Category: Imported from Posterous (page 1 of 3)

Online Educa Berlin 2010

N.B. I’m blogging this as I go along – I’ll tidy things up and add links later!



Tuesday 30th November/Wednesday 1st December

Calling the taxi company only for them to tell me that no cars were running wasn’t the best start to my travel to #oeb10. I’d already had to arrange to stay over at a hotel next to Newcastle airport due to the early flight and the worsening conditions. Now, I had to drive the 15 miles from my house to the airport.

It was the worst driving conditions I’ve ever known. Diverging even slightly from hands-locked-at-the-ten-to-two position meant skidding. Scary stuff. The hotel was functional, but for anyone who’s ever seen ‘Phoenix Nights’ – well, you can imagine…

Amazingly, the both my flight to Amsterdam (which, coincidentally, was the same one my colleague Andy Stewart and his wife were catching for the connection to New York) and the flight from Amsterdam to Berlin left on time. I was amazed. Unfortunately, my baggage didn’t leave at the same time meaning I spent a good couple of hours going from pillar to post at Berlin airport standing in line and filling in forms.

A quick aside. Upon arriving in Germany I had no phone or data connection as I refuse to pay the exorbitant rates that all UK carriers impose on those daring to venture out of Fortress GB. Thankfully, and rather handily, my Amazon Kindle’s 3G connection is country-agnostic and – more importantly – free! I found Accessible Twitter (I’ve now discovered KindleTwit) and used it to send messages to my wife and Twitter network. A genuine godsend.

Back to the story. I’d arranged to meet Zak Mensah from JISC Digital Media at the hotel and, indeed, bumped into him and Steve Wheeler in the Intercontinental’s lobby soon after arrival. Zak and I went shopping with me, for the first time in my life, buying something from H&M. I literally had the clothes I was standing up in and angry fat German guy hadn’t inspired much confidence in me that I was going to see my baggage again anytime soon. I bought several jumpers (it’s -10 degrees C here and snowing), shirts, underwear, trousers and shoes, stopped by a chemist for some essentials and then headed back to the hotel.

The whole rigamarole meant I missed the workshop on mobile learning I’d booked myself in for, but I was pleased that I’d got myself sorted, in a foreign country (I speak no German apart from ‘Ich spiele de doodlesac’ – I play the bagpipes, and ‘Ich habe einen kaninchen’ – I have a rabbit, neither of which is true).  



Thursday 2nd December

I was rather disappointed with the sessions I attended on Thursday. Disappointed, in fact, to the extent that if I ever submit a session proposal to a future Online Educa conference and it’s rejected I’ll feel rather aggrieved. Given that the conference is one of the biggest events in the e-learning calendar, the standard of research and practice discussed in the sessions was rather low. It seemed to be a vehicle for having a BETT-like plethora of commercial entities pimping their wares. Disappointing.

The opening keynotes got progressively better with Charles Leadbeater’s (whose writing I really don’t like) being the best. He’s a much better speaker than writer and some of the findings and conceptualisations of his findings from Cisco-funded journeys to South America, Africa and India were spot-on. The first two keynoters, however, one from the UN’s education programme and one from Pearson didn’t speak from experience as far as I could tell and merely rehashed talks either they’d given or had heard given elsewhere. Dressing up what you’ve heard as “Let me tell you what I think…” doesn’t fool anyone.

A mobile learning workshop I attended was poor. Not only did it start very late but the presenters weren’t great – either in content or execution. You can’t judge the success of a mobile learning programme by the fact that kids love using mobile devices. That’s a given. After that session, a group of us had lunch on the top floor of the hotel which gave stunning views of the snowy Berlin urban landscape. One’s relation to snow is different depending upon whether its ramifications are your or someone else’s problem! 

In the afternoon I attended a session on digital storytelling which promised much, and indeed there was some interesting stuff I gleaned from it, but which ultimately disappointed. Perhaps I’m expecting too much, I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m not the only one who thinks that ‘learning and training’ are not synonymous and that it’s rather lazy to conceptualise what’s currently going on in schools as being ‘Victorian’. In fact, in a Q&A session after the digital storytelling session I said as much to the session chair (who had just had a go at teachers) before I asked my question of the presenter. Academic rigour, presentational skills and a base of classroom practice. Is that too much to ask? Really?

