It’s hard to think of a better location for an ocean-themed conference than Deakin University’s sparking waterfront campus. As with previous years, the Ascilite conference brought together some of the best minds in both the Australian and international learning and teaching field, opening up many interesting discussions around different aspects of educational technologies, as well as the current state and future of higher education itself.
Spanning over four days, the conference was jam-packed with presentations that highlighted the innovative practices of academics and professional staff in the area of learning and teaching. While it’s impossible to capture all of these presentations without running into thousands of words, here’s a brief glimpse of some of the emerging themes from the presentations I was able to attend.
Equity in higher education
The conference kicked off with a keynote from Professor Paul Le Blanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University. Covering Professor Le Blanc’s experience in making higher education more accessible to student cohorts from disadvantaged backgrounds, the keynote offered clear insights into the changes that can be made to create a more equitable environment in higher education, and how this extends beyond a degree, into employment and better opportunities for future generations. The approach of Southern New Hampshire university is unmistakably innovative, shifting the organisational structure of a degree from one based around class hours, to a more flexible arrangement in which completion of the degree is based on assessing key competencies. Professor Le Blanc also touched on changes to the way that we work in contemporary life, and what rapid developments in technology might mean for the future of work, offering ideas into how higher education can continue to adapt.
I key theme for me in Prof Paul Leblanc’s talk has been caring for the students, their needs and respecting their circumstances. Basic human values. Findings ways for making a difference in their life. #ascilite2018
— Vickel Narayan (@vnarayan) November 25, 2018
#ascilite2018 “We are in the business of hope” Prof Paul Le Blanc (Southern New Hampshire University) one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard at a university.. or anywhere 😉
— Peter Bright (@pbright) November 25, 2018
"I'm the calendar" – Paul Le Blanc shares how students can vary time on course based on life circumstances, hit pause when need be #ASCILITE2018
— Jo Elliott (@Dr_JoElliott) November 25, 2018
— Dan Laurence (@D4n_) November 25, 2018
Digital literacy, for staff and students
Under the conference sub-theme of Sink or swim: improving digital literacy, it was evident that the gaps in digital literacy for both staff and students remains an ongoing issue. This was an interesting one – we often think that our student cohort, primarily made up of millenials, is unlikely to experience problems in using the technology required for their studies. Many presentations suggested the opposite – that there are many students who do not possess the digital literacy skills required for their studies, and struggle to find opportunities to gain them. All up I counted 9 presentations, in the form of papers and posters, on digital literacy. Ranging from LMS change, to digital literacy expectations, the idea of digital natives, and embedding digital literacy as a learning outcome within a degree, it seems digital literacy is certainly not a cut and dry issue for students or staff.
@chieadachi shares research showing that university teachers believe universities should be developing the digital literacy of their students and staff, but are not confident that they have greater digital literacy than their students #ASCILITE2018 pic.twitter.com/UJTWl5IJ1a
— Trina (@trinajorre) November 27, 2018
— Chad Gladovic (@elementumc) November 28, 2018
Embedding new technologies
Following on from the digital literacies theme, new educational technologies were a major focus for the conference. Judging from the overflowing attendance at the presentations covering LMS change, this is a big concern at the moment for most universities. Special mention in this category goes to this nod to spaghetti westerns.
— Rhiannon 🌹 (@rhiannonha_) November 26, 2018
Thanks to everyone who attended my session today! I was blown away by the PACKED room and all the interest and questions! Please feel free to DM, @ me or email me, if you have questions or just want to chat academic perspectives of LMS change! #ascilite2018 https://t.co/RJQsMCcAS1
— Dr Katya Pechenkina (@DrKatya_Pech) November 26, 2018
There was more than just LMS change up for discussion. Erica Southgate presented a fascinating case study of creating serious video games to help students improve their literacy skills, and demand-driven disruption facing higher education also came up.
— Rosie Mackay (@rosiemackay) November 25, 2018
While technology might be on the move, some things don’t change, and one of these is that assessment is constantly being rethought and reinvented at universities around the country. Most of these papers pointed to the changes needed to keep assessments useful and relevant to students, and most of all, authentic.
— Rebecca Goodway (@rebeccagoodway) November 26, 2018
— Ruth Weeks (@ruthwsydney) November 26, 2018
See you next time
It was my first Ascilite conference, and it was certainly a memorable one! Ascilite 2019 will be held in Singapore next December, so make sure to mark it in your calendars.
Feature image by Khachik Simonian