As described in my previous post, I attended the CETIS 2006 Conference on 14-15 November 2006. I have already reviewed the plenary talks. Here I review the two workshop sessions I attended: part 1 of the Future of education media session and the Thinking the unthinkable session, which I co-facilitated.

The “Future of Education Media” was led by Phil Barker and Sheila MacNeil. Phil was very keen to minimise the time spent on presentations at this session. The participants responded to this by taking an opportunity to respond to some issues raised early on in the session by Jim Farmer. This led to an unstructured, wide-ranging discussion. From the point of view of getting people involved in discussion and debate, this was successful, although I personally would have preferred a more structured approach. To be fair, though, I understand the intention was to provide a more structured approach on the second part of this workshop session. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend on the second day.

On the second day myself and Steven Warburton led the “Thinking the Unthinkable” session, with Mark Stiles also actively involved. Stephen and I had intended the session to provide an opportunity to openly discuss and challenge some of the mainstream assumptions in JISC’s (and the wider community’s) development strategies: namely the importance of Web 2.0 (technologies such as Blogs and Wikis and the importance of trusting users, user-generated content and the informal aspect to learning) and the notion that open standards will provide interoperability. However although this was a very lively session, the participants didn’t seem to be all that interested in addressing our unthinkable thoughts; they have their own unthinkable buy online antibiotics opinions they wished to air. This meant it was difficult for myself and Steven to facilitate the session in the way we had originally planned (and we had no need for Mark to “stir things up” as we’d originally planned as the participants were only too willing to do that for themselves (Steven subsequently described the session as trying to herd a group of grouchy tomcats!). However despite this being a session which did not go as we had planned, the participants seemed to find the session useful and stimulating. It was particularly pleasing when Jim Farmer, at the end of the session, described it as having provided an opportunity to address important fundamental issues which aren’t normally discussed (a comment which he repeated in his final closing plenary talk).

So what did we discuss? Rather than exploring the issue of whether Web 2.0 is trendy nonsense (see Steven slides) we discussed the role of IT in education. And rather than discussing the limits of open standards and ways of addressing such limitations (I had intended to gain feedback on the contextual approach to open standards which UKOLN had developed) there seemed to be little interest in open standards, with an acceptance that although they may have some relevance in e-learning, they such only be used when they are proven, mature and, indeed, invisible.

Towards the end of the session, as there was a danger that the group would simply revisit the previous discussions, we split the participants into groups of three or four and asked them to come back with two recommendations for JISC and two for CETIS. The recommendations have been published on the conference Wiki.