AusWeb 2008 Report

In 2008 AusWeb reverted to a smaller, more intimate, conference at Ballina, the place where the original AusWeb 1995 was born. Around 80 delegates gathered to discuss the theme ‘Reflecting on the Past: Anticipating the Future’.

The keynotes were varied and interesting as usual. Shirley Alexander, who spoke about e-learning at AusWeb 1995, is now DVC at UTS for online learning. Her call reminded us that we overestimate the effect of work-changing technology in the short term and that it is the end users that determine how successful new technology will be. Using the analogy of the telephone she showed us how online learning technology has not lived up to its early promise in the first 10 years with several spectacular failures. However figures from the last couple of years shows online learning is gaining acceptance but only after the online learners needs have specifically been taken into account.

It was pleasing to see Bond IT and Business alumnus Geoffrey Kwitko give his keynote on creating online communities. His ShareScene site, mainly a forum, now has 16,000 members interested in swapping information about share investing in Australia. Geoffrey began this site just prior to coming to Bond and during his studies harnessed some of his fellow students (including my PhD student Matt Carter) to expand and develop ShareScene. He gave a competent talk and was very active in discussions throughout the conference.

The keynote from Graham Ingram from AusCERT certainly gained our attention in alerting us to the growing security threats on the web, and how the number of machines compromised by bots, phishing threats and ID theft is growing alarmingly. David Lowe, an AusWeb veteran, talked about the mismatch between software engineering using modelling techniques and web building and introduced us to the potential of sensor networks controlled via the web. Finally, Stephen Atherton from Apple Australia gave us a run through iTunesU which allows universities to easily distribute educational materials such as PDF, podcasts and video through iTunes. This service will be available in Australia during 2008.

With only one parallel paper track this time it was good to be able to hear 10 out of the 14 presentations from paper authors. I was one of the speakers and presented and discussed the joint paper from David Baker and me about the Web-Integrated Learning Environment. This was David’s MIT Honours project supervised by myself. He built the WILE prototype LMS as a mashup of publicly available web services, mainly from Google. The work generated a number of questions in the paper track session and the basic idea was well accepted. Our work also tied in well with the paper by Ian Reid from UniSA about Online Strategy Revisited.

Other papers/posters I found noteworthy:

Sally Burford won best paper for her IA work for the web.

Long time AusWeb conference chair Allan Ellis warned us that the numbers supporting the conference are too low for it to continue in its present form. Either attendance must be raised, a radical change in the conference undertaken or the conference will fold. A stark choice. We are given 3 months to come up with an effective solution to this problem.

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About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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