Wednesday, September 30, 2009

ECER 2009: Some thoughts (#ecer2009)

It's the final day of ECER 2009 and I fully intended to go to an 8:30 session. I distinctly remember hearing the alarm. I remember switching it off... and then an hour later, I woke up again. Oops!

ECER 2009: Main Building
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
I went in to the University of Vienna anyway thinking I'd join the session after the first paper but when I got there, I had a closer look at the programme and realised the paper I was most interested in was the first one. Decided to write up some of my thoughts on the conference instead while it was still fresh in my mind.

Electronic presence
First, I'd like to echo what Graham Attwell said in his blog post. ECER is a major education conference with over 2000 people attending and thousands of presentations. Many sessions are delivered in parallel and in the case of ECER 2009 they took place in three, different buildings. The buildings were relatively close to each other but it would still take about five minutes to walk between the two furthest flung buildings. Add to that the sheer size of the programme, and almost inevitably you will miss things that would be good to hear. Some you will miss because you are choosing between two sessions that are happening simultaneously. But some you will miss because you just don't know they are on. The papers are organised under one of 27 networks. I mostly attended presentations in Network 16: ICT in Education and Training but tried to keep an eye on Network 10: Teacher Education Research too. I probably should have had a closer look at Network 27: Didactics - Learning and Teaching, and Network 6: Open Learning: Media, Environments and Cultures, and … But there are only so many hours in the day and in general I decided it was best to pick one Network and mostly stick to it.

However, this meant I missed a session on Digital Identity that sounded really interesting. I missed it because it was in Network 2: Vocational Education and Training (VETNET) - a network that I didn't consider looking at and, although I am interested in ideas of digital identity, it was not a search term I thought of using when searching the online programme.

How do I know it was on then? Because I saw Graham Attwell's Tweet about it and subsequently was directed to an online copy of the presentation by a Tweet from maresta. It would have been good to see more of this type of online activity but as Graham said in his excellent blog post, there were very few people Twittering from the event and, so far I have only found four of the presentations online: Grahams', Alana James', Norm Friesen's and mine. In contrast, there is the Scottish Learning Festival, an event mainly for teachers rather than educational researchers, where there was a small but active community posting material online (see for example SLF Live!). The organisers of the conference recorded some of the sessions - webcasting some of them live - and set up a Flickr pool for people to share their photos of the event. Even the TeachMeet fringe event at the Scottish Learning Festival generated more online content than the whole of the ECER conference!

Why was the use of social networking tools at ECER so low? Graham speculates: "I suspect that the culture (or community) of educational research has not yet embraced these technologies." I wasn't convinced by this and offer CAL '09 as a counter example. There was a reasonably active Twitter presence at CAL, a Cloudworks page was set up during the conference, the organisers had set up a graffiti wall where messages could be posted electronically to be viewed in the poster presentation area and you could email photos to share with others. Perhaps Andy's comment is closer to the mark. It may be that social networking tools are yet to have a big impact elsewhere in Europe. It will be interesting to see if next year's ECER is better represented on Twitter and elsewhere.

I didn't mean this to be so grumpy and I originally intended to talk about some of the sessions I attended. It was a good conference. The facilities were good and the free wi-fi coverage excellent. I have plenty to think about, research to chase up and (hopefully) some contacts to pursue. So, I'd like to conclude by thanking the organisers and presenters. However, since it is unlikely that I will be able to attend ECER 2010, I hope the electronic coverage will be more impressive next year.

P.S. I finished this post at Vienna airport where there is good, free, wi-fi access to the internet and the hotel where I stayed also had free wi-fi. I have yet to find a UK airport offering free internet access and most of the UK hotels I have stayed at seem to charge too. I hope that as uptake of social networking spreads from the UK to mainland Europe, mainland Europe's enlightened attitude to wi-fi spreads to the UK. :-)

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