One thing that isn’t lacking at Online Educa are the networking and social aspects. Not only did I attend a drinks reception followed by a bizarre ‘party’ at which chilled beats were augmented by a 3D virtual world, but a few of us ended up in the former East Berlin at a bar upon which a thrash metal band descended. They were called ‘Superbutt’ and were actually quite melodic at times, but very very loud.

The last two conferences I’ve attended – mLearn 2010 in Malta and Online Educa Berlin 2010 in Germany – have both been in hotels. Because expensive hotels usually charge you a fortune for internet access in your room, the only place to get an internet connection is down in the lobby with the free conference wifi, or via my Kindle. The latter, obviously, is slightly limiting, but the former at least forces you to be relatively sociable in the morning. Unfortunately the wifi at both conferences hasn’t been able to cope with delegates who have probably at least two mobile devices each connecting to the wifi. It slows down to a crawl during the times that sessions take place.

I’m writing this part of the post on my Sony Vaio P11Z (don’t-call-it-a) netbook in the hotel lobby after breakfast. It really is an incredible little device and a whole lot lighter and more portable than my MacBook Pro. The keyboard is almost full-size meaning I can touch-type on it and the 1600-pixel wide screen means it’s actually got a higher resolution than the MacBook. Amazing.

The best presentation other than a keynote I’ve seen at Online Educa Berlin 2010 was Iain McLaren talking about the future of Higher Education. He questioned the various models assumed by senior leaders and government with respect to HE, followed by a fascinating tour around the ‘social imaginary’, threats to collegiality by an over-focus on productivity, questioning just how ‘innovative’ curricular innovation actually is, and the appropriation of technology by institutions for mere information transmission. After this I made a quick detour via an ‘informal ethics’ session I first saw at ALT-C featuring John Traxler, Frances Bell, Geoff Stead, Steve Wheeler, Mark Childs and Andy Black. Good stuff.

After another enjoyable lunch on the top floor of the Intercontinental talking to a couple of Finnish educators, it was back to some disappointing sessions. The handheld learning session featured only one pretty bad presentation due to cancellations. Talking about digital natives multitasking in 2010 is either lazy, misinformed or dangerous. I headed out to the ENGAGE Quality Awards. Unfortunately, this didn’t live up to its billing either. It was about serious games, granted, but there was too much emphasis on the ‘serious’ part. ๐Ÿ™


Conferences are expensive affairs and, running out of euros and having not tried the local delicacies, Zak Mensah and I decided to forgo the conference bar in favour of the German Christmas market in the centre of Berlin. We sampled currywurst and gluwein and bought some small gifts for our respective families. The cold weather, when dealt with by an organised and efficient system, isn’t too much of a hinderance. I’d certainly bring my wife back to Berlin in wintertime although I didn’t get the feeling it’s a place I’d want to bring very young children. 

Will I return to Online Educa Berlin for 2011? I doubt it. Whilst there were a couple of presentations I found relevant and I enjoyed catching up with people, it wasn’t worth four days away from my wife and child. Many of the presentations were amateurish, the corporate stands were almost BETT-like, and there was an element of one-upmanship that I hadn’t seen at many other conferences. Overall, an expensive mistake.


JISC Innovating e-Learning 2010 Online Conference – #jiscel10


This was my first foray into the world of online conferences and, overall, I think it was facilitated well: I was able to pick and choose the sessions I was interested in and schedule my regular work around it. On the other hand, with an online conference you don't tend to get to 'meet' new people. Or at least I didn't – I tended to pay attention to, and talk to, those I already knew.

I attended the following sessions:

Keri Facer's opening keynote was excellent (and very well facilitated by Helen Beetham). It was thoughtful, provocative in places and participative; a really very well-chosen start to the conference. Likewise, Anne Miller's session on innovation employed techniques showing us that we only notice what we're already paying attention to, and referenced many useful studies. Her book, How to Get Your Ideas Adopted: (And change the world) looks marvellous. I've added it to my Amazon wishlist just in time for Christmas. ๐Ÿ™‚

Graham Brown-Martin's session was provocative and included many, many links to go back to. He showed effectively that of course the future is mobile – in fact, to a great extent, the present is mobile! I wasn't keen, however, on Graham Galbraith and Jon Alltree's session as I didn't think it really lived up to its billing. It may be just my prejudices, but (as I posted in the discussion area afterwards) I feel you have to define – or at least probe – what you mean and others mean by 'innovation' (as Anne Miller did). It felt like an advert for the University of Hertfordshire most of the time. Whilst I'm sure they're doing great work these things need to go above and beyond.

