New Millenium Learners Conference 2010 - Day 3


Today was the third and last day of the "New Millenium Learners Conference 2010". Since the conference ended at 1PM only the keynote, a single session and a closing panel took place. However it turned out to be a really strong finish which made for a perfect ending for what was truly a great conference.

NMLC logo
Looking forward to NMLC 2012

After yesterday's constant crashes and issues I was very happy to see that worked like a charm today. The only thing that was slightly annoying is that my conference WiFi account ran out 10min before the actual end of the conference, hence the last few minutes of the last session are missing from the recordings.

As you can see below I've decided to structure this post a little differently then the two previous ones. You'll find the embedded recordings of the sessions with my comments and thoughts on the particular session below it. My overall conference summary can be found at the very bottom of the article.

On a related side note: The conference organizers said that audio recordings of all sessions will be made available in the near future. I'll make sure to let you know once they are online.

Keynote speech: Looking into the future: the importance of applications and quality content by Miguel Nussbaum (P. Universidad Católica, Chile)

There's really no way to do Miguel Nussbaum's justice in words so I'd strongly recommend you to look at the recording above. Some of the most memorable things he talked about where "one mouse per child" efforts in India whereby up to 40 pupils (each with their own mouse) used a single PC that used a video-beamer as an output device. You can get a pretty good impression of how this concept works in this YouTube video from Microsoft.

He also mentioned that one of the main challenges when it comes to using computers in education is the integration of conventional and digital learning resources into lesson plans. Hearing this it was impossible not to think of OLE Nepal's inspiring efforts in this area.

Another important aspect that was discussed is the fact that technological networks really have to support social networks and other factors within a classroom. Some of the examples mentioned here included PDA based learning projects that Nussbaum had been involved in.

He also presented a three-stage model when it comes to the implementation of 1:1 computing in education:

  1. find a model that works (being effective)
  2. replicate it in several other places (being transferable)
  3. scale to the desired size (being efficient)

Not entirely surprisingly it was mentioned that in almost all cases the biggest challenge is stage 3 of that model. Definitely some good food-for-thought!

Last but not least he emphasized the fact that there are a lot of hidden costs when it comes to implementing computers in education. This topic came up repeatedly in the follow-up discussions and during previous sessions and it was really interesting to hear the many different view-points that people had on this issue.

The follow-up discussion with the audience turned out to be fascinating as well. The topics which were being discussed included:

  • the distinction between digital inclusion and classroom integration
  • the notion that bringing 1:1 computing into education on a large scale is similar to running a start-up company as one doesn't have blueprints in many cases
  • the fact that the additional costs of deployments also very much depends on the existing infrastructure in a school, city, region or country

Session 1: Is 1-to-1 worth the investment? How does this policy align with other educational policies? chaired by Michael Trucano (The World Bank) with presentations by Franz Kühmayer (Austria), Oystein Johannessen (Ministry of Education, Norway), Alejandro Piscitelli (Argentina), Robert Fogel (Intel) and Charles Fadel (Cisco).

After the morning session being extremely inspiring and engaging and therefore setting the bar very high the next session had somewhat of a hard time keeping up. However two of the panelists did give really great talks.

Alejandro Piscitelli from Argentina had prepared a powerful presentation that included a great video prepared by students which consisted of the famous "Another Brick in the Wall" music video combined with statements by Seymour Papert and Sir Ken Robinson's must-see TED talk.

He also expressed his surprise about the fact that nobody at the conference had really mentioned Sugar and so he spent quite a bit of time talking about it and Sugar-on-a-Stick. He went as far as to say:

"The most important innovation from One Laptop per Child is the Sugar interface."

The last speaker of the session was Charles Fadel from Cisco who offered a somewhat skeptical view of things which in my opinion was a refreshing counterbalance after the majority of the conference had often seemed overly enthusiastic. One of the most interesting aspects was that he also separated learning in the context of ICT into three stages:

  • learning through ICT
  • learning with ICT
  • learning about ICT

Fadel ended with a slide that asked people to consider reframing the discussion and think about it if it were really pedagogy-centered. He also mentioned that just focusing on knowledge probably wasn't enough and that skills should be considered as well.

The following discussion turned out to be very interesting as well since it quickly moved away from specific 1:1 computing in education topics to broader political issues and economic issues that have quite a lot of influence on relevant initiatives and efforts.

Again I'd really recommend you to take a look at the video recordings yourself as the two presentations mentioned above and the following comments and discussions are really well worth seeing.

Closing session: lessons learned and next steps with contributions by Eugenio Severin (IDB), Michael Trucano (The World Bank), Francesc Pedró (OECD), and Christian Dorminger (Austrian Ministry of Education). [As mentioned above here the recording unfortunately ends in the middle of Francesc Pedró's summary.]

