The November edition of Media & Learning Online differed quite a bit from our first online event in June 2020 and was designed as a way to test out several aspects of a format that we plan to repeat in 2021 as well as introducing new topics. These two days were organised as two separate linear events; the first on 18 November on the general topic of scaling university services to cope with increased demand and the second on 19 November on AR and VR in higher education. More than 200 people registered for each of the two days and we recorded participation levels of over 65% with most sessions attracting over 100 people. Figures that we are delighted with given the level of demand on time faced by our members and the wider target community as well as the increasing number of competing events online.
For the agenda on 18 November under the banner of “Scaling up video-based services in Higher Education”, we decided to combine a continuation of the discussion as to how university service providers are coping with demand brought about by the epidemic along with the introduction of several new topics. The day began with inputs from heads of services in universities in Australia, Belgium, UK and Italy and ended by bringing back those who had joined us for a similar session last June from China, USA, Germany and the UK. While everyone agreed that in general, the crisis has at least become more manageable, the extent to which service providers are coping in different parts of the world differs quite a lot. Here in Europe, those responsible for providing such services in universities like KU Leuven, Queen Margaret in Edinburgh and Verona University have the necessary resources even if longer term planning is also still somewhat challenging. However in Australia, the situation is different as Scott Doyle from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne explained due to the dramatic decrease in overseas students which has had the knock-on effect of dramatically reducing resources.
This focus on service provision continued for much of the morning, with dedicated discussion sessions on re-purposing facilities and supporting academic DIY video production with lots of links to useful resources and tips. Iain Mac Labhrainn from NUIG’s single page intros to lots of different services were particularly popular!
In addition, two subjects relatively new to the M&L audience were also briefly introduced, that of privacy and proctoring in an effort to test out interest in these topics for future dedicated events. In both cases, the sessions proved that there are a lot more questions than answers, making it clear that these are topics to which we need to return.
The second half of the day was much more oriented to academic and student support. Michael Wesch from Kansas State University gave an inspirational talk about his journey into the use of video and the issue of whether or not academics should and can make their own resources was one to which we returned on several occasions in the afternoon.
Steven Krause from Eastern Michigan University brought us right back to earth with his spirited argument as to why synchronous teaching with video systems like zoom is not always the right way to go. Maha Bali from the American University in Cairo then turned the discussion towards supporting students in online learning environments and managed to really engage participants in her ongoing debate on care and equity for students in online environments in an excellent example of showing by doing!
A further highlight in the afternoon was the talk and demo given by academic Sean P. Willems from University of Tennessee about his home based studio which raised lots of questions as to whether academics should have to create their own facilities or whether they are better leaving production to the many excellent educational video producers around like Sian Hamlett who along with Philip Seargeant from the Open University also took part in this discussion.
The agenda for the “Experiences and practice in using AR and VR in Higher Education” event on 19 November was quite different but no less engaging. This reflected the fact that the event was organised with the support of XR ERA (a community for extended reality for education and research in academia), an initiative of the Centre for Innovation, Leiden University, the Netherlands which is a member of the Media & Learning Association.
We began the day with an overview and first excellent showcase of XR in higher education given by enthusiast Neil McDonnell from the Mobius project in the University of Glasgow and an introduction to the new XR ERA community by Thomas Ginn from Leiden University. We also heard from Oliver Schreer from the XR4ALL initiative on how and where he believes XR technology to be going in the future.
Later in the afternoon, the topic switched to mainstreaming XR in higher education which included an inspiring talk by Jeremy Nelson about how the University of Michigan is going about making XR very much part of the university’s innovation plans. In the meantime, we brought together several researchers to introduce the research they are doing into the learning affordances brought about by XR as a way to highlight the role of higher education in not only using XR but also in researching the value it can bring to learning.
An important part of the day was a demo session that provided a very brief insight into a broad mix of different applications being applied in higher education, in health, in schools and in vocational training. This session included inputs from 10 highly innovative projects hosted in different universities which highlighted a wealth of experience in diverse technologies, approaches and settings from the very simple to the highly sophisticated. Later in the afternoon, we included a session specifically on the topic of responsible XR in an effort to highlight just some of the ethical and user-related issues this technology can raise.
Perhaps the most popular part of the day was the discussion at the end when participants met in smaller groups to discuss where they think this technology will be in 10 years. It was clear from this session, and indeed from the entire agenda, just how much of an appetite there is for further opportunities to meet, share, and discuss this topic of XR in higher education. This is precisely the mission of the XR ERA Community which everyone involved in the day was encouraged to join.
In terms of format, we decided to run each day as a single track event, with presentations alternating with discussions and, on the second day, with demonstration sessions. Sponsoring members of the association each had their own dedicated sessions on 18 November and each day ran without a scheduled break based on an assumption that participants would join and leave according to their interest and availability. This particular aspect of our planning is now under discussion!
We would like to specifically thank our sponsoring members, Mediasite, Panopto, Amberscript, Sony, Rapidmooc, Panasonic and Kalyzee who each gave really interesting inputs highlighting new services and or new insights that they have gained, many of which are as a result of the dramatic increase in the use of various video based tools and services brought about by the pandemic.
We are gradually adding links to the presentations and resources shown on the conference programme and shared by different speakers for Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 November and we hope to have recordings available online of the different talks and discussion sessions that took place before Christmas. We are also studying and discussing the feedback carefully as we look forward to 2021 when we are planning to have 2 days of online events in Spring and again in Autumn on topics of interest to our members. These events are likely to be shorter and spread out in the calendar and will again be offered free to Media & Learning Association members. Plans for a face-to face conference in the summer of 2021 are still on hold as, along with everyone else, we wait to see how the situation facing us all evolves.
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Sally Reynolds, Media & Learning Association