UniServe Science News Volume 18 October 2001


Ed-Media 2001

Sue Franklin
The University of Sydney
Roderick Sims
Deakin University

ED-MEDIA 2001 - World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications is an international conference, sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). The conference was held in Tampere, Finland from June 25-30, 2001 and serves as a multi-disciplinary forum for the discussion and exchange of information on the research, development, and applications on all topics related to multimedia/hypermedia and distance education. Over 1000 delegates attended from 40 different countries, a record for the Ed-Media conferences.

Tampere is approximately 200km north of Helsinki and is the second largest city in Finland. It has a beautiful setting between two lakes, with the Tammerkoski rapids connecting the lakes, and the city surrounding the rapids. Many of the old textile industry buildings have been converted to museums, galleries and restaurants. One of the highlights was a surprise outing for the workshop presenters - it was to a Finnish Sauna, women first, men second. We were welcomed by a dignitary and had good Aussie wine to drink. The sauna was an amazing experience, pretty hot at 1200C, birch leaves to beat yourself with, and a swim in the cold lake followed by more wine and dinner.

The conference presentations themselves were mixed in terms of content and quality, with online learning being a major focus of course. Interestingly, there were a significant number of papers in the streams attended that focused on the products themselves, in comparison to similar events in Australia that have moved from the 'show-and-tell' environment into a research-based focus - examining the ways in which students use technology to learn and the dynamics of teaching and learning environments.

Of particular interest were the keynote presentations by Nokia, where the importance of mobile-learning (m-learning) was emphasised and that by David Jonassen, one of the most prolific writers in the field, who focussed on having to look to new ways of learning in the world of computer based environments. The m-learning issue was very technology-based, and the potential for small portable devices to access and transmit information is clearly with us. However, it is important to make the distinction between training and education, and while students may wish to use such devices as part of the overall learning experience, they will not necessarily have significant impact on university operations. Interestingly, the articulated 'unique features' of m-learning (see details in box below) were reminiscent of the promises of computer-assisted learning promoted in the early 1980s and as such it is critical to ensure technology does not become the determinant of our future, but rather our servant. Similarly the 'limitations', 'potential uses' and 'applications' are nothing new - just different, and perhaps a more convenient means, by which information can be accessed.

Unique Attributes of Mobile Devices
  • Everyone has one [mobile phone]
  • Always available, always on [instant interaction]
  • Personal device [user identity, profiles]
  • Trusted device [authentication, payments]
  • Location aware
  • Display size, bandwidth, processor and memory
Potential Uses
  • Feedback [scalable and individualised]
  • Multi-platform, multi-access
  • Self-evaluation and testing
  • Feedback [at point of need]
  • Games/edutainment
  • Community

The presentation by Professor David Jonassen however had significant ramifications for the way in which Australian universities implement online teaching and learning materials. In the first instance, David highlighted the need to focus on experiential, contextual, situated and problem-based activities if we are to gain full benefits from using the technology within the university context. However, in discussing these benefits he also articulated the problems resulting from the use of template-based systems such as TopClass and WebCT, a situation that has been repeated over the various iterations of educational technology. We must take precautions to ensure that any computer based systems implemented to support online teaching and learning do not impact the effectiveness of the resources delivered by restricting the flexibility required of interactive learning.

Two of the other invited speakers also provided significant insights into aspects of our current learning environments. Professor Tom Reeves, a frequent visitor to Australia, spoke about professional development for academics that highlighted the need for support to better understand the implications of working in online environments. Dr Karen Swan articulated a research project examining issues of 'social presence' in online discussion groups, emphasising the need to better understand the ways in which communications are interpreted within the online context. The remaining presentations attended reported on developments in a wide range of educational technology applications.

The conference provided significant value in terms of better understanding current thinking in terms of the general direction of educational technology within tertiary education environments. Within this context, we offer the following observations:

  1. The work environment for the academic is rapidly changing and the expectations of students, the university and the community are affected by those changes. Much is being written about the new world of higher education and the workloads experienced by academics can be significantly increased through the use of e-learning environments. Some universities are now implementing compulsory tertiary teaching programs to address many of the needs of the new academic, recognising the importance of specific credentials to deal with the online worlds.
  2. Significant research continues to be undertaken on teaching and learning with computer based technologies, and there is still much we have to learn about the relationship of learners and computers. Current theories for effective learning are advocating contextual, experiential and situated learning environments using problem-solving strategies. However, in many instances the Instructional Management Systems that adopt template-based content delivery do not enable this form of learning - learning to use these effectively will be one of our major challenges.
  3. We are now in a global environment where each university is struggling with identical issues, especially in terms of academic workloads, computer based infrastructure, effective teaching and learning and professional development. Consequently there are many parallel initiatives taking place, some of which replicate each other, some which is complementary. The ways in which universities collaborate and cooperate will be critical to the future success and viability of many tertiary institutions.

ED-MEDIA 2002 will be in Denver, Colorado, USA.

Sue Franklin
School of Biological Sciences
The University of Sydney


Roderick Sims
Learning Services
Deakin University

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UniServe Science News Volume 18 October 2001

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