Monday, October 02, 2006

Thoughts from efest 2006

Had a busy and enriching time in Wellington for efest 2006 last week. There was a thought provoking keynote by Steven Downes on the difference between groups and networks. The next day, we had Diane Obinger’s live streaming video keynote from the US of A. A good demonstration of technology working to lower the boundary of distance. Her quick fire presentation provided a great overview of how we should be asking our students about how they would like to see their learning structured and the role of learning spaces in helping to bring about a change in the teaching styles of teachers.

Also managed to catch up with the open space conf. for networked learning, On Thurssday they had set up an open space in one of the rooms for a couple of hours and people could come in and engage with the participants of the networked learning road show. I met up with Alex Hayes and we had a very fruitful conversation with regards to his work with rural aboriginal communities in Australia and my work on mlearning.

Efest has certainly grown each year I have attended. The number of presentations has increased and generally, all the speakers were well prepared and the topics were well thought through. There was also plenty of opportunity for networking starting with a breakfast session at 7.30am, lunch time forums and a drinks cum nibbles session at the Loaded Hog (sponsored by Catalyst) on Thursday evening. Along the way, there was morning & afternoon tea plus many of the sponsors had set up booths with their wares for conference participants to have a look at.

During this conference, I saw much more information and awareness of social net working and Web 2.0 type applications as compared to last year. At a panel discussion on Friday afternoon (moving technology), I raised the question about where the panel thought web 2.0 applications would be going. The range of replies was very interesting. Some institutions were unable to readily access Web 2.0 tools due to the nature of their network’s firewalls. There was also agreement that many Web 2.0 tools were put on line to gauge the market for the product. Once there was an established pool of users, there would often be a charge for an upgraded form of the tool. The tools that did not attract the requisite number of users were likely to suddenly disappear, leaving the students who had been using the tool (& the tutor who was relying on the material to assess it) stranded.

A couple of invited speakers inspired me. Meegan Hall from Cultureflow gave a down to earth description of how their business filled a market niche for learning Maori and then went on to adapt their product to help learners of other languages. Her can-do attitude epitomised the Kiwi ‘have a go’ capacity. Hazel Gamec and Lin Yew Cheang from Wanganui School of Design presented Lin Yew’s work on interactive audio – visualisation. His work on the manipulation of icons on a computer screen along the lines of the movie Minority Report was visually beautiful. His concept of using icons as a form of language was also very interesting. They provided a glimpse into the possibilities for the future when interaction with a computer would become much more intuitive and pictograms / icons may be used as a form of communication.