After a short introduction from the Lord Mayor of Leeds, conference chair John Cook handed over to Miguel Brechner from Uruguay to talk about the inspiring Plan Ceibal.
This project started in 2006 and tapped into the One Laptop Per Child programme to provide every schoolchild in Uruguay with a laptop and Internet access. I can’t really do it justice here, but I encourage you to watch the recording of his talk and the questions afterwards.
By focusing on users and usability, rather than on the technology, and not just letting vendors taking the lead, Plan Ceibal has made a reall cultural and social difference in Uruguay. Kids are now eager to get to school, parents are getting online with the help of their children.
It raises serious questions about how we do technology in our schools. I don’t have the statistics to hand, but it sounds rather like a developing country has more schoolchildren with Internet access than we do, which is worrying. If they can teach programming and robotics in primary school, why are we still having computer classes (and qualifications, such as ECDL) that focus on word processing and spreadsheets?
Cloud Learning with Google Apps
My first parallel session was about Google Apps in education. I had high hopes of this, but to be honest, I didn’t feel I learnt very much from it.
The guy from Google did wave a Chromebook around, which looks like a very useful device, but possibly a bit hamstrung without a network connection until HTML5 offline web apps become a bit more commonplace. There were also rumours of being able to run virtualised desktop apps in the browser thanks to a partnership with Citrix, but no demonstration of how at might work.
The one thing that did show some promise was the brief mention of Manish Malik’s work to use Google App Engine to start building a VLE integrated with Google Apps, which he calls a Cloud Learning Environment. I’ll be looking into that in a bit more detail when I get a chance.
After lunch it was three short papers on the general theme of collaboration with technology. Jill Fresen of the University of Oxford gave a nice overview of the mobile interface, Mobile Oxford, to their Sakai-based VLE, WebLearn. They’ve done some really interesting work with it, especially integrating with the Sakai Polls tool to make a cheap, mobile audience response system.
Jak Radice and Maureen Readle had some interesting stories to tell about
digital story telling. They’ve done some really interesting work (with their
colleague at the University of Bradford, Caroline Plews) bringing the stories
of real health service users into the classroom. If you’re interested in
learning more about that, take a look at their fictional town of
Finally, Chris Turnock talked about his work with Erik Bohemia at Northumbria
University setting up tools to help students collaborate with each other and
with external partners. I really like they way they focused on open source
solutions and managed to ensure they were as integrated as possible into the
Next up, I’m afraid I wasn’t paying as much attention as it was my turn to
speak. You can see my poster and slides about our Virtual Research Environment
in my earlier post, and if I get round to it
I’ll add some words to the slideshare presentation so you can all understand
what it was all about!
Also in the same session, Alan Cann from the
University of Leicester asked some interesting questions about reading lists
for students, which came out of his attempts to get his own students reading
around the subject more.
Finally, Philip Wane from Nottingham Trent University had some useful thoughts
on his experiments providing feedback to his students via video. Not only did
most students watch their own feedback, they also watched each others, and
watching the videos made them much more likely to collect the paper versions of
their assignments from the office and read the feedback in the margins too.
I suppose I should mention that the dinner tonight was pretty impressive. I’m
sure James Clay will have tweeted
photos of it, but it’s a bit late at night to go searching for the link now so
I’ll leave it there.
Looking forward to tomorrows session, especially Anne-Marie Cunningham’s
invited talk on professional identity and some intriguing-sounding banjo
playing from Dave Kernohan in “Are we in open
country?”. Bye for now…