Back from EdMedia 2011

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EdMedia '11 included the usual mix of various paper genres. Most belong to what I would call "mainstream topics in technology-enhanced education". I had the impression that both attendance and proportion of younger people was lower than usual. I truly enjoy the openness of EdMedia. Anyone that has a good idea or did create a nice design (and can write) is allowed to present. In that respect, EdMedia continues to play an important role in the landscape. I also found the PhD track interesting, although it might be improved by adding more difficult and more technical subjects.

The big topics of the keynote talks were the social, open content and mobile apps. I got various problems with all three of these as I shall explain below a bit.

My Mediawikis for research, teaching and learning paper got an award. I first thought that there was a mistake in the program, but the person in charge of the program told me that she double checked. Well, if I got an award for everything I did with MediaWikis, i.e. the stuff described in the paper, then I can accept it. I won't further investigate :)

My embroidered shirt didn't work at all and that's ok for a first version. The problem was that people did not "see it". Most interviewed folks told me that they did notice some strange and maybe intriguing colors but they did not look closer. A next version must have a big text on top to attract the eyes, e.g. something like "EdMedia '12" or "Better EdTech". However, after pointing out to people that I was wearing conference embroidery, the idea was liked and GillianP on twitter gave me a "best shirt" award :)

My problems with some of the trendy topics:

(1) Social media, while useful, tend to divert people's attention from doing and constructing. Knowing about and sharing something is not the same as knowing and as co-constructing knowledge. On a related issue, I feel the same about so-called personal learning environments. Having a webtop-like widget manager doesn't really guarantee that students will learn anything. It just may help to manage multiple "spaces" a bit. Similar issues for e-portfolios. Read Martin Weller's Eportfolios - J'accuse.

In addition, and that even makes me angry, some presenters have this naive idea that the young generation knows how to use digital devices. Of course, a kid can use a Smartphone and play games and upload/download artifacts. Some adults can't, but they are able to repair a bicycle instead or remember how to play with a pinball machine. Kids can't use SPSS, Illustrator, or even a Wiki, i.e. can't create knowledge from data and other information, can't design anything with a moderately complex design software. That's not a drama since that stuff can be taught. But please stop confusing digitalization of bronze age social practices with knowledge working. Read Doug Holton's The Digital Natives / Digital Immigrants Distinction Is Dead, Or At Least Dying or ED-MEDIA Helps Put the Nail in the "Digital Natives" Coffin via (Paulo Simões)

As far as I am concerned, the most spectacular innovation in the social area is e-science and more simple derivatives that target high-schools and citizens. No talks about that, I believe.

(2) Open content often boils down to creating repositories financed by charity funds and large politically driven programs. You then - if everything goes planned - will find some so-called learning objects inside, mostly syllabi, slides and some IMS CP/SCORM menu-based courseware. Not much effort in this community is spent on creating truly useful contents, e.g. good quality textbooks. E.g. initiatives like Wikiversity or WikiBooks (better) still don't take off the ground. Ironically, EdMedia papers are not open and most contributors don't even make theirs available as pre-prints. In other words, open educational resources is mostly something that is for the others to do. Good exceptions are open academic journals and people who start thinking about new digital academic scholarship. Finally, most OER champions don't understand documents. IMS/IEEE standards are a joke since they favor the idea that documents are menus + metadata. Real documents like a textbook are big and structured and require different standards, e.g. street standards like Mediawiki syntax, old standards like DocBook or combinable flexible formats like DITA. The two latter are too hard to learn and MediaWiki syntax is a mess. We are out of luck.

(3) Many people are fascinated by the wonderful world of Smartphone "Apps". I got two problems with these.

  • Most Apps could be implemented over the web, e.g. with XHTML mobile, HTML 5 or even Flash. These are portable. I-phone/android/windows/etc. apps are not. Each vendor has its own very difficult to learn development framework. In addition, in the case of Apple one has to go through their censorship which is something I politically cannot support.
  • Most Apps really look like the kind of software that we had in the eighties, i.e. simple CBT programs or simple simulations of various kinds. I do appreciate behaviorist learning designs, but fail to understand why these are being hailed as the future by folks who otherwise think themselves as constructivists.

Some Apps are useful though, e.g. the ones who allow to bridge the classroom with the field.

Another popular subject was desktop virtual reality, and Second Life in particular. I only went to two talks and had the impression that these somehow lagged behind concepts and implementations that are discussed in more specialized conferences. However, I don't have the full picture and will not comment further.

Regrettably, divides between various EduTech communities seem to be widening. E.g. many people I talked with didn't know what CSCL, workflow or microworlds could mean. In addition, many others don't seem to be aware of the rich diversity in Instructional design models or Pedagogic strategies. I also wonder how many EdMedia folks also attend AECT conferences. Both have very similar aims but look differently at similar issues, i.e. most AECT participants do have an interest in instructional design while most EdMedia participants probably have either a wider perspective or and ad-hoc one. I won't mention conferences like CSCL and ICLS sponsored by ISLS, places of a totally different planet it seems. Other divides concern talk in conferences (even in an applied one like EdMedia) and current reforms in education that rather seem to favor basic "hard" knowledge. Finally, interests shift a lot with respect to origins, e.g. in the US interest in microworlds and simulations is still strong whereas in Europe there was a lot of talk about learning design. The only common interest in the simulation area are (sometimes rather trivial) serious games. Other issues that are perceived very differently concern privacy and control. E.g. most Europeans do have some concerns about privacy, including educational analytics hailed by George Siemens as the most important innovation. People from several emerging countries expressed their fear of lack of control, something I cannot subscribe to. Interesting differences, but we will have to make an effort in order to insure some productive dialog ...

Other reports:

  • EdMedia 2011, by Paulo Simões on Scoop.it. Paulo created a quite amazing collection there. Must consult !