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Shock of the Old 2009 Conference Oxford

May 14, 2009

Palitha Eidirisingha, Ricardo Torres  and and I attended the annual Shock of the Old Conference, organised by the Oxford University Computing Services on April 2nd.

The theme of the Conference was Digital literacy: the role of new media in the HE curriculum, linked to the 2008 Horizon report suggestion that “while web-based tools are rapidly becoming standard in education and in the workplace and technologically-mediated communication is the norm, “there is a growing need for formal instruction in key new skills, including information literacy, visual literacy, and technological literacy.”

There were 12 presentations in total and it was an interesting experience. It certainly presented a perspective to e-learning and new media quite different to the approach of the Beyond Distance Research Alliance. The spirit of the presentations and discussions to me was summed up by the poster of the organizers – the Oxford University Computing Services, which showed a student happily working away on a laptop, while sitting on the surface of the sea, unsuspecting of a huge shark coming at him from the depths beneath the surface of the sea.


The focus of the event seemed dominated by not so much digital literacy than the dangers of the Web, analysis and forewarning of possible misuses of web tools and mutual reassurance for the predominantly IT services/Learning technologists audience that their first priority should be to prevent learners and users from fiddling too much with tools not vetted by those same IT services/Learning technologists.

The Head of Learning Technologies Group at Oxford Melissa Highton started the day off with a reminder how important it is to define the terms that one is going to use, before using them. The she suggested that it would be appropriate to define “digital literacy” as information literacy because it is widely accepted already and because it best describes literacy as handling text. When I peaked at Ricardo’s Twitter stream of the conference, I saw that  most of the other participants were equally bewildered at the suggestion that information and text are the same thing.

Then Lynne O’Brian, Director of instructional technology at Duke University, spoke about their  the Duke Digital Initiative. This initiative consisted of giving preloaded with study material ipods to all the students of their 2004 intake. I was impressed by Lynne saying that “we have to take a long view on evaluation” in support of the argument that since no one has carried out evaluations of the educational benefits of the use of chalkboards, people shouldn’t focus too much on the evaluation of newly introduced technologies. She also stressed that new technologies should be integrated into people’s existing workflows and pedagogies. During the discussion there was an interesting question from someone asking if encouraging the incorporation of audio in essays or the replacement of essays with podcast will not lead to use of anecdotal reasoning and evidence rather than systematically collected research data.

Then a BECTA consultant, Tabetha Newman revisited the question of definitions of digital literacies in a summary of a report she did for BECTA called “A review of digital literacy in 3 – 16 year olds: evidence, developmental models, and recommendations”

Which can be found here:   

The next presentation was by Tony McNeil from Kingston university and to me it was one of the big take-aways of the day – I, and according to Twitter, most of the other participants, liked the way that he had designed his slides as well as the dynamic and involving way in which he presented them. He has now uploaded them on slide share and you strongly recommend having a look at them for inspiration and ideas regarding Powerpoint:

For Tony the challenge of new technologies was that VLEs replicate existing technologies instead of using the potential of the new tools to change practice. There was an interesting question about how to assess work done by students collaboratively on a wiki.

An interesting idea that I think I can use in my own work was the imagery on one of the posters  of the Steeple project of the Oxford computer services and JISC, presented at the conference with its innovative use of Wordle where they had used the wordle clouds generated from the description of their work and arranged them to look like a human figure moving forward.



I also particularly liked the presentation of Chris Davies from the Department of Education at Oxford who spoke about “Student voices: learner practices and skills interpreted in framework of media literacy”. His presentation consisted entirely of quotes from the transcripts from interviews with children and students, preserving the original language, expressions and you could almost hear the voice of the person who had said those particular words. It was engaging, although it was the last presentation of the day it got people’s undivided attention and it did manage to make its points clearly:

  1. That media literacy happens best by learning by example,
  2. That guidance and freedom to experiment should go hand-in hand
  3. That institutions and their IT departments urgently need appropriate guidance on how to facilitate the use of 3rd party / externally hosted web based applications.

Sandra Romenska

14 May 2009

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