online learning as a disciplinary area

Given the breadth of the conference, many of the participants in the e-learning strand were either just getting into online learning, or were looking in from the outside. Some who have been working in the field of online learning for many years, can get very frustrated or even angry when new entrants start re-inventing the wheel or discovering for themselves things that have been known for many years within the profession. This was certainly evident from some of the parallel sessions I attended.

However, I think it is pointless to get worked up about this. It is healthy for the field of online learning that it is constantly expanding and bringing in new blood and new perspectives, as well as reinventing the wheel. As a discipline, we have not done a good job in communicating effectively evidence-based knowledge and sound pedagogical principles to newcomers. This is one reason why I wrote my book, ‘Teaching in a Digital Age‘, and why I was pleased to be invited to talk to this conference. We need more efforts to break down the artificial knowledge boundaries in the field of information and communications technologies. Thus I was here as much to learn from others as to teach.

Developing digital wisdom

It would be impossible in the space available to cover all aspects of the e-learning strand. There were sessions on communities of inquiry, online professional and vocational training, inter-cultural differences in online learning, data mining and analysis, and many other topics, but I want to comment on one presentation that focused on the larger societal shifts resulting from a digital society, and in particular suggested a strategy for developing a ‘good’ ICT (information and communications technologies) society.

I was interested in this because of my growing concern about the relationship between the impact of digital technologies and alienation in humans. (It should be remembered that it is still only a week since the British voted to come out of the European Union, and Donald Trump is now the official Republican contender for President of the USA). Put bluntly, are social media in particular leading to the dumbing down of our society?

I therefore went along to a very interesting keynote presentation by Gunilla Bradley, Emeritus Professor at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. She was talking about her forthcoming book, ‘Digital Wisdom’ (not out until 2017).

In her presentation she pointed to a great deal of convergence between globalization, information technologies, social environments, and multiple roles and identities for individuals. As a psychologist, she was particularly interested in the effects of this convergence of forces on human behaviour.

This convergence of forces challenges our sense of:

  • self-identity,
  • self-esteem,
  • integrity,
  • trust in others,
  • empowerment,

These convergent forces also:

  • challenge our ability to empathize,
  • and increase stress.

In particular, individuals are increasingly struggling to find a balance between emotionality and rationality, their gender role, and a balance between involvement and alienation.

In order for humans to achieve this balance in a digital society, she enumerated 10 principles that should influence how digital technologies are deployed and regulated. I won’t list them all but they include

  • democratic versus free market regulation,
  • a focus on human well-being and meeting basic human needs,
  • balance and harmony, etc.

For these principles to be implemented, she recommends 10 actions. Again, I won’t list all these but give some examples below:

  • be guided by the ‘Golden Rule’: treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself
  • revision of economic theories to take account of the 10 principles
  • make these principles a focus for politics at local, national and international levels
  • focus education on developing the 10 principles, particularly at a pre-school level

My comments

This is a selective summary of a much more complex thesis, but I had a number of responses to the presentation

  • I am very glad that someone is looking at the broader implications of the impact of digitalization on society at large. In particular, Bradley’s analysis was not negative but wholly positive and optimistic, accepting the many benefits of digitalization but also questioning how we can reduce the negative elements;
  • it is important to look beyond the immediate and short-term implications of new technologies and think about their longer term impact. For instance, in a rather narrow sense, what is the long-term consequence likely to be of reducing class time and increasing online activities in education, particularly as this pushed down to the younger age groups and pre-school children. How do we get the balance right between screen time and other activities in education?
  • Bradley’s approach is a direct challenge to the neo-liberal, free market approach to ICTs. To date, with the possible exception of the original Internet and the original World Wide Web, the introduction and use of digital technologies are dominated by the desire to make lots of money for private corporations, who control much of the world’s use of ICTs. Is it possible to build alternative pathways for the development and use of ICTs that focus on the general good without destroying innovation and accessibility? What alternative models of governance and control of ICTs are possible?

My immediate reaction to Bradley’s presentation was that she was being hopelessly optimistic and naive, but on reflection, we do need alternatives to the current free market, value-free approach to the development and application of the digital technologies that increasingly dominate our lives. Without a clear vision for the future we want we are unlikely to get it, and Professor Bradley has put forward such a vision. This is becoming more urgent as the consequences of the alienation associated at least in part to the digitalization of our personal lives, work, business, social communication and economics manifest themselves in political phenomena such as Brexit and the U.S. Presidential election.

