FOTE (the Future of Technology in Education conference organised by ULCC), which I attended on Friday, is a funny beast. For two years running it has been a rather mixed conference overall but one that has been rescued by one or two outstanding talks that have made turning up well worthwhile and left delegates going into the post-conference drinks reception with something of a buzz.
Last year it was Miles Metcalfe of Ravensbourne College who provided the highlight. This year it was down to Will McInnes (of Nixon/McInnes) to do the same, kicking off the afternoon with a great talk, making up for a rather ordinary morning, followed closely by James Clay (of Gloucestershire College). If this seems a little harsh... don't get me wrong. I thought that much of the afternoon session was worth listening to and, overall, I think that any conference that can get even one outstanding talk from a speaker is doing pretty well - this year we had at least two. So I remain a happy punter and would definitely consider going back to FOTE in future years.
My live-blogged notes are now available in a mildly tidied up form. This year's FOTE was heavily tweeted (the wifi network provided by the conference venue was very good) and about half-way thru the day I began to wonder if my live-blogging was adding anything to the overall stream? On balance, and looking back at it now, I think the consistency added by by single-person viewpoint is helpful. As I've noted before, I live-blog primarily as a way of taking notes. The fact that I choose to take my notes in public is an added bonus (hopefully!) for anyone that wants to watch my inadequate fumblings.
The conference was split into two halves - the morning session looking at Cloud Computing and the afternoon looking at Social Media. The day was kicked off by Paul Miller (of Cloud of Data) who gave a pretty reasonable summary of the generic issues but who fell foul, not just of trying to engage in a bit of audience participation very early in the day, but of trying to characterise issues that everyone already understood to be fuzzy and grey into shows of hands that required black and white, yes/no answers. Nobody fell for it I'm afraid.
And that set the scene for much of the morning session. Not enough focus on what cloud computing means for education specifically (though to his credit Ray Flamming (of Microsoft) did at least try to think some of that through and the report by Robert Moores (of Leeds Met) about their experiences with Google Apps was pretty interesting) and not enough acknowledgment of the middle ground. Even the final panel session (for which there was nowhere near enough time by the way) tried to position panelists as either for or against but it rapidly became clear there was no such divide. The biggest point of contention seemed to be between those who wanted to "just do it" and those who wanted to do it with greater reference to legal and/or infrastructural considerations - a question largely of pace rather than substance.
If the day had ended at lunchtime I would have gone home feeling rather let down. But the afternoon recovered well. My personal highlights were Will McInnes, James Clay and Dougald Hine (of School of Everything), all of whom challenged us to think about where education is going. Having said that, I think that all of the afternoon speakers were pretty good and would likely have appealed to different sections of the audience, but those are the three that I'd probably go back and re-watch first. All the video streams are available from the conference website but here is Will's talk:
One point of criticism was that the conference time-keeping wasn't very good, leaving the final two speakers, Shirley Williams (of the University of Reading, talking about the This is Me project that we funded) and Lindsay Jordan (of the University of Bath/University of the Arts) with what felt like less than their alloted time.
For similar reasons, the final panel session on virtual worlds also felt very rushed. I'd previously been rather negative about this panel (what, me?), suggesting that it might descend into pantomime. Well, actually I was wrong. I don't think it did (though I still feel a little bemused as to why it was on the agenda at all). Its major problem was that there was only time to talk about one topic - simulation in virtual worlds - which left a whole range of other issues largely untouched. Shame.
Overall then, a pretty good day I think. Well done to the organisers... I know from my own experience with our symposium that getting this kind of day right isn't an easy thing to do. I'll leave you with a quote (well, as best as I can remember it) from Lindsay Jordan who closed her talk with a slightly sideways take on Darwinism:
in the social media world the ones who survive - the fittest - are the ones who give the most