The Reality of the Networked Learning Conference

The Ideals and Reality of Participating in a Conference ( a personal perspective)

This week I have presented for the very first time (with Roy Williams) a paper at a conference (the Networked Learning Conference)

This has been a steep learning curve for me which I reflect on here. I had ideals – yes – and the reality is that I feel disillusioned with the conference process.

My ideals were that the research we were working on was worthwhile, was honest and open, and raised questions which would be of interest to the networked learning community. Big mistake – little or no interest from the 160 participants in the conference.

My ideals also included the hope that the networked learning conference as a whole would address some of the issues raised by the connectivism course – such as the implications of autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness for the design of education courses in the future. These seem to me to be very relevant to the future of networked learning – but ‘No’ – I did not come across any discussion of these. In fact most of the sessions I attended (and there were so many parallel sessions that it was a real lottery as to which session to attend) presented material that was not new to me. Only Etienne Wenger (keynote speaker) succeeded in firing up my imagination and enthusiasm for the future of education and thinking about how people learn.

The reality was that whilst the conference was extremely friendly and socially a great experience (it was great to meet in the flesh people I have only met previously online), a conference is a mechanism for people to present their paper to meet the requirements of their HE institutions. If you get your paper presented all is well, but overall I did not get the sense that people were trying to grasp the real issues. The only other Networked Learning Conference I have attended was in 2004, which left me ‘buzzing’ at the end of every session. To be honest – apart from the social contacts – for the most part this conference left me cold. I overheard someone say that the Networked Learning Conference has ‘lost it’s way’ and this resonated with me. As far as I could see, whilst the host country has changed, the format has not changed at all. A very disturbing thought when attending the conference cost me personally, as an independent consultant, over £1000. I would like to see a more innovative approach.

I have in the past academic year, attended some ‘unconferences’. These seem to me to fit better with recent thinking about how we connect to people and negotiate our learning (and discuss our research aspirations) – but I am realistic enough to know that this probably doesn’t fit with the demands of HE institutions (although as an independent consultant these don’t concern me).

I have followed the Twitter stream and frankly am bemused by the ‘isn’t this wonderful’ posts. There is only one which seems to me to be critically evaluative, where someone has said that the conference participants seem to be split between those interested in theory and those interested in practice. I agree.

I would like to see future networked learning conferences change to include:

  • More consideration of value for money. I know for most people institutions pay – but to approach it as if each individual is paying out of their own pocket would, I think, improve it. This conference was hugely expensive and I can see no justification for this.
  • More support of new researchers, e.g. do not have new researcher sessions in parallel with the high flyers – inevitably new researchers are left out in the cold.
  • Fewer parallel sessions (although I realise that this wouldn’t meet institutions requirements for their employees to present) and more opportunity to focus on the themes of the conference and raise questions about the key issues for the future of networked learning and the implications of this for the future of our education systems.
  • More negotiation about the content of the conference.
  • More evidence that the conference is trying to address the issues of massification, privatisation and globalisation that networked education will have to address. Some of the sessions I attended, including some of the symposia presented by well recognised names – were I felt, seriously out of date in their thinking
  • I think I must be coming from a completely different place with regard to my thinking about networked learning and the issues that HE needs to address for the future – but I was disappointed by the content of the networked learning conference – apart from Etienne’s presentation.

However – looking at it from the glass half full perspective:

–          I learned more about myself and my aspirations, what I can do and what I can’t do, what I aspire to and what I will give a miss, what my values are and what I am prepared to speak out about to defend these values

–          I met some wonderful people, including members of the CPsquare community and others

–          The food in Denmark is wonderful, even if it is hugely expensive

–          Copenhagen is a beautiful and intriguing city – especially the hippy community. Aalborg is also worth a visit and wonderfully hospitable

–          The experience has made me reflect deeply on whether or not I wish to continue doing research. I am an independent consultant, so I am only doing this out of interest. There are not career benefits for me – only the benefits of continuing to pursue an interest in how people learn and the role of the teacher.

Networked Learning Conference Presentation 2010

Below is the link to our presentation of our paper for the Networked Learning Conference 2010.  This is for the  Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC  paper.

The Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC Presentation


We will also be providing a handout to go with the presentation at the conference : Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC Handout

We’re really hoping that this will go well, that we get some people at our session and that people at the conference will find it interesting – but I expect everyone else is hoping this as well!

And of course we have the other paper to present as well!

Networked Learning Conference 2010

Heli in her post about the Networked Learning Conference writes about being lazy  but I don’t think she compares with how lazy I have been with regard to writing to this blog. Actually, I don’t think it’s been laziness – it’s been an active resistance to blogging.

Mike Bogle in a recent blog post with the title Losing My Edge writes about struggling to find his voice and feeling alienated and removed from his networks. I can really sympathise with this. I think Debra Ferreday and Vivien Hodgson ‘hit the nail on the head’ with their paper ‘The Tyranny of Participation and Collaboration in Networked Learning’ Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Networked Learning.

However, two things have prompted this post.

1. Next week I will start tutoring again on an online course about Reflective Learning  – which has raised again for me the whole issue of the role of reflective journals (which equates to one style of blogging) in reflective learning . If I find it difficult myself to keep up with reflective writing, then what does this say to my students/course participants? That’s a practical issue, but there is also the deeper issue of how reflective learning, reflective practice and reflective writing relate to each other.

2. In just over a week’s time I will be presenting (with Roy Williams) two papers at the Networked Learning Conference 2010  in Denmark – The two papers we (Roy Williams, SuiFai John Mak and me) wrote following the CCK08 course were both accepted

Unfortunately John can’t make it from Australia for the conference, so I still haven’t met him, despite working with him all this time on the research (which we did via a wiki), but Roy will be there and maybe we will meet up with some CCK08 people. That would be great!

This will be the first conference I have ever presented at, so I’m hoping it will be OK. The whole process has been interesting and raised lots of questions for me about the way we go about research – but that’s another story – to save for another day!

Thanks to Heli for her prompt!