E-Learning conference (1-2 Feb 07)

Date: 1 February, 2007 - 2 February, 2007
Location: Avenue Campus, University of Southampton
Event type: Conference

Programme | Abstracts | Event report

Past event summary

Wonderful to hear about peoples experiences.
Much more than just theory!

- Conference attendee

The Subject Centre, with the support of JISC funding, organised this 2-day event. The conference focused on the learner and how the latest technologies impact on the learning experience.

Themes were:

  • mobile learning
  • Web 2.0 technologies
  • sharing and re-using learning resources (learning objects and repositories)

This event followed on from the success of the E-Learning Symposium in December 2005.


Day one: Thursday 1 February 2007

Time Session
09.45 - 10.15 Registration and coffee
10.15 - 11.00 LXP: How do learners engage with and experience e-learning?
Gráinne Conole, The Open University
11.00 - 11.40 Piccolo Mondo: Virtual worlds for language learning: a look at Second Life
Kate Borthwick and Ann Jeffery, University of Southampton
11.40 - 12.00 Coffee
12.00 - 12.40 Social software for language education
Susan Brown, University of Manchester
12.40 - 13.10 Video conference link - Bodies in cyberspace: food, clothes and flesh
Alison Phipps and John Corbett, University of Glasgow
13.10 - 14.00 Lunch
14.00 - 15.00

Parallel sessions

Digital classrooms and student learning: how technology can enlighten the teacher
Karin Duffner, University of Ulster (CETL)

Mobile learning for the e-generation
Cécile Tschirhart and Dr John Cook, London Metropolitan University (RLO CETL)

Getting a virtual life
Hands-on session to explore the virtual world Second Life and its potential as a learning environment
Ann Jeffrey and Kate Borthwick, University of Southampton (e-languages)

15.00 - 16.00

Parallel workshops

Are there disciplinary differences in e-learning?
Su White, University of Southampton

Exploring technologies for social networks
Faith Lawrence, University of Southampton

16.00 - 16.30 Final plenary: The future of on-line diagnosis and feedback
Charles Alderson, Lancaster University

Day two: Friday 2 February 2007

Finding, sharing and re-using online resources: Personalising the experience for the teacher and the learner

This event is sponsored by the JISC-funded project L2O: Sharing Languages Learning Objects

Workshop facilitators:

  • Miguel Arrebola, University of Portsmouth
  • Kate Borthwick, University of Southampton
  • Alison Dickens, HE Academy Subject Centre for LLAS
  • Kate Dickens, University of Southampton
  • Joan McCormack, University of Reading
  • Margarita Menendez-Lopez, University of Surrey
Time Session
09.00 - 09.30 Registration and coffee
09.30 - 09.45 Introduction
Vicky Wright, Senior Academic Coordinator (Strategy) Subject Centre for LLAS, University of Southampton
09.45 - 11.15 Share and share alike?
Online learning materials in a repository: would you give as well as take? (hands-on workshop and focus groups)
11.15 - 11.45 Coffee
11.45 - 13.15 Finding a needle in a haystack
How the learning and teaching context helps you find the online learning materials you need (hands-on workshop)
13.15 - 14.15 Lunch
14.15 - 15.15 Re-purposing the wheel
Personalising online learning materials for your own students (hands-on workshop using wiki-type editing tool)
15.15 - 15.45 Plenary session
Kate Dickens, Project Leader, L20 - Sharing Language Learning Objects

Abstracts: day one

LXP: How do learners engage with and experience e-learning?

Gráinne Conole, The Open University
Download PowerPoint presentation (515Kb)

The presentation will describe some of the findings which have emerged from an in-depth case study exploring students' experiences of e-learning (the JISC-funded LXP project - students' experience of e-learning). The main research theme of the project was to collect learner stories on their experiences with e-learning. Data was collected through an online survey, coupled with a series of in-depth case studies using student audio diaries and interviews. The study yielded both expected and unexpected findings in terms of students' use of technologies. The expected findings are useful in terms of providing valuable up-to-date empirical evidence of students' current learning environment. The unexpected findings give a hint of the student learning environment of tomorrow and have important implications for policy and practice.

The project was particularly interested in extrapolating out subject discipline differences in the use of technology and worked in conjunction with four of the UK's HE Academy subject centres: Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine; Economics; Information and Computer Sciences; and Languages and Linguistics. These centres were chosen because they gave a good spread of subject areas and because they were centres who had a track record and interest in research on both the way in which students learn and the use of e-learning.The main research questions addressed were: How do learners engage with and experience e-learning? (What is their perception of e-learning? What do e-learners do when they are learning with technology? What strategies do e-learners use and what is effective?) and How does e-learning relate to and contribute to the whole learning experience? (How do learners manage to fit e-learning around their traditional learning activities?)

