I've just finished participating in the 2011 AADES conference (Australasian Association of Distance Education Schools) in Hobart, Australia. I must say it was a bit like 'being home', surrounded by such a large group of distance educators, sharing such knowledge and skill in this area, rich in the heritage of distance education, yet exploring the new horizons afforded by online technologies.
The conference theme, crossing borders-shifting boundaries, is particularly appropriate at this time in the development of our education system, where we're seeing a merging of the traditions of distance and face-to-face teaching and learning. More than before, I was impressed at this conference at the emphasis given to understanding and defining the emerging practices of 'blended' and 'flexible' learning. This was emphasised by Peter Garrett, Federal Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, when he addressed the conference on Saturday morning. Acknowledging the nature of the knowledge and experience of those involved in distance education, and the 'boundary pushing' they are recognised for pursuing, he stated that "…it is likely to be the distance educators that will lead the emerging practice and development of models for education system into the future." I have to say, this fellow is on my wavelength, as I've believed this for some years.
The conferece had some excellent speakers with whom I had an opportunity to spend time, including Teemu Leinonen from Finland (his presentation here), and three people from the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), including President and Chief Executive Officer, Julie Young.
A particular highlight for me was participating in a plenary discussion with keynote speakers facilitated by David Bartlett, recently retired 43rd Premier of Tasmania. The focus of this discussion was on the significance of having access to ultrafast broadband for education, business, government… and for our future as nations. With representatives of four nations represented on the panel, the discussion provided a broad view of what the impact might be – and already is in some of the northern hemisphere jurisdictions referred to. David's focus on Productivity, Participation and Population helped guide what was a relatively wide ranging debate of the issues – too bad it was late in the afternoon of the final day, or things could have continued for some time on that one!
A multifaceted broadcast and online project that springs from one of the world’s great historical studies of immigration, forced labour and settlement. The Founders & Survivors database follows 72,000 convict men and women over five generations to build a unique portrait of modern society in the making. Founders and Survivors Storylines interprets and interacts with the amazing life stories and experiences held in this remarkable set of digital records using the all the tools of interactive online, social networks, mobile and the music of acclaimed singers and songwriters from Australia, UK, Canada and Ireland.
I was pretty impressed with where the development of this resource is going, and the panel had plenty of ideas and discussion around how such resources may be used effectively in a classroom or online/distance context. All agreed that it has the 'wow' factor, and certainly loads of historical integrity – the issue is that at the end of the day, as with any resource, it's not what you have, but how you use it.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at this AADES conference, perhaps one of the best organised events I've attended for a while. This is a vibrant, engaged and forward-looking community of educators, and it was a pleasure being involved!