Wednesday, 27 May 2009

CALRG conference

Last week, CALRG (Computer and learning research group) had it's annual conference in the Jennie Lee building on campus. Unfortunately, I had to miss 30th anniversary celebrations on the Monday as I was coming back from Cyprus but Dave Perry was kind enough to photoshop me into the photo below so in a few years time, I'll probably think I was there! (It's a scanned copy of the photo so it's not too clear but I'm at the end of the top row next to Josie. If you look closely though, you might notice one or two others who have been added...).

From the sounds of it, I missed a good day. For a breakdown of the talks given, Doug Clow seems to have live blogged the entire event, separating the day into sessions 1, 2, and 3. You can also access the twitter archive and cloudspace for the event here, where each talk given has a cloud (thanks to Patrick McAndrew for putting up summaries of these). I did have a poster up based on my MRes work for last, and apparently, Tim O'Shea reckons I had the best research questions - though also the most difficult to answer... So that was pretty cool. Oh, and just for reference purposes, the questions I posed were:
  1. How can we identify the learning processes that occur during play?
  2. How can we describe the involvement that players experience during play?
  3. Is there an identifiable relationship between the learning that occurs and this experience of involvement?
I did attend the conference sessions on the 19th and 20th though, and even presented myself. I have to say, it was a very supportive environment for my first PhD related talk (I think I even enjoyed it a little!). I was basically presenting a summary of my work in progress - which was pretty much based around my probation report. I think the slides are going to go up on the knowledge network at some point but if anyone is interested, I'd be happy to pass them along. I got a fair amount of feedback in terms of suggested reading that might be useful including looking at the sociological literature for research on learning through play, looking at accessibility literature for research on what different physiological signals might represent, and some suggestions for looking at work on presence and motivation. All interesting stuff for to search for and read so I can add to what feels like a never-ending literature review!

While it was great for me to feel that my ideas and questions came across as valid and interesting, the conference was also a really good opportunity for me to see what other people in my research group are up to. Again, Patrick has done a good job of summarising the gist of the talks here, but in terms of my own response, I guess the most obvious thing for me was the emphasis was mainly on formal learning and assessment. The theme of the first day was argumentation, where the focus was essentially on exploring way to teach students how to argue effectively with the aid of various types of software e.g. Talk Factory, InterLoc, Second Life. The discussant for the day (and my old boss) Richard Joiner, summed it up quite well, when he suggested that there seems to be a fine line between learning how to argue, and using argument to learn. There was also a presentation on tools to might help annotate and map arguments online, and another on reading group discourse that looked at naturally occurring talk and how you might analyse argumentation and collaboration through corpus-based analysis. The latter talk was especially interesting for me, partly because it focused on informal learning but also because it used a case-study approach (where they attempted to study a wide a range of groups as possible) and gave me some ideas about how of the tools available to analyse the data in terms of trying to find patterns across these groups.

On day two, the themes were far more wide ranging, so I'm not going to try and review everything. It was good to find out a bit more about OpenLearn though and the English in Action project in Bangladesh. I think it's sometimes very easy to nod and smile when people are mention their research, but going to something like this makes it a lot clearer. So now I have a firmer grasp, for instance, on what my fellow PhD students Pauline and Eunice are doing! I'm not sure how relevant a lot of the talks were in terms of my own research, but going to the conference has also got me thinking about the conferences I'll be going to in August/September. I'm going to EARLI in Amsterdam (presenting a roundtable discussion at the JURE pre-conference) which is very much education focused, and then HCI in Cambridge (presenting my very first paper!) which is much more technology focused. I'm already beginning to think I have a bias towards the latter as though I'm interested in how technologies can be used for learning, I'm just not sure how inspired I am by education - as it seems to revolve around learning outcomes and assessments. Hopefully, going along to these events will give me a better feel for both these areas (whatever my preconceptions might be) and will also help me in terms of thinking about what direction I want to go in as a researcher...

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