On 1st October 2010, I attended the Future of Technology in Education conference, hosted by ULCC in London. This was the first time I’d attended FOTE (pronounced ‘footy’, it seems), and the first conference I’d learned about via Twitter. It was a free conference (if you ignore the astronomical cost of travelling to London from Bristol at far-too-early-o’clock), and with the tickets being snapped up in a Glastonbury-like frenzy some months back, I was hoping for good things.
The agenda for the day is available, but in this post I will summarise some of the talks which I found most interesting.
Starting things off in the morning, was a slick presentation from Ray Flemming of Microsoft, who introduced the issues of how hard it is to actually predict the future, before showing a video full of ‘Minority Report’ style futurisms, complete with fancy mobile technology, digital paper and an apparent complete lack of work/life division. What was scary, is that much of what was shown in the video (which is not so long off the editing suite) is already here (pico projection, touch screen interfaces, geo-location/personalisation, augmented reality etc) albeit in not such a glossy, integrated way. Despite some traditional Microsoft-baiting on the #fote10 Twitter back-channel this was a good appetite-whetter for the rest of the conference.
Next up, Jeremy Speller of UCL challenged us with presentation entitled “The Mobile University: last year’s model?“. His key thrust as I understood it was that mobile technology in education is something that’s talked about a lot and primarily driven by researchers and educational technologists; “something that the geeks want” fuelled by endless arguments about which is the right way to do something (e.g. native vs. web apps) and that the vendors are keen to promote. But it’s not yet here, or what we think of as the mobile university changes under our feet and what we thought of as the mobile university has already passed through, and we’re on to the next definition. He also described how technology is not just about smartphones and cool stuff, but also infrastructure. In retrospect, it’s obvious to think how expensive ethernet provision in new build lecture theatres has been made redundant by the faster uptake of wireless technology, with the same looking likely for power outlets as battery management becomes more efficient in new devices. WAP was seen as the future, and millions were invested in it, but where is it now? A stark warning of how it’s hard how to judge what will last and evolve, and which technologies will be trampled along the way.
James Alliban of Skive gave what I felt was the talk closest to the conference theme of “showcasing the hottest technology related trends and challenges impacting the academic sector over the next 1-3 years.” His talk on augmented reality was great, and as a techie I was sat there wanting to get home and find out more about this subject and have a play. It was also interesting that some of the demonstrations he showed were from work several years old, so perhaps AR is not so far off from being taken up more widely.
I’d love to be able to give you a précis of Miles Metcalfe’s talk, but for the life of me I can’t really remember much of it. It was deliciously cynical, that much I do remember, and I suspect that everyone came away with his quote of the day “Uncritical neophilia of the digerati“ tattooed in their minds. And the swearing…
For me, the post-lunch sessions were less interesting. James Clay’s attempt to convince us that “The iPad is the future of reading!” didn’t work for me, but possibly for the reasons James was presenting. I (think!) I understood what he was trying so hard to say, in that the iPad is a tool which enables us to find a new way to read, and does not provide just a new form of book (as the Amazon Kindle does), and that we’ve currently not exploited this. Personally, I would consider buying a Kindle, but would not just buy an iPad to experience a new way of reading (unless the price was less of a barrier to entry). Plus I just like books, to have, and to hold, so the future of reading better be pretty spectacular to get me to upgrade.
Joe Dale’s session on how to use Twitter to maintain a network of like-minded individuals was fine, but as an avid Twitter user, I found nothing new in what he had to say, although I can understand how for those uninitiated would have found it a valuable summation of the power of Twitter to be much more than a catalogue of the banal.
Possibly the most interesting talk of the day for me was Matt Lingard’s session entitled “We have the technology. We have the capability, all we need is love.” which concentrated on why, if we have all this lovely technology, and the skills to use it in an educational context, how do we successfully embed it in learning and teaching? For me, this is a key question. With the technology pretty much readily available, why is it not more widely utilised? Matt was great at making his talk (and I’ll grudgingly use the word) “interactive” giving us time to chat amongst ourselves to discuss questions he asked, and then take part in a real-time poll asking “Why don’t teachers love educational technologies?”. The results from this poll are available. Some interesting answers, such as “fear”, “don’t need it”, “failure of technology”. It was a shame this talk was not in its advertised slot at the end of the day, as I think it gave a nice counterpoint to a lot of the issues raised in other talks (some of which came after Matt’s).
In general, I thought the programme was full (possibly a little too so, leading to rushing some presentations and little time for questions) and varied, featuring speakers from a wide range of institutions and backgrounds. As a university techie who keeps well away from students and has only limited access to teaching staff, some of the talks were useful in terms of getting me thinking whether I could make use of the subject matter in my day job. I’ve spent the following weekend thinking about the day and trying to work out if I thought it was a conference I’d attend again – an answer I’ve yet to come up with.
One thing was new to me. This was the first non-geek conference I’ve attended since Twitter has gone properly ‘mainstream’. I was amazed at the number of tweets being sent, from those in the room, and those watching either through the virtual conference in Second Life or just monitoring the Twitter hashtag. This does put a whole new complexion on presenting at conferences, and one that would certainly make me think twice about presenting myself. I like the idea of a separate channel of discussions going on during the presentations, but I did find that some of the discussion skirted quite closely with harsh criticism of the speaker – it sometimes worth remembering that what you write will not just be seen by those on the channel at the time, but is a permanent record which once released is almost impossible to reign in – perhaps another reason why teachers/lecturers may be wary of committing themselves to recordings of their lectures?
Overall though, the conference was a success in challenging my ideas and preconceptions of education needs and practises in areas of which I have no direct experience. If nothing else, I’ve added to my Personal Learning Network on Twitter, and I’m going to look for some ESRC funding into the relation between television size and income. Ask James Clay if you’re not sure why I might be doing that.