Yesterday I attended FOTE 2010, the Future of Education in Technology conference organised by ULCC. I discovered that FOTE is pronounced ‘footie; rather than,as I had thought, to rhyme with ‘vote’ – so as this was my first attendance at the FOTE conference which was launched in 2008 I guess I can describe my attendance as ‘first footing’.

The conference was fully subscribed with all of the (free) tickets going very shortly after being advertised.  The popularity of the event was probably a reflection of its high esteem and the continued interest in the topics addressed at the event, which included mobile applications; augmented reality; geolocation; iTunes U/Podcasting and iPad/e-Book Readers. The fact that the event was free will, of course, have boosted the numbers but for those of us who lived outside London the cost of travel and, possibly overnight accommodation, will have meant that there was a cost in attending – and as we are all looking closely at our budgets there can be no guarantee that even free events will attract participants these days.

The programme for the event was nicely balanced with several talks which highlighted the potential which technological innovation may provide for the educational sector being countered by other talks which challenged such assumptions. In the opening talk on “Future Vision” we listened to a very slick presentation being given by Ray Fleming of Microsoft with video clips to illustrate a Minority Report style view of the future. “In the future there appears to be more money, fewer people and soothing music” was how Ian Usher summarised this talk – a pithy summary which resonated with the six other Twitter users who retweeted this comment. The presentation, incidentally, didn’t make use of Prezi, as a number of people speculated on the #fote10 Twitter back channel; rather it used Microsoft’s pptPlex extension to PowerPoint – will this make PowerPoint suddenly appear cool, I wonder?

A similarly optimistic vision, although more grounded in what is achievable to day, was presented by  Hugh Griffiths of oMbiel who gave a talk on “campusM & Smartphone Adoption“.   The other talk in the opening session was given by Jeremy Speller who informed the audience that he was intending to challenge assumptions we may have about approaches to use of mobile technologies in his talk on “The Mobile University: last year’s model?” (note slides available on Slideshare).  Is this “Something vendors are keen to promote” or “something that (only) geeks want?” Jeremy asked. And yet as Jeremy later admittedOn reflection my #fote10 talk didn’t annoy anyone – can now think of 1,000 thinks to annoy educational technologists“.

In the question time after the opening session I queried the optimism of the opening session, pointing out that we are all now having to prepare ourselves for the implications of the cuts which will be announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review on 20 October.  “Who will pay for such innovation?” I asked. “Are universities (perhaps cynically) looking to save money by promoting mobile technologies, so that they can sell off rooms currently housing PC clusters, with students – or their parents – paying themselves for the handheld equivalents?“Ray Fleming from Microsoft responded by arguing that the IT infrastructure is, in many cases,in place, but ineffective and costly business processes have not yet been replaced. In many respects I share this view, but it still seems fairly superficial, and I left for coffee, and the useful networking opportunities that provided, feeling slightly concerned that the FOTE10 conference was simply repeating the optimism in the benefits which technology can provide in education which I suspect happened at the first conference in 2008 and was failing to address the radically changed economic – and political – context.

Fortunately it seems that the conference organisers were aware of such dangers with the opening session being counter-balanced with the cynicism of Miles Metcalfe which was summarised in the quote: “Uncritical neophilia of the digerati“! Now although I disagreed with the simplicity of some of the criticisms Miles made and would agree with Nick Skelton’s point that “@mmetcalfe says he’s a binary thinker and education is full of naysayers & enthusiasts. I reckon we are more pragmatic than that” I felt his talk was needed and was nicely scheduled just before lunch, so that the discussions were informed by the opening optimistic visions of the future and the final more pessimistic and concerned thoughts on the loss of privacy which use of various Social Web services entails.

I’ll not attempt to summarise the other talks given at the conference – other than to say how stimulating Matt Lingard’s talk was and how much I welcomed the ways in which he ensured that a large audience could engage in discussions during his talk.

I’ll conclude by summarising the statistics for use of Twitter at the event. At the time of writing according to Summarizr there have been 3,360 tweets from 355 users with the #fote10 hashtag. The top twitterers were FOTiE (242 tweets), jamesclay (180), mmetcalfe (114), mattlingard (104) and olliebray (81). As I tweeted during the event “My Twitter stream’s talking about #FOTE10 & #bceaware Wasn’t Twitter supposed to be about trivia?” There were a great deal of interesting discussion about the various talks together with jokes and humour – FOTE 2010 provided a valuable opportunity for the twitter participants (both those at the event and those participating from afar) to develop their professional network.  Hmm, I wonder how many new people I followed at the event and how many followed me? Do we have a tool to provide such statistics?