ASCILITE 2009 Report

Illness and marking have intervened but after two weeks I have finally found time to report on my attendance at the ASCILITE 2009 conference in Auckland during 6-9 December, my first ASCILITE. This was the 26th annual conference for ASCILITE with the largest attendance, capped at 400, almost equally split between Australia and New Zealand. ASCILITE was actually held on the Gold Coast in 1989, and in Brisbane 3 times in 1994, 1999 and 2005, and for some reason I managed to miss them all. I am only glad I have discovered ASCILITE at last. It had a friendly almost family feel, a point raised by an old student of mine from Uni of Tas, Rob Phillips, who was made one of the new ASCILITE Life Members in the opening awards ceremony.

Greg Crannitch and I had a paper entitled Virtualisation – A case study in database administration laboratory work which reported on Greg’s sophisticated use of virtual machines in his advanced database class. The virtual machines are supported by the Virtual IT Teaching Lab, VITTL, which is my project. I thought our work stood up well against the virtual worlds and web site simulator projects grouped in our presentation session.

It was impressive to have the full proceedings online at the start of the conference and great to be handed a USB key of the full proceedings as well. The easy to carry ring-bound compact program with abstracts of every paper made attendance planning across the 6 parallel presentation streams a breeze. In addition we had a Moodle-based conference hub site available before and during the conference run by NetSpot where we learned of programme changes and other announcements This was the best set of conference documentation and web support I have ever experienced – hats off to the Auckland organising committee.

The Twitter backchannel around the #ascilite09 hashtag (TwapperKeeper archive of 1576 tweets) was extremely active with additional hashtags used for some of the 90-minute panels and symposia like #cacha09 for the Cascading Change event I attended where George Siemens (@gsiemens) spoke. I would dearly have liked George to be a keynote speaker. Thinking that a Google Wave backchannel might be effective I created an ASCILITE09 public wave and tweeted the link. Only three other attendees joined the wave and only one of them contributed a blip. To engender interest I tried copying some of the backchannel tweets containing useful links. I gave up on the wave by the beginning of day 3. It is clear ed tech people have not embraced Google Wave as yet which is a big surprise to me since it has such immense potential for collaboration with a recoverable history mechanism.

There was a good mix of keynote speakers with Gráinne Conole from the UK OU top of my list. She talked about New Digital Spaces and aptly all of the resources (Slideshare slides, Scribd 30-page paper, discussions, links and so on) for her talk are recorded on her CloudWorks cloud. CloudWorks is the tool she and her team at the OU are developing and which figured in her talk. Gráinne also encouraged the creation of other clouds which are collected in the ASCILITE09 Cloudscape with 16 clouds in all.

Next highest on my list is the closing keynote of James Clay, the ultimate showman and Learning Resources Manager at Gloucestershire College in the UK. As usual Gráinne created a cloud for James’ keynote with an excellent summary of presentation contents. James created a great video from his b&w photos of the conference set to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Not only did we have the live Twitter stream up on the second screen but the technological eye-opener for me was James’ presentation software sent live summary tweets as he progressed through his slides, brilliant! He is a big proponent of mobile learning which I believe will have its place but will not be as dominant as many believe. I do however completely agree with him when he suggests that the significant teacher-student relationship for both summative and formative assessment will be via each student’s personal blog or similar tool.

There were several other speakers and presentations worthy of note but not detailed here. Instead they are safely stored in my trusty Evernote notebook. Many speakers used the repetitive formula of teaching obstacles comprising inadequate teaching spaces (lecture rooms) unchanged for centuries and the challenge of the now superabundance of information. We need to take these as givens and concentrate solely on innovative learning patterns for teachers and learners going forward. One disappointment was the constant reference to Web 2.0 technology instead of speaking of the much more important social and community features of Web 2.0 online tools. Web 2.0 is another given and it is its application to learning we need to speak about.

A good summary of ASCILITE 2009 appears in an overview Prezi by unknown author Dave G. I only take issue with his comment on MacBooks which indeed were much in evidence. I felt sorry for people lugging around these old clunkers in contrast to a very few others and myself with our small, lightweight netbooks, Windows 7 powered in my case.

Overall I was extremely impressed by ASCILITE and it clear this will be a must-attend conference for me in the future. As a technologist I went in trepidation of being overwhelmed with educational theory and was pleased to see a good balance between it and the equally important technology. Having two weeks to reflect has also made it easier to report on my impressions of the conference.

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

One Response to ASCILITE 2009 Report

  1. Pingback: Google Wave Definition from a Futurist « Impressions Scholarcast

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