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DEANZ conference 2006

I can’t believe July is almost over for another year. This has been a lean month for me here in my blog. The days have been long and wearisome. Winter has struck with a vengeance and that always slows everything down including the brain! Things seem to take longer and the days seem so incredibly short. The reduced daylight hours appear to have this effect on me. Maybe it is a simple case of ‘winter blues‘?

Throughout the centuries, poets have described a sense of sadness, loss and lethargy which can accompany the shortening days of fall and winter. Many cultures and religions have winter festivals associated with candles or fire. Many of us notice tiredness, a bit of weight gain, difficulty getting out of bed and bouts of “the blues” as fall turns to winter.

Or maybe it is just that I spend too much time inside, in front of this computer?

Earlier this month I attended the DEANZ conference which was held at Auckland University of Technology in Auckland. Weather caused havoc on the first day of the conference because Auckland Airport, and a number of other New Zealand airports, were closed due to fog. This meant the arrival of a significant number of participants was delayed. The conference organiser found himself having to re-shuffling the order of the presentations so that the programme could continue. Flexibility was definitely the theme of that day. I was going to be presenting two papers at the conference. Suddenly I found myself doing the first of these at 10am and the next one that same afternoon! Thank goodness I was prepared and I’m thrilled to say both papers were really well received.

The first paper, All e-learning in the same basket? Challenging a social constructivist ‘fit for all’ was a collaborative effort with two of my colleagues from The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand: Anouk Janssens-Bevernage and Sue Dark, both from the e-Learning Office. This paper explores how relevant social constructivism is to the design of the learning experience in the vocational e-learning context.

The second paper, Weblogs as dynamic learning spaces, relates to my current interest in blogs and their potential as reflective learning spaces. I wish to develop this paper further and I would value feedback on it.

After delivering this presentation I became known as the ‘blog lady’ for the remainder of the conference.

The potential blogs offer to learning is only just beginning to be realised. I am fascinated as to how much I have learnt as a direct result of maintaining my own blog. I did not become a blogger because I had to do so as a part of any course I was taking. I became a blogger because I was interested in exploring this form of online communication. It was self-driven learning and through this process I have connected to like minded people all over the world. It is almost better than having a conversation with someone in-person because you can think about what you want to say and research it. Through the engagement of others my thoughts can still be developed further and even changed based on the feedback I receive.

Consequently I have become very interested in informal learning. Jay Cross talks about rapid and deep informal learning.

Rapid informal learning is like driving a car. It’s expensive but it gets you where you want quickly.
Examples: Asking, searching, skimming, observing, conversing, subscribing, trial-and-error.

Deep informal learning is like riding a bike.Deep informal learning is like riding a bike. You decide where you’re going. You set the pace. You stop to help others.
Examples: Reflecting, mentoring, storytelling, nurturing, modelling, connecting, giving feedback.

Blogging, in my view, is a particularly powerful tool which lends itself well to deep informal learning.

Mark Nichols, Strategic E-Learning Facilitator, College of Education, Massey University, commented in his blog MasseYSELF:

One trend I noticed for the first time at this conference was that of the bureau of bloggers sitting around the edges of the room. It seems that conferences which provide wireless access also enable these people to blog – live – the events of the conference …

The major themes of the conference for me personally, and these were gleaned from conversation as much as from presentations, were …

  • Distance education will remain a distinct area of expertise that encapsulates such things as e-learning.
  • Web 2.0 is becoming an increasingly important consideration for distance educators.
  • You can’t stop bloggers from blogging; some people get very nervous when you mention not accessing the Internet or email for a time.

Mark also delivered a great presentation at the conference on The digital divide: The most significant barrier to e-learning in distance education. Mark claims that in education the digital divide is not about the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ but rather it is about a mindset that has not engaged with the Internet. It has nothing to do with access but it is more to do with engagement; the real divide in education is between the academics and their students.

There were lots of wonderful things to come out of this conference. It took advantage of technology by having a number of virtual presentations from speakers in Canada and the UK using Elluminate. I meet some fantastic people from a diversity of backgrounds. I also came away with a real sense that distance education is an exciting place to be as it grapples with the challenges of creating learner-centered learning environments using the plethora of technology now so readily available. Ultimately we want to create the best possible learning experience for the learner no matter where they are. Flexibility is a given these days as we have to meet the many demands placed on us by our work and private lives.

I came away feeling excited. Oh yes, I also found myself voted into the Executive with the role of Secretary!

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