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Back from Berlin

December 7th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I am just about recovering from an interesting but hectic five days in Berlin last week.

On Monday and Tuesday we had a meeting of the European funded G8WAY project. Just to recap for new readers this project is looking at the issues involved in educational transitions, particularly between school and university and university and work, and is seeking to develop social software to support such transitions.

Much of the first year of the project has been taken up in researching the issues. Particularly interesting is the stories of young people which have been collected by the partners and posted on the web site. From these stories we have refined down three key persona and in parallel have been looking at the potential for interventions. This in itself raises a series of ethical issues. Do young people want us to intervene? (teacher leave the kids alone!). How much can the ‘collective’ project team claim expertise to intervene? And if we are merely raising opportunities for story telling and peer support is that an intervention?

And of course last week came the hard part. Just what can we expect to achieve in a small funded two year project. How from all the ideas we have do we take this decision? These issues not withstanding, the meeting made progress and I will report further on our next years plan of work in the near future.

On Wednesday, we held an On-line Educa Berlin pre-conference workshop on ‘Careers 2.0 – Supporting educational transitions with Web 2.0 and social software.’ (I have a horrible feeling I wrote the title. I promise I will stop putting 2.0 after everything now – I know it is an annoying habit).

The workshop was a lot of fun, because of the lengthy and detailed planning that had gone into it, the enthusiasm of our guest speakers and the participation of the audience. I am not sure if we videoed it but I thought that Tabea, Magda and myself ‘acting’ or role playing young people telling their transition stories was one hundred times more effective than if we had done the usual powerpoint presentation of our findings. Participants also gave us much useful feedback for the project which once more I will publish here as soon as it is written up.

And then on to Online Educa itself. It was a somewhat hectic three days for me. Besides the pre-conference workshop, we presented two on line radio shows in our Sounds of the Bazaar series, I presented a paper on Vygotsky and Personal Learning Environments, I chaired a session on Open Education Resources and took part in a debate – Is the LMS dead?

This pretty much took up all of my time so my impressions of the conference may be a bit limited. Online Educa is a great social occasion and it was brilliant to catch up with so many friends from many different countries. But to me at least the conference felt a little flat – it was hard to detect any discernible buzz. If there was a meme it was that the future is mobile but that is hardly new! The debate on the Is the LMS Dead? was a little strange. there were four of us in the debate – Larry Johnson, from The New Media Consortium, USA, Roger Larsen, formerly from Fronter and now taken over by Pearson Platforms, Norway, Richard Horton, from Blackboard International, UK and myself.

I was ready for a good bad tempered debate with lots of sneaky point scoring (especially after having consorted with the enemy from Blackboard over a bottle of wine the previous evening). But they never offered any real defence. Roger basically said we need an LMS as an extra layer of software – to enable single sign on and that sort of thing to provide easy access to social software. Indeed he opened up by saying he agreed the LMS was dead! And all Richard could say to defend Blackboard was that institutions needed applications for management and administration. But neither pretended any learning value for their respective platforms – indeed neither really seemed to want to talk about learning. So maybe the LMS is dead – they are simply giving up. And maybe the real debate is not with fronter or Blackboard but with Moodle.

Anyway a big shoutout to everyone I met last week. And many thanks to our ;crew for all their hard work – to Eileen, Judith, Klaus, Dirk and Jen.

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