HEA conference 2012, Manchester

by Paul Maharg on 03/07/2012

Liveblogging the HEA conference, day 1.  Martin Bean, VC of the OU, giving the keynote.  Gave a review of the problems of information overload, via Vannevar Bush and Denis Diderot.   Tech in HE is not about hard and software, it’s about people and process which, according to him, is a point that’s always been there for universities (totally agree with him on that, especially re my favourite topic in that neighbourhood, the glossators — and more on that re lawtechconference last week).

Our collective challenge is to transform information into meaningful knowledge.  So what’s our job?  Help our students make sense of information, help them triangulate and come to their own opinions.  Went on a micro-rant about googlization of our students’ research practices, and pretty dismissive of wikipedia, but his point about trusted domains, and our duty to point students to them is undeniable.  Interesting data from the Report to HEFCE by NUS, with students asking for integration of digital lifestyles and digital work styles.  What, Bean asks, can we do about it?  Cites the example of Carl Weinman — good example.

Where does technology matter in HE?  He gave examples from his own institution, the OU.  Started with the idea of relevant, personalized, engaging learning.  Some amazing stats — over a billion people to watch OU TV etc this year.  He showed the trailer for Frozen Planet, co-produced with the Beeb — fantastic production values.  You don’t actually need them, he said — cf YouTube etc.  He’s right on that: Khan Academy is the classic example (his own was some OU youtube stuff).

He pointed out the impact of iTunes U.  Over 54 M downloads by over 6 M unique visitors, currently over 270,000 per week, with 90% visitors outside the UK and 1 in 33 going on to visit the OU website and more than 1M subscriptions through its 52 OU courses on the new iTues U app.

Mobility is a key issue for OU and it ought to be for HE.  He showed a geology app that turned the phone into a microscope, and a Chinese character app.  The Frozen Planet interacts via website, poster, ebook, interactive, sample course and study courses — and the courses are way over-subscribed.  Great ideas.

He argued for agile processes in tech & education — my favourite idea in design, possibly.  Eg private iTunes  in the OU’s MOODLE VLE.

Access was the next issue.  Especially OER — my second favourite topic in HE design.  We are, he said, at the Napster moment in HE, where concepts of music shape in the market changed fundamentally because of Napster, eg tracks available, instead of whole CDs, renting stuff, etc.  Without Napster that broke the conventional model, no iPod, no online forms of delivery such as Spotify.

Nurturing powerful communities of learning was his final point.  How do we develop those?  That’s a key question for us — exciting, fast, social networks that we need to embrace, where there are social networks that are tuned in for learning  — people like me > people who challenge me; friends > learning peers, etc.

We need, he said, gentle, more open slopes of learning, with smaller milestones, exploiting www resources, accredited by mentors and the platform.

Good story told by him.  School pupil said to him that school learning was like flying on an airplane.  Why, said Martin?  Cos you have to sit down, and you have someone up front you don’t know doing the important stuff, and because they tell you to switch off all your electronic devices.  Can’t argue with that.  Great keynote.

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