Well, as first time visitors to ALT-C, we are loving it so far!

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University Place in which the conference is held

In terms of sessions, the day kicked off with an intro, then a popular keynote speech from Eric Mazur (Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University), who discussed some research his group has done on gender issues in science courses and on the effectiveness of classroom demonstrations.

Next up was James Clay who talked about the history of tablets and how they have now gone mainstream – almost every family member is using one.  Tablets are now in the classrooms and in the hands of learners.

James joked about how, regarding hardware, we should have now moved on from the USB stick! He also noted consumption and that tablets reduce the journey time to information, and anyone can now access hundreds of years of news.

Pilots for tablets in the classroom were discussed and James asked the audience to reflect on why people are still piloting tablets, when so many pilots have already been done? He suggested that we should use the masses of existing research, and look at future technology of 10 or even 20 years ahead, and start researching and piloting that now. Interesting point.

Following James’s session was Aaron Sloman, who unfortunately had some technical problems and was unable to show his slides or use notes! This considered, he still delivered a brilliant session on computational thinking.  This is a phrase that comes from computer science professor, Jeannette Wing. Aaron works to add motivation to computational thinking, which he describes as information processing. He referred to some interesting squirrel proof bird tables and windmill examples and explained that these were human designed.

Aaron went on to say that in education, when you experiment and make observations, there are thousands of factors to consider that can be uncontrolled in the classrooms, for example what toys were they using, what equipment, where etc.

He also asked, can we build machines that learn? We have databases and programs for example search engines – can learner’s minds work in this way? All good questions to consider.

Aaron suggested that we need to have a deep theory about what goes on in learners minds – which we don’t at the moment.

He ended with the question – what happened before there were teachers? We need to think about biological evolution and understand why things must be the way they are. He used various examples for this throughout the session such as gravity, the space within a triangle if you move the points, shapes and motion.

In the afternoon at ALT-C in the main theatre, Leena Vainio, who had travelled all the way from Finland, delivered a session on adult students as peer learners. Leena is the research director at HAMK University of Applied Sciences and chair of the Finnish E-learning Association.

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Leena Vainio session

Leena began by explaining how she uses remote working a lot as she lives in Helsinki and the university is some 100kms away in Hameenlinna.  The university is also in seven different locations, so E-learning works very well for this institution.

She made some points stating that formal learning is not enough anymore, and digital literacy skills demand new ways of teaching and learning. Peer learning is collaboration and communication that has advantages such as sharing, trust and respect and peers can motivate and give meaning.

There was an example given about a project where adult students would gain digital literacy skills by using networks. They used elements or self organised learning using methods and tools such as recorded online sessions, team projects and online meetings. Creative tools that were successfully used included TeamSpeak3, Facebook. Twitter, LinkedIn, Moodle and Delicious.

Elizabeth Hartnell-Young followed Leena’s session. Elizabeth had also travelled a long way to be at ALT-C 2012, all the way from Australia. Her session was reflecting on system-wide digital learning environments for schools, taking about a Ultranet – a learning environment that Victoria, Australia has developed.

Two years on, Elizabeth demonstrated the proven successes of these technology environments used in schools.

The day was really insightful, covering on many different areas and learning technology topics. This is not even covering half the excellent stuff that was on throughout the day!

We also met lots of nice new folks on our stand and had some interesting conversations. Looking forward for what’s in store on day two at ALT-C 2012!