I started the following sessions but bailed out due to finding the speakers boring and/or disagreeable. That, I suppose, is one of the benefits of an online conference – the ease with which you can come and go:

To my mind, online conferences will never replace all face-to-face conferences, but they can certainly augment them. I liked the way that Elluminate made it almost expected that there would be audience participation through the text chat and the voting mechanisms. That's something that you don't usually get at offline conferences.

What would I like to see next year?

  • Improvements in Elluminate so that messages in the text chat appear (if you want them to) on Twitter and vice-versa.
  • A focus on the UK – the two speakers I heard from outside the UK were poor, to my mind, and symbolically it's better to celebrate what's going on here.
  • Some other software running the back end of the conference – for example the Crowdvine, used at the ALT-C conference was a lot more intuitive, open and sociable.

What do I think needs to stay?

  • The solid introductions by facilitators, showing participants how to engage using Elluminate.
  • Timings of the session were, by and large, spot-on for my needs at least.
  • Bringing in provocateurs and people outside the establishment to mix things up a bit.

Interesting North 2010


Because, obviously, I don’t go to enough conferences in my role at JISC infoNet, I found it imperative to go to Interesting North. On a Saturday. In Sheffield. I evidently had nothing better to do with my time than listen to people talk about their Lego obsession, obscure German boardgames and the short history of bizarre words such as ‘wikiality’.

Apart from the fact that it was magnificent.

Tim Duckett, who I had a conversation with at a social media event held in Doncaster earlier this year, must be one of the most understated and self-effacing men on the planet. Interesting North was a parade of one fascinating speaker after another, held together with thoughtful planning and resourcing. I can’t wait for the videos of the presentations to emerge from the editing suite!

Attempting to describe the whole day would be rather time-consuming and rather pointless. You weren’t there. I was. That’s all there is to it, really. ๐Ÿ˜‰

For the great unwashed who failed to get tickets, then, here’s my five highlights:

1. Meeting awesome people
John Cuthell was there. Josie Fraser was there (and presenting!) Steve Bunce was there. Greg Perry was there (with a business proposition for me!) In addition were fantastic people who not only given up the majority of their Saturday to be there, but were willing to engage in appropriately interesting conversations about a whole range of things. Hopefully I’ve found someone to illustrate my thesis. When it’s finished.

2. Tom Armitage’s presentation
Tom has a blog called infovore which is even better than mine. He talked about ‘Things Rules Do’. And. It. Was. Amazing. Referencing everything from previously-mentioned obscure German boardgames (involving turning the lights off and pretending to be an elf hiding behind a tree) to ‘rocket-jumping’ in the classic video game Quake, Tom had me hooked from the start. So much, in fact, that he was pretty much the only presenter I forgot to take a photo of. Gah.

I’m going to have to read up on the work of Eric Zimmerman, who Tom referenced heavily, and think more about Tom’s assertion that we learn rules by ‘ingesting’ them rather than just reading them. This, he says, makes bound and free at the same time – free to experiment and explore.

‘Quake Done Quick’ (or QDQ to aficionados) blew my mind. The analysis of Streetfighter as a game of controlling space opened my eyes. Talk of the ‘Backgammon doubling cube’ (what fresh hell is this?) made me curious. A game called ‘Graviton’ about, says the author, work/life balance made me sad.

3. Surprising John Cuthell
John asked where I was on Twitter. I turned around in my seat to the man with the spiky grey hair behind me and said “here!”

4. Worrying about the future of South Korea
Herb Kim gave a presentation based about his personal history; people who straddle continents as he does are fascinating. His parents are from South Korea, he grew up in Brooklyn and now he lives in Liverpool and works in Newcastle. It’s the throwaway comments and anecdotes that often make presentations so interesting. This one was no exception.