Piccolo Mondo: Virtual worlds for language learning: a look at Second Life

Kate Borthwick and Ann Jeffery, University of Southampton
Download PowerPoint presentation (2.5Mb)

Second Life is a virtual world which is open and accessible to any Internet user. It is a rich environment which operates in real-time; a world in which you can take on a new persona; wander freely; meet different people from all over the globe; fly; snow-board; visit buildings, islands; buy things; sell things, in short, it can become your second life.

This presentation will explore the tremendous potential that Second Life offers for language learning and teaching by guiding you through a prototype space created for learners of Italian. It will demonstrate how learners can meet each other in an attractive and imaginative setting to freely practise language, in a realistic and inspiring way.


Teacher perceptions of the value and affordances of social software for language education in their teaching contexts

Susan Brown, University of Manchester
Download PowerPoint presentation (1.3Mb)

The potential role in language education of recent software genres such as wikis, blogs and social bookmarking has been touched on in the literature, but not significantly explored. Given the description of such software as 'social'- an epithet which has taken root partly through the original conception of the uses of social software by its designers and in no small part through the perceptions of its affordances by the users - its possible roles in language education might be discussed in relation to socio-cultural and related learning theories.

This study will take a different tack and looks at how language teachers, who are also courseware developers, perceive the possible value and uses of social software in relation to 'the ecology' of their teaching context, in other words all of the interacting elements that create the dynamic of a learning context, as the teacher sees it. The study therefore seeks to provide a description of how the 'affordances' of social software, based on the teacher's perceptions of the possible relationship between software and context, are dynamically shaped by the teacher for language education purposes.

The study will centre on language teachers who have completed a course exploring the role of social software in distributed learning offered as part of the Masters programme in Educational Technology and TESOL at the School of Education (University of Manchester). The course asks teachers to closely reflect on the nature of social software in relation to their teaching contexts, pedagogical approach and to aspects of instructional design. The teachers' perceptions of the uses of social software are therefore informed by issues discussed in the course.


Bodies in cyberspace: food, clothes and flesh

Alison Phipps and John Corbett, University of Glasgow

E-learning suggests a virtual space, unencumbered by the rigours of the body, allowing synchronous communication between people in discrete locations and time zones. It potentially offers freedom from the constraints of what Bauman terms 'liquid modernity' and affords opportunities for 'liquid learning'. In this paper John Corbett and Alison Phipps will describe the effects of a blended learning programme, using a VLE platform (Moodle) to work to a common intercultural curriculum across English language learning communities in Brazil, Taiwan, Scotland and Argentina. Far from excising the body from the space they will discuss the heightened presence of bodies in cyberspace and its implications for embodied intercultural language learning.


Digital labs and student learning - how technology can enlighten the teacher

Karin Duffner, Centre for Excellence in Multimedia Language Learning (CEMLL), University of Ulster

CEMLL's website

The Centre for Excellence in Multimedia Language Learning (CEMLL) aims to explore the effective combination of computer-based tasks and traditional face-to-face teaching. Integrating the communicative features of traditional analogue language laboratories with the wider functionality of networked computer labs, our multimedia laboratories allow the teacher to monitor student progress, assess understanding as a task is performed and provide individualised assistance when and where it is needed. Multimedia offers opportunities to access authentic, current materials and integrate different media in designing learning activity.

While the labs provide students with opportunities to engage in activity-based learning within a multimedia-rich environment, under the direction of a tutor, they also provide teachers with extensive opportunities to observe and monitor student learning.

This paper provides an overview of how the affordances of the digital labs can be harnessed to help the teacher understand and assess learning, not only in language teaching but in a range of other disciplines also. It will refer to different users of the multimedia labs, a number of pedagogical applications of technology and further developments planned by CEMLL. Issues raised should resonate with all teachers keen to explore the relationship between the integration of technology and student learning.

Mobile learning for the e-generation

John Cook and Cécile Tschirhart, RLO CETL, London Metropolitan University
Download PowerPoint presentation (2Mb)

RLO CETL's website

We will begin this talk by defining m-learning, identifying the users, and making a case for its potential in HE. We will then introduce examples of some m-learning applications (such as mobile phone quizzes and MILOs) and current m-learning projects (e.g. the Reusable Learning Objects CETL's embedding of m-learning in various HE courses). The next part of the talk will focus on the key benefits of m-learning, both practical (e.g. portability, connectivity and context-sensitivity), and pedagogical, such as personalised learning and increased learner motivation. Some limitations of m-learning are also mentioned, such as cost and the size of the keyboard. The talk will end with a prototype demonstration, involving language learning materials, and discussion with delegates.

