Reflections from ICDE Conference Keynote Speakers

The 26th ICDE World Conference was held 14-16 October 2015 at Sun City in South Africa. The keynote speakers were streamed and recorded and are available on YouTube. Here are my notes from the keynote sessions:

1. Tressie McMillan Cottom: The access paradox: Can education expansion balance access with equality?

The focus of this keynote was on what education access can do for equity, equality and justice? Educational access refers to helping (disadvantaged) groups that are currently left out from the benefits of education. Tressie provided some lessons from the sociology of education:

  • Educational expansion in unequal societies can reproduce inequalities
  • Educational expansion alone does not result in more and better jobs
  • Labour markets need to be linked to skills to enable mobility
  • Educational access must be affirmative

It is the transition points in education pathways (such as moving from secondary to higher education) that contain the greatest risks/vulnerabilities for not expanding educational access. The promise of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) is that education can find students wherever they are and help them get where they want to be. ODL can offer lower delivery cost, lower access cost and access to quality education.

A significant problem is that the wealth of a country trends to be concentrated in the hands of 10% of the population. What is educational justice? It is accessible, low cost, high quality education enabling upward mobility for disadvantaged groups. But in the USA, ODL (especially MOOCs) mostly benefit the already advantaged. Some of the ways forward to move from educational access to justice:

  • Political – affirmative distribution of ODL resources
  • Economic – legitimate credentials; affirmative hiring; and susbidies for continued education

2. Audrey Watters: Technology Imperialism, Californian Ideology, and Future of Education

The infrastructure and the ideology of the Internet remain “Californian”. The promises connectivity to those who do not have (enabling their participation in global economy). This is an internet-centrism view where the internet changes everything. But means Facebook, not the internet. It is important to consider ideology. Infrastructure (the Internet) is ideological (who controls servers? networks? hardware? software?). The Silicon Valley Narrative, where the story is innovation, disruption, and personalisation (or is it individualism?), does not neatly fit with public education – hence making educational technology a fraught area.

We need to consider the ideology of education, and the ideology of educational technology. The utopia for higher education is access to anyone who wants it. But as governments worldwide continue to reduce subsidies for higher education, the private sector (including the technology industry) have stepped in (billions invested in educational technology). Their focus is “unbundling” in education – the disassembling of institutions into products and services.  Our responsibility needs to be to recognise ideology and consider implications for freedom and justice.

3. Laura Czerniewicz: Troubling Open Education

The context of higher education includes austerity, unbundling, inequality, and abundance of content. What is the meaning of open? Open as “free”: abundant content, marginal cost of digital copies, and user-generated content. Digital affords being more open but also more closed. New cultural practices are emerging, such as piracy and file-sharing (most books and music on personal devices were not bought). We cannot discuss open without discussing copyright. Yet the origin of copyright was the greater good. Putting works back into the public domain was the ultimate goal.

Knowledge is enabled by openness (learning from others). We need to rethink our policy environment and reclaim the digital commons. So that we reclaim knowledge as a public good.

4. Joyce Seitzinger: Learner Experience Design: A new Hope?

Can we move from a focus on tasks to a focus on experiences (that are convenient, pleasurable, and meaningful)? The aim of the experience designer is to meet he exact needs of the learner, without bother or fuss. How do we achieve this? Through empathy for the user/learner and by following a methodology. Some examples of tools to use:

  • Card sorting interviews (group cards of elements to identify best structures and flows).
  • User observation (e.g. sketch out the design for a home page).
  • Ensure you have users “think out loud” so that you can code their conversations to identify main pain points. For example, an exercise discovered that the main problems were confusion around terms, no agreed practice, and too much email traffic.
  • Creating Personas (archetype student details, with their goals, motivations, and commitments).
  • Learner Journey Mapping (map out path).

It is important to design for a constellation of experiences (digital badges can be used more). We are no longer course designers, it is time to think of ourselves as learner experience designers. See more at

5. Aziza Ellozy: The Complex Landscape of ODeL: Implications for faculty development

The challenges for faculty development: Faculty tend to resist change to technology (low digital fluency and resistance to teaching online), too much choice of technology can be debilitating, and many faculty sceptical of how technology can improve learning outcomes.

Each institution requires an institutional centre for faculty development to be successful. Approaches to faculty development: 1) rely on early adopters, 2) “boutique” or one-to-one support, or 3) systemic for large scale development. A successful culture is one of incremental improvement.

6. Harold Jarche: Educational leadership: Helping your network make better decisions

Markets dominate currently, but networks will become dominant in future. We currently value collaboration over cooperation, but cooperation (sharing freely) will become more important than collaboration (working together towards a goal). Your reputation is very important in network. How do you know if you are in a community of practice? You are in a community of practice if it changes your practice.

We are moving towards working out loud and learning out loud. For example, see the influence of blogging in networks. Leadership requires knowledge catalysts (high sense-making and high sharing). Leaders help the network make better decisions. We are now moving to where Work and Learning are completely integrated – how does this impact on what we do?

7. Wayne Mackintosh: Building capacities for sustainable and scalable open education futures: sharing lessons from the OERu trenches

OERu enables students from anywhere to study free courses that count towards real qualifications. The strength of the OERu lies in diversity of members. Education has the technology at its disposal to advance knowledge at low cost, yet education costs are increasing worldwide. OERu can provide an opposite approach to this. It is an approach that has been demonstrated to work. A key message is “Sharing to learn – learning to share”. For the OER movement, a challenge is that educators are eager to share their OER but reticent to reuse what is out there. However the question is no longer how can OER be sustainable, but becomes How will our institutions remain sustainable without OER?


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