Not only did Herb reference a TED Talk about a neuroscientist who had a stroke, but got all political by comparing the neo-conservative influence on George Bush with a similar influence working upon David Cameron. It was his talk of no civilisation ever surviving a birth rate lower than 1.3 per couple that made me sit up. South Korea’s is 1.21, with that of Spain, Japan and (more understandably) China not much higher. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

I don’t know whether to reference Nick Foster’s reference funny window design BMW introduced in the 1970s, Stefanie Posavec’s dissection of baseball scorecards, Oli Shaw’s hilarious mock-PhD project taking photos of people asleep on the Tube, or Eliot Fineberg explaining wikiality, historiography and algorithmic authority to us, putting a Venn diagram on the screen, pointing to the middle and then asking WTF?

38 pages of handwritten notes. Wow.

Expect a few inspired blog posts at

mLearn 2010

Oxford E-Learning Debate 2010


My experience in Oxford yesterday was one of marked contrasts. It was the difference between hyperbole and grandstanding set against authenticity and passion. The Oxford E-Learning Debate, organised by Epic is in its second year. Ostensibly, it provides a forum for discussion and (well-mannered) argument about issues central to e-learning. 

But therein lies the rub: e-learning, it would appear, in this particular context, means corporate e-learning. To me the latter seems to be closer to training than learning as I’ve ever experienced or helped facilitate it.

The event was free to attend. But for those of us who had to travel for over four hours each way and stay overnight to attend it was, of course, something of a commitment. So in ascertaining whether the event was ‘of value’ such considerations as whether the debate lived up to its promised billing are as important as the ticket price.

This house believes that technology-based informal learning is more style than substance” was the motion under debate. I should suspect that never in the history of the Oxford Union has the result of vote been more clear-cut before the debate took place. And so it proved, with those disagreeing with the motion (and therefore placing a value on technology-based informal learning) winning the debate by 259 votes to 54.

Even given the obvious result, the debaters – the greater proportion of whom were shipped across from North America – startlingly refused to engage with the terms of the (admittedly clumsily-worded) motion. A false dichotomy of ‘formal’ versus ‘informal’ learning was set up. In the end, the former was caricatured as rubber-stamped informal learning whilst the latter was alluded to as being almost anything and everything.

As is usual with face-to-face events in the days of Twitter, social networking, blogs and other means of online communication, the real value of the Oxford Union Debate was in the discussions that happened afterward. I was fortunate enough to bump into Geoff Stead (Tribal), Stuart Sutherland (NCSL) and Seb Schmoller (ALT) who provided a much more interesting insight into these matters than the, frankly poor, debaters mustered.

From the debate, after witnessing the rather flat ‘Extraordinary Learning Experience’ I headed to the Kings Arms just off Broad Street. This brought back memories as I walked past a shop that used to be Thornton’s of Oxford, a bookshop I worked in between GCSEs and A Levels, and between the latter and university. I was headed to meet Eylan Ezekiel, Director of BrainPOP UK. If Epic, to use the terms of the debate, had organised something of style but no substance, my conversation with Eylan was, as usual, the opposite of that.

If there is someone in charge of an educational publishing company with more passion, more zeal for education that Eylan Ezekiel I’d like to meet them. A former primary school teacher, Eylan and his team have been tireless supporters of grassroots educational innovation over the past few years. Everything from sponsoring TeachMeets to engaging in conversations on Twitter has shown BrainPOP to be an ‘authentic’ educational publisher.

There were many things I discussed with Eylan that remain the private conversation of friends. However, it was enlightening to find out how he ended up running BrainPOP, how he had been a freelance agitator within the educational publishing world before doing so, and the overlapping areas of interest we have due to having children of a similar age.

In these times of economic uncertainty and cutbacks, with talk of Return On Investment (ROI) and ‘doing more with less’ I believe educators have a choice. We can choose to do things the lazy way. We can be traditional and go through the motions. We can buy into monolithic systems that allow us to tick off boxes dreamed up by administrators. We can abdicate responsibility for the evolution of our institutions and ways we educate young people.

On the other hand, we can be activists. We can support grassroots innovation. We can discuss ways in which a number of different systems and workflows can be iterated to achieve our educational goals. We can take charge of our own learning and that of our children to provide something much more powerful and relevant than they currently expect.

I’m with Eylan. 


MoLeNET Conference

I was at the #molenet conference today attempting to find out case studies and examples of good practice for the JISC Mobile and Wireless Technologies Review I’m currently undertaking. Some of the photos I took are available above and the Audioboos are available here:

bMobLe Conference 2010


This was the second bMobLe Conference, organised by Education Bradford. The latter is an independent company that took control of the Local Authority in Bradford in 2001. They focus heavily on using technology to raise standards – and have done a very good job.