I am really looking forward to reading her book when it comes out – hopefully as an open, online book!

Funchal seen from Cabo Girão

Funchal seen from Cabo Girão

Images: Tony Bates

EDEN 2016: Re-imagining Learning Environments

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Pesti Vigadó, where the conference dinner was held

Pesti Vigadó Concert Hall, where the conference dinner was held

The EDEN conference

I have just attended the annual conference of the European Distance and E-Learning Network in Budapest, Hungary.

EDEN is one of my favourite conferences because it always has a lot of interesting people attending and it is a quick way for me to stay abreast of what is happening in European online and distance learning. I provide here an overall report on the conference, but I will do a couple of other more detailed posts on the sessions I found particularly interesting.

There were just under 300 participants. My overall impression is that online and open learning are well and strong in Europe, and is now widespread. When I first started to come to EDEN conferences in the early 1990s, there were only two or three main players, but this year there were contributions from almost every European country. With the growth of online and open learning, there are many new people each year joining the field, coming from very diverse backgrounds. EDEN provides a pan-European opportunity to enable newcomers to learn about some of the basic principles and prior research and knowledge in the field, as well as allowing for the sharing of experience and networking, and reporting new trends and developments in online and open learning.

I was the opening keynote speaker, and talked about building effective learning environments, based on my chapter in Teaching in a Digital Age. I also gave the wrap-up to the conference, on which this post is based.

A concert at the Liszt Academy of Music

A concert at the Liszt Academy of Music

Policy, planning and management

This year there was a welcome number of contributions that focused on policy and management of online, open and distance learning.

Yves Punie of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre’s Institute for Prospective Technological Skills reported that 70 million Europeans lacked basic literacy and numeracy skills, 24% had no upper secondary education and 45% have insufficient digital literacy skills, although 90% of jobs in Europe will require some sort of ICT skills. The Institute has developed a list of key digital competencies. He noted that while 21% of universities in Europe are now offering MOOCs, most have no overall strategy for open education.

George Ubachs of the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities in his presentation on The Changing Pedagogical Landscape offered an interesting vision for universities that emphasised:

  • personalized teaching and learning
  • small scale, intensive education
  • rich learning environments
  • open-ness and flexibility
  • networked education and mobility

Leslie Wilson of the European University Association commented that:

MOOCs have forced Vice Chancellors to focus on teaching and learning

This is probably a true if sad statement.

I was particularly impressed by Melissa Highton’s report on the open learning strategy of Edinburgh University. It is a highly ranked, old research university in Scotland that has aligned its approach to open education to the university’s core mission. She said:

Not being open is a risk and not being open costs us money.

Laureate University is a global private, for-profit university with over one million enrolments, and with campuses in Europe as well as North America. The leadership at Laureate has decided that the whole system will move from largely face-to-face teaching to blended learning. Alan Noghiu described the strategy that is being used and the challenges the organization is facing in implementing the strategy.

Finally, Alan Tait reported on a study by the International Council for Distance Education (ICDE) on student success factors, which identified the following as critical to student success:

  • pre-study information, advice, guidance and admission;
  • curriculum or programme design that matches the needs of students;
  • intervention at key points and in response to student need;
  • assessment to support learning as well as to judge achievement;
  • individualised and personalised systems of support to students;
  • information and logistical systems that communicate between all relevant participants in the system;
  • overall managing for student success.

This seems to me to be a list that proponents of MOOCs should bear in mind, as well as those offering more formal qualifications at a distance.

The use of multimedia and emerging technologies

Susan Aldridge of Drexel University presented some very interesting examples of educational uses of virtual reality, augmented reality, serious games and holography, including examples used in forensic investigation, meteorology, and medicine. One of the augmented reality tools she demonstrated, Aurasma, is free.

Danny Arati of Intel mentioned the University of Nottingham’s The Periodic Table of Videos, where each element in the period table has a short video about it.

