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Learning Technology: critical, reflective, empowered #OEB15

Berlin Fernsehturm
View from the lunch break

Thanks to stimulating plenary sessions, a useful exhibition, plenty of networking and the opportunity to contribute a presentation I got a lot out of participating #OEB15 from 2-4 Dec in Berlin. Now that I’m back, here are my personal reflections on the experience. If you are interested in more information I suggest you look for the videos, storify streams, blog posts and varied other content that the conference organisers make available – definitely worth a look 🙂

One of the highlights for me are the plenary sessions organised at the conference which bring together a broad line up of speakers from across the world. Two particular highlights for me this year were Cory Doctorow speaking on privacy on day 1 and Lia Commissar, Wellcome Trust, on neuroscience in education on day 2.

Cory Doctorow What I found particularly interesting in both talks were the connections between the wider issues facing us and technology used for learning and teaching. For example the importance of young people gaining the skills to become good digital citizens, to be empowered in their relationship with technology and the internet – and to be able to engage with wider issues (political, social or economic) effectively by using technology. While these skills are needed to make effective use of Learning Technology it was interesting to reflect on how many other areas of life now require digital literacy and skills. FullSizeRender (16)Meanwhile the focus on neuroscience and advance in trying to understand how our brains work was a sobering reminder of how little we know as yet as well as opening up a new perspective on the huge potential of research currently being undertaken. Some of the examples of ‘myth busting’ in the session were particularly revealing, e.g. many in the audience were surprised to find out that while personal preferences could certainly be observed, research could not demonstrate that different ways of delivering learning made a difference. This stood in contrast to a teen-led discussion the afternoon before where young people clearly expressed their own preferences e.g. that they felt they learnt better when using a mobile phone or video than making notes on paper in the classroom. One common thread for me however was a strong sense of trying to give people, both learners and teachers, more control, more power. In the face of rapid change and innovation there can be a sense of powerlessness, of loss of perspective – and much of the conference reminded me that skills, knowledge exchange and transparency can make a big difference in creating empowered use of Learning Technology. FullSizeRender (1)The panel I contributed to for example had a focus on peer-based accreditation and assessment. If you’d like to have a look at my presentation, you can see some snapshots and download it (CC-BY) here.

Another highlight for me was seeing Bryan Mathers, City & Guilds, in action sharing a journey in visual thinkery with participants. At a conference so packed with complex issues, new technologies and ever larger challenges facing individuals and institutions across the world it was important to me to be reminded that individuality, creativity and human interaction are not less, but more important in the digital age. That might seem like a rather obvious observation to make but with technology becoming ever more pervasive and the potential of its applications looming larger it is easy to forget that we have choices as human beings that technology doesn’t have. We don’t programme machines to have the freedom think and feel the way we do outside of their area of application – a point discussed by another inspiring plenary speaker and Professor of Artificial Intelligence, Toby Young.FullSizeRender (20)   With an event as large and varied as this, it’d be easy to write many different posts focused on entirely different sessions from world class research to thought provoking debates. Personally I have taken a lot of inspiration away and in particular a fresh perspective on the enduring question about Learning Technology and its impact. We keep asking whether it really makes a difference, whether it has a positive impact on learning outcomes, test scores or learner success? What events like this help me see is that as our world changes, as everything from our economic structures to social behaviours is shaped in part by the technologies we also use in the classroom, Learning Technology and its critical, reflective and above all empowered use becomes ever more crucial to all lifelong learners.