In many ways the conference was a object lesson on how to run a conference well. Why do I say that?

  • Open wifi – no problems with connecting any kind of device to it.
  • Great venue with rooms big enough for each activity.ย 
  • Engaging speakers – the people leading sessions knew how to present (which helps!0
  • Well-organised audio and video – everything was streamed live over the internet.
  • The right people there – they brought pupils along to showcase what they’ve been up to with new technologies. Powerful!
  • An incentive to visit exhibitors stands – you had to collect stamps from each to enter a prize draw.
  • Audience participation in a fun way – engaging speakers and use of voting pads with feedback.
  • Great food and drink – makes people feel valued
  • Informal aspect – the teachmeet was informal, well-organized and had alcohol and curry (what more do you want!)

But that’s not to say it was perfect. Things that could be improved for next time:

  1. Drinks available in more areas and for longer.
  2. Name badges to include space for Twitter/social media names (QR codes for websites?)
  3. A delegate list (they may have had this: I mislaid the bag I was given)

Overall, the best conference I’ve been to this year. Well done to the people who organised it! ๐Ÿ™‚



Where do you get your ideas for blog posts from?

In order (most to least):

1. In the shower
2. During sermons at church (I *am* listening at the same time!)
3. On the toilet
4. Whilst driving/commuting
5. Reading books & magazines

TeachMeet North East 2010

A TeachMeet is an unconference, an informal event where those with classroom experience spend either two or seven minutes explaining something they’ve done that they’ve found useful or has enhanced student learning. I’ve been to many TeachMeets and they’re usually great events with lots of inspiring people and a real ‘buzz’ around the place. I’m really glad they’ve taken off in the way they have.

However, I think it’s important to dispel a couple of myths and misconceptions about TeachMeets:
  1. It’s not ‘amazing’ that teachers give up their time to go to such events. Teachers compress their working lives pretty much 24/7 into terms and half-terms, so an evening spent at a TeachMeet is an evening not planning or marking, not an evening’s less free time.
  2. TeachMeets are not ‘the future of CPD’. Two minute and seven minute presentations are not long enough to go into the required depth to effect change. Whilst such presentations are intensely valuable, it’s the conversations that happen as a result of them that are important. Some TeachMeets facilitate the latter better than others.
TeachMeet North East 2010 was the second one I’ve been to predominantly organized by staff at Cramlington Learning Village. I’ve the utmost respect for the innovation and enthusiasm of staff at that school; they’re on the forefront of education in this country.


For an unconference it was a bit regimented in the wrong way. There was a drinks area. There was a presentations area. There were rows of un-moveable seats. There was a strict overall time limit. There was no ‘random’ picking of presenters.ย 

On the other hand, the presentations almost all ran over two and seven minutes. This might not sound like it matters on the face of it, but there’s something to be said about getting your message across in a given time. The best TeachMeets are the ones where you’re not really sure who’s organized the whole thing and it seems like a collection of people who have just turned up at a given time and place.

Reflecting more widely, I realised that some presenters at TeachMeets really are uncritical users of ‘cool tools’. There were at least two presentations that explicitly stated that they weren’t too sure what the pedagogical use of the tool was, but that “kids love it”. I’m not so sure that’s what we should be aiming for. Whilst I’m all for trying new technologies and having them in your ‘toolkit’ there’s some tools (e.g. Second Life) that weren’t ready for prime time in 2005 and still aren’t in 2010. We should stop beating a dead horse.

Overall, I’m a big fan of the TeachMeet format. I was glad to be there last night and appreciated the work the organizers put in. I just think we need to be a bit more reflective on what we’re trying to achieve here, that’s all.ย 




Support Northumbria Conference 2010

I attended the 3rd ‘Support Northumbria’ conference today. The idea behind it is great – give support staff a conference to raise their profile. I attended sessions on Business and Community Engagement, global ICT-based projects, but the highlight was the keynote from Spike Reid. He was President of the Students Union at Northumbria for two years, then went on a Land Rover-sponsored trip around the latitude of 50 degrees north. The blog about it from 2008 is here. It was great to follow his presentation in Google Earth as he talked about the highs and lows. ๐Ÿ™‚