The Periodic Table of Videos, University of Nottingham

The Periodic Table of Videos, University of Nottingham

MOOCs and online learning

I was surprised at how much importance European institutions are still giving to MOOCs. There were by far more papers on MOOCs than on credit-based online learning or even blended learning. Even the Oxford debate this year was on the following motion:

We Should Focus in the Short Term More on MOOCs than on OER

I was relieved when the motion was resoundingly defeated, although I am still a little disheartened that open education is still mainly focused on MOOCs and OERs, rather than on the broader concept of open textbooks, open research, and open data. It was noted that MOOCs are a product while open education is a movement, and it is important not to lose the idea that open education is as much about social justice and equity as it is about technology, as was pointed out by one of the participants, Ronald McIntyre.

Learning analytics

There was an excellent workshop organised by Sally Reynolds and Dai Griffiths from the European Commission funded LACE project: Learning Analytics Community Exchange. The workshop focused on privacy and ethics issues that arise from the use of learning analytics.

This is such an important topic that I will do a full blog post on it later. In the meantime, if you are interested in this topic, see the LACE report: Is Privacy a Show-stopper for Learning Analytics? A Review of Current Issues and their Solutions.

The foyer of the Gresham Hotel

The foyer of the Gresham Hotel

Bits and Pieces

There were several other interesting activities at the conference that are worth reporting:

Pre-conference workshop for young scholars. This was an interesting forum where editors of three of the journals in the field discussed with young (or more accurately, new) scholars how to get published.

Book and wine session This informal late evening session provided an opportunity for participants to share their reviews of interesting books. This is an event that could be expanded to cover both ‘classics’ in the field, as well as books on new developments.

Posters There were about a dozen posters. Again, I would like to see more posters at conferences such as this. A well designed poster can be read in a couple of minutes and impart as much if not more information than a 20 minute oral presentation, and can be seen by everyone at the conference, unlike a presentation at a parallel session, some of which, such as the horrible ‘speed-dating’ sessions, resembled having a fire hose of information turned on you – or am I just a visual learner?

Given that so many new people are moving into online and open learning all the time, much more needs to be done at conferences such as this to encourage sessions where prior knowledge and best practices are brought to the attention of new participants.


Overall, this was another excellent conference from EDEN in a wonderful location (it is the first time I have been immersed into Turkish baths). The next one will be next year in Jönköping, southern Sweden.

Art Nouveau stained glass windows at the Hotel Gellert

Art Nouveau stained glass windows at the Hotel Gellert

All photos: Tony Bates

A full day of experiential learning in action

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Marie Bountrogianni, Dean of Chang School, opening the ChangSchoolTalks, 2016

Marie Bountrogianni, Dean of the Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson, opening the ChangSchoolTalks, 2016

On Wednesday, February 17, the Chang School of Continuing Studies, Ryerson University, Toronto, put on an impressive one day conference, called ChangSchoolTalks, focused on experiential learning.

The day was organized into the following activities:

  • opening keynote
  • main ‘stage’ talks, of 10-15 minutes in length
  • master classes of 45 minutes length
  • brain dates: one-on-one mentoring on specific topics
  • exhibition.

Opening keynote

Don Tapscott was the opening keynote speaker, who talked about rethinking learning for the networked age. For those who know Tapscott’s work, he covered familiar ground, claiming that higher education must respond to four key leadership challenges/ strategies:

  • the technology revolution, in particular the power of networks and distributed knowledge (‘global intelligence’)
  • the Net Generation, who are ‘wired to think differently’
  • the economic revolution, the move from an industrial to a knowledge-based society
  • the social revolution, including an increasingly unequal distribution of wealth.

He referred in passing to his forthcoming book, ‘The Blockchain Revolution, How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business and the World‘, but did not really tie it in to the world of higher education during his talk.

Although I don’t disagree with many of the points he was making about the need for universities to change, I didn’t really leave with anything that I didn’t know already, although others may have found it new and refreshing.

