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Conference Confronts Online Learning Challenges

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Conference Confronts Online Learning Challenges

New digital media has already shaken up the music and newspaper industries, and the challenge of technological change for universities will now be explored at a conference for 400 tertiary educators in Wellington next week.

The Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education conference, also known as Ascilite, will address three main topics: learning for the future; teachers as future makers and leaders in a climate of change.

Conference organiser Professor Mark Brown, who is the director of the National Centre for Teaching and Learning at Massey University, says the forum from November 25-28 will offer new insights into the subject of online and blended learning – a now recognised growth area within the education sector.

The burgeoning development of mobile learning, the potential of virtual worlds and the task of preparing 21st century tertiary educators will be among the issues discussed.

The advent of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOC’s, where some of the world’s leading universities are offering free courses over the internet, are another challenge for the sector, and will be debated at the conference pitting international guest speakers against their New Zealand counterparts.

“As we look to the next decade of rapid technological and global change, we need to consider how tertiary education will meet a range of challenges,” Professor Brown says. “Serious questions remain about the impact of new digital technologies on learning and teaching and the sustainability of current models of tertiary education.”

Just as the music and newspaper industries have struggled with technological change, similar disruptions face the tertiary sector Professor Brown says; adding the unprecedented access to information is already having a “profound impact.”

“Arguably the new ‘openness’ of information and the prevalence of new digital media in everyday informal learning, strikes at the core of formal tertiary education.”

These issues will also be canvassed by leading international keynote speakers, including sociologist Dr Neil Selwyn whose research and teaching focuses on the place of digital media in everyday life and technology in educational settings; and self-described education futurist Dale Stephens, 20, who skipped traditional schooling to found UnCollege aimed at showing how people can obtain life experiences beyond the traditional education system.

Professor Brown says in spite of his youth, Mr Stephens seriously challenges what it means to be educated in the 21st century.

“Rejected for being young or inexperienced, he has risen above scepticism to do what many said he couldn’t because he bridges the gap between teens and adults, he doesn’t just relate to both but shares their experiences, fears and challenges.”

Professor Beverley Oliver from Deakin University, Australia will provide the closing keynote address with a wrap of conference topics discussed.

As conference host, Professor Brown says Massey University is committed to exploiting the opportunities afforded by new forms of on-line and blended learning to ensure its graduates are creative, innovative and capable of addressing some of the “big issues” of our age.

“Massey’s leading role in digitally mediated teaching and learning enables us to extend our reach beyond physical and geographical boundaries of traditional universities by taking learning to the learner.

“Our investment in new digital media allows us to build on our longstanding tradition as a dual mode provider by offering unsurpassed access to high quality university-level education with equivalent learning experiences for on –campus and off-campus students, including those living overseas.”


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