By John Galloway
Do you prefer your learning "layered," "braided," "deep" or "mobile?" Not sure of the difference? Then you should have been at CAL 09: Learning in Digital Worlds, the conference for all those interested in ICT in education held in Brighton this week (March 23-25) where these, and research into many other topical themes, were explored.
While the event was dominated by academics and researchers, a sprinkling of teachers turned up to help maintain the links to the classroom. The conference covers research into just about every aspect of the use of ICT in all spheres of education.
Among the many symposiums, papers and discussions were sessions that gazed into the future, thought about home use of ICT and working with parents, what we can learn from neuroscience, and the impact of Web 2.0 technologies. Many of the questions being asked in classrooms today, such as the role in education of mobile phones, or creating computer games, or even the connection between virtual objects and real ones when children are learning, were raised. And sometimes answered.
Futurelab's Beyond Current Horizons project gave an insight into its shortly-to-be-published findings, with an absorbing keynote from Dave Cliff of Bristol University on where technology is heading - towards cloud computing and server farms, it seems, with the prospect of virtually free access. Another part of the research includes proposing possible scenarios for life in 2025. If you want to get involved visit the website and explore the Million Futures and Power League areas to express you hopes and opinions. (You might also want to visit the government's Foresight deparment's website - yes, it's real - to get a broader perspective.)
This work helped to frame the debate about the role of research in determining policy, and while we might hope that this is always evidence-led, one former civil servant suggested that policy is often based on ministers' own ideas, including what their children happen to enjoy, rather than on the world as it really is.
There were also discussions on how to research the research itself, and whether we are going about it the right way. Personalised learning and the role of ICT were inevitably discussed, raising the question of whether we can personalise learning without technology, and how teachers can get involved in designing resources.
The impact of ICT on us as humans came through strongly, and how it affects us emotionally, and one presenter issued this challenge: "If you think it is difficult for us to understand what a computer is thinking, imagine how much harder it is for the computer to understand us." There were times at CAL 09 when it would most certainly have been struggling, just like some of the humans.