Stage talks

Stage talks were plenary sessions. For me, this was the best part of the day, in terms of what I learned. There were five excellent speakers who used their limited time (10-15 minutes) expertly:

  • Arlene Dickinson, an entrepreneur famous as one of the dragons on the TV program ‘Dragons’ Den’, who talked about leadership
  • James Paul Gee, from Arizona State University, who talked about how participants in multiplayer games collaborated and strategized to solve problems within the games. (I would like to have asked if there was evidence of these problem-solving strategies being successfully transferred outside games, into other kinds of learning environment, but I didn’t get the chance)
  • Steve Gedeon, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Ryerson University, who talked about the pedagogy of entrepreneurship. This talk appealed to me the most, because Gedeon argued somewhat convincingly that the pedagogy of entrepreneurship (e.g. Lean Startup approaches to learning) could be applied to many other disciplines
  • Michelle Weise, from the University of Southern New Hampshire, which is one of the fastest growing universities with one of the largest online programs in the USA. She talked about competency-based education. I have mixed feelings myself about competency-based learning, and it was interesting to hear her arguments for it.
  • Marie Bountrogianni, the Dean of the Chang School at Ryerson, was the master of ceremonies, linking all the talks together.

What I liked particularly was the wide range of approaches and topics, with each one well delivered and clearly described in a very short time.

Master Classes

These were two sets of six to seven parallel 45 minute sessions covering the following topics:

  • robot subjugation for beginners (Alex Ferworn)
  • building an effective learning environment (me)
  • building pathways through online competency-based education (Michelle Weise)
  • handling reputation and shame in the social world (Boyd Neil)
  • collaboration and creativity: a challenge in design thinking (Michael Carter)
  • data visualization: what does your business look like? (Michael Martin)
  • big data: a roadmap to be a data scientist (Ayse Bener)
  • a discussion in learning in games (James Paul Gee)
  • the 5Cs of a bustling peer-learning community (Christine Renaud)
  • gamifying learning experiences (Jeremy Friedberg)
  • introductory economics revisited (Eric Kam)
  • ethos as a brand builder and driver for business (Deb Belinsky)
  • if they build it…co-creation as education (Vincent Hui)

As always with parallel sessions, there was always a clash. Because I was giving one, I could go to only one other. However, the list of titles gives some idea of the diversity of ideas and topics covered.

I will say a little bit more about my master class in a separate blog post.

Brain dates

Software made available to the ChangSchoolTalks by the company E-180 enabled participants to book online a one-on-one face-to-face session with a personal mentor, i.e. with anyone attending the conference who had expertise that you would like to access. This was somewhat restricted by a very full agenda for the day, but turned out nevertheless to be very popular.


There was also a small but very interesting set of exhibitors, covering displays of virtual reality, smart materials ,an augmented reality sandbox, a 3D robot labyrinth, 3D printing, and serious gaming.


The ChangSchoolTalks was a particularly effective showcase for the interests and work being done at Ryerson University.

I came away from the day with my head absolutely buzzing. I was subjected to a torrent of fascinating ideas and developments. What I liked particularly was the diversity of topics, not all of which were specifically educational, but which nevertheless are significant for the future of education.

I would have like a little more time for informal networking, more time for questions and discussion with the ‘stage’ speakers, but there is a lot to be said for the fire hose theory of learning! I learned so much in such a short time, but really need to follow up on most of the topics.

CAUCE-CNIE conference, 2016: Education 3.0

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No, not that Waterloo! Image: Wikipedia Artist: William Sadler

No, not that Waterloo!
Image: Wikipedia
Artist: William Sadler

What: TARGET: EDUCATION 3.0, Possibilities at The Nexus of Pedagogy, Technology and Access

Creative pedagogy coupled with openly shared digital resources are inspiring educators to explore new paths. This conference will spur conversations about current innovations as well as the implications and opportunities for future innovations.

Who: (CAUCE) Canadian Association of University Continuing Education and (CNIE) the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education

When: May 30, June 2, 2016

Where: Waterloo, Ontario

How: The call for presentations has been extended to January 11, 2016. Click here for more information.

There is no information to date on the web site about fees, registration, actual conference location or accommodation. (Hence my choice of graphic.)


I realise that this is a conference primarily for members of CAUCE and CNIE, but it is frankly unrealistic to expect people to commit to a paper or presentation with such little information.

This should be a major national conference for educational technology and online learning in Canada, and consequently I would expect the advance information to be better. There are many other good conferences around the same time, and although the theme for this conference is promising, it might be safer to choose an alternative if for financial reasons you have to make a conference commitment fairly soon.