Computers and Learning Research Group (CALRG) 30th Anniversary – Session 1

[Crossposted as a cloud in the Cloudworks cloudscape for this event.]

Notes from the Computers and Learning Research Group (CALRG) 30th Anniversary Conference, 18 May 2009, Jennie Lee Building, The Open University.

Opening from Josie Taylor, Director of IET, and then intro from Gráinne Conole mentioning the Cloudworks cloudscape for the conference.

Ann Jones

First project, late 80s – tutorial CAL evaluation – a project called Cicero.  Students accessed it by study centres or by post.  Findings: students found it useful (17%!), but used it less over time. They talked about it being useful, but had a cost/benefit analysis in their mind of potential benefits versus percieved hassle of using it – in particular Bad Computer Experiences, whether first-hand or indirect.  Things like being locked out of the terminal room, anxiety – fear of secretly being assessed.

More recent approaches include Future Technology Workshops – Mike Sharples and Giasemi Vavoula. Small teams create possible future scenarios of technology that might support pedagogy.  One idea – a little demon on your shoulder telling you information about things and people in your environment, and warning you.

Then Bubble Dialogue – to try to help children with social, emotional or behavioural problems to communivate and express themselves. Speech bubbles shown above cartoony characters – intermediation, roleplay, to enable expression that’d otherwise be tricky. Quite strong emotive/aggressive stuff coming out.

Affect very important, and still is.

Tim O’Shea

Doesn’t think the CAL group has missed much in the last 30 years.

Sad to be an orphan – Leeds CBL unit, Xerox PARC – gone.  Tim and Marc Eisenstadt saw those as the parents. MIT LOGO Lab – also gone. Edinburgh evolves, Stanford and Sussex survive, and child – London Knowledge Lab – looking lively.

CALRG did not look right – very junior staff, very democratic (anarchic), across faculties and a support unit. “Then you should have the whole university!” “Yes, but we can’t persuade the Arts Faculty to join.” IET uneasy about technology (David Hawkridge asked Tim at interview “When you come here you’re not going to do any of that computer stuff are you?”, and he fibbed and said no).  No big grants and no senior management champion.

Had PhD students right from the start. Personal dynamic media, AI/symbolic computation, language & interface design, dev testing, student modelling, simulations, models and visualisation.  And applied the stuff to courses, rather under the radar.

Key projects early – Cyclops (Paul), CSCL (Robin & Tony), Special needs (Tom & Alistair), Theory (Pask 2 – Diana), Home Computing (Norman), DESMOND (John), Shared-ARK (Randall).

The future – Extreme Computing (HeCTOR & specks); Sensible Computing (quite smart via ML); Democratic Computing (wikis, eJournals); Hybrid systems (all modalities); learner/researcher continuum; big issue (for universities) – electronic assessment; non-issue – access or ‘divide’. Technology has not plateaued – there will be bigger, faster computers that can do more.

Heartbreaking thing about AI – when it eventually gets done, people don’t notice it.  Starts with ‘that can’t possibly work’, then taken for granted that system can learn stuff. Long-term dream: smellivision. Haptics and 3D and sounds and colour are all very well but we need smells.

Assessment is the key distinguishing point of universities, and hence eAssessment is the key challenge for the future. But the way we examine is not fit for purpose. Using group work, net resources and so on … then are assessed on high-level skills by sitting at a blank piece of paper with a biro. Need new ways to assess to capture the things they do.

Why are we still here? Kept OU SMT happy 5%, CALRG clearly successful 8%, served university courses 10%, key to OU RAE 12%, recruited bright newcomers 15%, knew the future 20%, happy & jolly community 30%.

Gráinne Conole

Was told couldn’t be professor of Educational Technology, chose Professor of e-Learning … would now want to be Professor of Technology-Enhanced Learning.

There is an array of technologies … not fully exploited. Saw with the multimedia stuff in the late 80s and the emergence of the web, and still going on.

Potential for resuse with Open Educational Resources … little evidence of reuse.

New pedgagogies and new learning models.

Learning design – to bridge the gap between the affordances of new technologies, characteristics of good pedagogy, and “Open Design” – making the design process more explicit and shareable.

Left university with chemistry degree and got a job. Graduate training programme with Allied Bakeries, became area retail manager for 150 staff in 10 outfits across London. Lasted a year, was absolutely hopeless at it, just wanted to help the staff learn, no interest in business models.  Then PhD in X-ray crystallography, then lecturer posts.  Broke from chemistry at UNL (now London Met), directed Learning and Teaching Innovation, Director of T&L Centre, head of Technology-based learning.  Then Director of ILRT in Bristol from 1999, then to Southampton in 2002.

Karen Littleton

Leverhulme project looking at children’s computer-based problem solving. Computers were very new in the classroom.  Questions: Are two heads better than one? (Quasi-experimental design looking at outcomes versus pair working or independent.)  Impact of gender and ability pairings? Features of dialogue associated with learning outcomes and task performance.  Indicators that joint planning positively affects them.

Many other OU colleagues (CALRG) interested in that as a theme – Eileen, Kim on collaborative learning in primary science.   The quality of the talk and dialogue was not ideal – conflictual dynamics, simple turn-taking, withdrawal.  Much evidence that grouping at computers was common as a strategy, the quality of the joint activity was quite worrying.  Working in groups but rarely as groups.

Distinctive kind of interaction, though: exploratory talk (Douglas Barnes). Tentative expression and evaluation of ideas as collective enterprise. Critical but constructive engagement, reasoned challenges.

So trying to encourage this – developed a teaching programme designed to try to ensure children can add these ways of talking to their repertoires.  Early work was looking at how children collaborate to learn; also about how to support children to collaborate and reason together.

‘Thinking Together’ is an example – 12 lessons, talk-based – to develop a positive culture of working and talking together. Ground rules established then appplication to curriculum area.

Talk in face to face sessions happens in the moment; but computer-supported interaction offer a half-way stage between that ephemerality and paper-based permanence.  They’re captured, but still malleable.  Technologies for writing and drawing can – sensitively deployed – strengthen dialogue.  They’re an ‘improvable object’. Teacher is central.


Author: dougclow

Academic in the Institute of Educational Technology, the Open University, UK. Interested in technology-enhanced learning and learning analytics.