EDENRW8 by Tony Bates - Inspiring keynotes in an innovative format

November 10, 2014 by Antonio Moreira Teixeira   Comments (0)

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As announced in my latest post, I've invited EDENRW8 rapporteur Tony Bates, who is an EDEN Senior Fellow and also a very dear friend, to share with us his expert perspective on the main discussion trends and conclusions of such a remarkable event. As a result he wrote a collection of four excellent blog posts, which I'll publish over the course of this week.

In each post Tony gives an insight on a particular aspect of the EDENRW8. In the first one I'm publishing today, he shares his views on the conference format and the inspiring an provocative keynote speeches by Cristóbal Cobo, Pierre Dillenbourg, Sian Bayne, Willem van Valkenburg, Philip Schmidt and Allison Littlejohn.

You can find more about Tony's background, interests and work on his personal web site. I'm sure you'll enjoy reading this great report.


by Tony Bates, Canada

I had the privilege this year of being the rapporteur for this intense and highly engaged and interactive workshop, held in the historic city of Oxford, and hosted by the UK Open University.
There were almost 150 participants from more than 30 countries, mainly European, although there were also participants from Canada, Australia, USA, Argentina, Israel, Barbados, Mexico and Iceland.


Papers for the conference were selected through peer review and published online a week before the start of the workshop. All the papers can be openly accessed by clicking here (PDF download, 4,89 MB).
The workshop was deliberately organised to enable participants to meet and discuss their research. The workshop included the following:

  • 6 keynotes, followed by group discussions of the keynote topics
  • 7 interactive parallel sessions, with discussions centering around the 42 papers accepted for the conference, and plenary reports on the sessions
  • an award for the best research paper submitted for the workshop, announced at the conference dinner
  • 7 interactive workshops
  • a poster session with 13 posters
  • an Oxford-style debate on the impact of open educational resources on higher education
  • 4 small groups walked and talked along the edge of the river Thames about current issues around open and distance education
  • a wrap-up plenary session where participants posed questions about research in ODL, and answers were offered by other participants
  • an optional full-day visit to the Open University.

Did I say intense? The result was an immense amount of discussion, questioning and networking in a very short time.

It was of course impossible for me to attend all the sessions, and my focus was on the parallel sessions where the research papers were being discussed, so my report has to be brief and cannot be totally inclusive of all the activities - but I will do my best!



Almost all the keynotes provided new and challenging perspectives for EDEN members.
Cristobal Cobo of the Oxford Internet Institute argued that 'Openness needs to go beyond the content-centered focus' and proposed the following analysis of learning in a digital age:


Scheme by Cristobal Cobo


What is driving the need for new approaches is the massification of higher education and the need to find new ways to create open-ness, which requires a greater focus on the contexts of learning, both inside and outside of formal learning.

Pierre Dillenbourg, from the Centre for Digital Education at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, described EPFL's extensive MOOC initiatives. EFPL offers MOOCs in both English and French languages. EPFL makes use of volunteer or community teaching assistants to support learning in their MOOCs, and extensive use of data analytics to track participant behaviour.

Sian Bayne, Professor of Digital Education, School of Education, University of Edinburgh, UK, used their MOOC, 'eLearning and Digital Cultures', to illustrate her discussion of the issues around 'Teaching, Research and the More-than-human in Digital Education'. I was fascinated by their use of Teachingbots, which trawl for participant online comments and provide automated comments and support for identified participants.

Willem van Valkenburg of the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), the Netherlands, described TU Delft's integrated approach to online education, which includes MOOCs, open courseware and online credit courses, as well as its campus-based teaching.

Philip Schmidt, of the MIT Media Lab and P2PU, described the MIT Media Lab's creative approach to learning, based on projects, passion, peers, and play, that is now also available as a MOOC. He also described some of the work of the Peer2Peer University (P2PU), which provides free, open courses by bringing together people online to learn from each other.

Unfortunately I missed Allison Littlejohn's keynote on Preparing Lifelong Learners.

All the keynotes examined different views of open-ness in education. It is clear that MOOCs are evolving and are just one example, but a very visible one, of the various ways open-ness in education is now developing. Another theme running through the keynotes is the tension between human and machine approaches to learning, raising the important question of what in education is best done by humans and what by machines.


Tony Bates is an EDEN Senior Fellow and the President and CEO of Tony Bates Associates Ltd., Canada, a private company specializing in strategic consultancy and training in the planning and management of e-learning and distance education. Having been a founding member of the British Open University, he has developed an intense international career in the last two decades. Tony is acknowledged across the world as one of the best known, respected and influential personalities in the international open, distance and e-learning field. As one critic once noted, he has earned the right to have his books placed on every distance educators’ bookshelf. Read more here.


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