UniServe Science News Volume 10 July 1998



Ian Johnston
Director, UniServe Science
The University of Sydney

This conference, held at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, June 15-17, was the fourth in a series of international conferences held in different countries in Europe, devoted to the topic of Computer Aided Learning and Instruction in Science and Engineering. Since most of the institutions represented in the organizing group are the European Technical Universities, it would be more accurate to say " .. in the Physical Sciences and Engineering". There were no life sciences represented at all, just lots of physicists, chemists, computer scientists and engineers. The tone was set by the opening invited speaker, the educationalist Ference Marton, world renowned for his work in the theory of learning, who also happens to have Chalmers as his home university. His paper, entitled "The University of Learning" posited that in a university, what students do (learning) and what academics do (research) are essentially the same process, and that any introduction of IT into teaching should take that fact into account in its design. His presence also had another effect. Most of the papers, particularly from the locals, showed evidence of relying on a background of educational research, and a strong emphasis on careful evaluation. Unusual indeed for a conference of this type.

Because of the preponderance of physical scientists and engineers there were very few CAL-type tutorial packages in evidence, but much stress on simulations and professional computation tools. Among the computer science contingent there were several projects described which talked about intelligent tutorial systems and quite elaborate templates for employing them in developing teaching materials.

Australia was surprisingly well represented. Carmel McNaught, from RMIT, Melbourne, was one of the invited speakers, talking on "Evaluation Tools for Developing and Using Computer Facilitated Learning Environments". There were two others from Melbourne, one from Wollongong, as well as yours truly. What was all the more noticeable however, was the absence of representatives from the USA. Apart from one invited speaker, Mark Gudzial from Georgia Tech, Atlanta, there was no one. It is an unfortunate feature that many of us notice at international conferences - the great divide between Europe and the USA. They each have their own conferences, in isolation from one another. And often it is the Australians who turn up at both. Is there a niche role there for us as information brokers?

Anyhow it was a pleasant and informative three days. The weather was appalling, cold and wet, rather like the winter I thought I was leaving behind. The next conference in the series, October 1999, is in Sophia. Now there's a place to visit!

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UniServe Science News Volume 10 July 1998

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