The speakers of the clossing session provided a good summary of some of the main topics and issues discussed during the conference. It allowed for some reflectation of the broad variety of aspects presented during the past 2 1/2 days. Francesc Pedró also provided some interesting insights into OECD activities over the coming 12 to 18 months and I think it's safe to say that we've got many exciting things to look forward to in the field of 1:1 computing in education.

Conference summary

If you have made it this far and have also read my summaries from day 1 and day 2 and/or my tweets you probably won't be surprised to hear that I enjoyed the conference a lot and found it to be extremely inspiring. Apart from the many things I learned through the fruitful discussions and the various presentations it was great to catch up with old friends and meet so many new and interesting people.

As with every event there are always things that one could do better but admittedly I can't think of too many. Aspects that do come to mind are the almost complete lack of mention of open-source software and open learning materials and content. I also would have liked to see academia being more strongly represented to both broaden and deepen the discussions between what will normally be an audience consisting of many practitioners. Last but least some people pointed out that the format of the conference was very much an old millenium style. So I think that experimenting with things like a more modern barcamp approach could definitely yield interesting results.

In the end I want to thank all involved people - but particularly the organizers - for their hard work and enthusiams that made the "New Millenium Learners Conference 2010" a very memorable event indeed.

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Thanks Chris for giving us this great overview of the conference.

I was reading carefully your posts wondering once and again: Didn't anyone discuss the importance of free software and free knowledge transit for education?? In your last lines I read that it actually was not an issue, which gives me a first disappointment.

My other question is: Didn't anyone talk about the importance of social involvement? Do they all still think that education is just a matter of schools and governments???

If this point also wasn't discussed, I should say I'm really disappointed, not with the conference but for the conferencists, and hence with the politics-makers. Makes me think: Maybe 1:1 projects are very good, but they have to fight with the inertia of many leaders just adapting the new technologies to their old conceptions... It's the biggest difficulty they are having now, and probably will have for many years...

Thanks for the comment Pablo.

As I mentioned there was really only very little discussion about free software and free educational resources. In fact in one discussion there was even some pushback against the idea of teachers sharing their materials...

Regarding social involvement: the topic was discussed but didn't receive as much attention as I had hoped. As mentioned in my post there were some comments regarding the broader issue of "digital inclusion" and some people (e.g. the NGO from Colombia talking about their OLPC efforts) did seem to take a broader view of this issue.

Thanks very much for an excellent running summary of the proceedings of what was truly an exciting conference.

I should like to add a few comments about the discussions at the conference on the merits of one-to-one computing in schools in general. Interestingly enough, there was no discussion that I heard about the relative merits of the introduction of one-to-one computing in primary versus secondary schools. Only the Maine project has a completely saturated approach that includes all school children. Others focus on a specific age group, leaving an observer wondering how children fare once they leave the program. In U.K., one-to-one is a concept for families, whereby the government is targeting low-income families with a subsidized programme that aims at ensuring universal access to computers in homes.

People who work with OLPC projects naturally favor a saturated approach, because that is the OLPC philosophy. Other researchers and practitioners are more cautious if not outright skeptical. Evidence is clear that there is enthusiasm on the part of most end-users about a saturated approach to school use of computers. The evidence about the influence on learning outcomes compared to alternatives is not clear at all. Added to that, there are simply no studies that evaluate cost-effectiveness, particularly if one attempts to calculate total cost of ownership (TOC), what Chris calls including the hidden costs. Alfons ten Brummelhuis from Kennisnet (Netherlands) gave a comprehensive overview of research that gives very mixed results for ICT use in schools in general. Some research seems to show that it is home computer use that is more influential than use in schools, although it might be argued that home computer use is equally a socio-economic predictor and separating out the actual impact of learning could be difficult even there. A few participants claimed that laptops are less conducive to group work and participatory approaches than other devices: hand-helds or tablets. Others emphasized the need to implement one-to-one projects in a favorable infrastructural environment.

The conclusions of the conference were measured: even its advocates acknowledge that one-to-one computing is an approach chosen more on belief than evidence. However, they argue that one cannot wait for evidence that might never be sufficiently convincing to do something that seems evidently essential for developing 21st century skills. Others feel it is important to explore a variety of options. Most participants emphasized the centrality of educational and pedagogical goals in shaping decisions about the tools required to achieve those goals.

Interesting comments. Note, though, that the Maine laptop program is only for 7th through 12th grade students, not for primary students.

Oops. Quite right and sorry about that.

Thanks a lot for the excellent coverage!