Exploring technologies for social networks

Faith Lawrence, University of Southampton

From the threat of bans in the US to social networks topping Google searches for 2006, awareness of Social Networks has been growing over the last year. A study of 935 teenagers carried out in the US found that just over half of the 12-17 year olds questioned had accounts at social networking sites. But what is a social networks and how can this technology be used and abused? This workshop looks at how we define a social network and why they could become increasingly important.

From electronic journaling to MySpace we consider the appeal of such sites and how they might be, and already are, being integrated into learning environments. We also discuss some of the problems and ethical issues that might arise with such sites and debate possible solutions.

The future of on-line diagnosis and feedback

Charles Alderson, Lancaster University
Download PowerPoint presentation (1Mb)

There is some confusion and contradiction in the language testing literature as to what diagnostic tests do and what they should contain. Diagnostic testing is a grossly under-problematised and therefore under-researched aspect of foreign language education, and what is needed is a debate which might lead to a research agenda.

In fact, there are very few diagnostic tests of foreign language proficiency, the best known of which being DIALANG. However, that suite of tests, whilst arousing considerable interest and being widely used, is much more often used for placement purposes than for true diagnosis. It is also limited in the feedback it can give users at present, since all feedback is generated automatically without human intervention.

In this paper I shall briefly describe what DIALANG can currently do, users' reactions to the system, what DIALANG might be able to do in the future, and what research is necessary into how foreign language proficiency develops and how teachers attempt to diagnose their learners' strengths and weaknesses. Above all, we need to clarify what we mean by diagnosis of foreign language proficiency and what we need to know in order to be able to develop useful diagnostic procedures and meaningful, effective feedback.

Abstracts: day two

Share and Share alike?
Online learning materials in a repository: would you give as well as take?

(hands-on workshop and focus groups)

Would you be happy to give, as well as to take from a digital repository?
What issues are there surrounding the sharing, re-using and re-purposing of online material?

In this workshop, you will:

  • Explore a newly-created digital repository of online learning materials and resources
  • Discover how easy it can be to find and download effective online resources ready for use in class
  • Investigate the differences between learning objects and pedagogical assets
  • Uncover some of the barriers to sharing your own materials

This workshop guarantees that by the end, each participant will be re-assessing their own attitude to whether they really want to share or not...

Finding a needle in a haystack:
how the learning and teaching context helps you find the online learning materials you need

(hands-on workshop)

How do you encapsulate the learning and teaching context?
Why is it important to encapsulate and describe the learning and teaching context?

In this workshop, you will:

  • Look at and evaluate existing ways of describing language learning resources
  • Enhance your understanding of how effective resource descriptions can help you, as teacher or learner, find the online material you want easily and quickly
  • Discover how teachers and learners can make best use of online materials, aided by useful resource descriptions
  • Uncover some of the obstacles to effective resource descriptions and consider the question - in the future will materials creator have to become librarian?

This workshop promises that you will begin to see the online material that you create in an entirely different way.

Re-purposing the wheel:
personalising online learning materials for your own students

(hands-on workshop using wiki-type editing tool)

Would you like to personalise the online materials that you find, for your own students?
Would you like to adapt online materials for your own purposes just as easily as you adapt paper materials?

In this workshop, you will:

  • Discover and use an innovative, wiki-type tool which is designed to allow the adapting and editing of existing online material
  • Uncover how the tool could be used to update and refresh your online materials
  • Evaluate the usefulness of such a tool
  • Explore the issues surrounding adapting existing materials in this way

This tool is easy to use, requires no previous knowledge or support from other software, and will be freely available at the end of the project.

Event report

E-Learning conference: day two

by Kate Borthwick, eLanguages

Finding, sharing and re-using online resources: Personalising the experience for the teacher and the learner

A series of workshops sponsored by the JISC-funded project L20: Sharing Language Learning Objects

Workshop 1: Share and Share Alike? Online language learning materials in a repository would you give as well as take?

Participants in this workshop had the opportunity to explore a newly-created, prototype repository of online learning materials and resources. The repository contains materials contributed by a number of different institutions, and this real-life, practical example of 'sharing in action' enabled participants to evaluate and re-assess their own attitudes to the sharing of online resources.

In a discussion which followed the investigation of the repository, participants were asked to consider this question:

What are the benefits and barriers to sharing online resources?

A summary of their ideas follows below:


  • Not re-inventing the wheel - workshop participants felt that sharing quality material saves time and allows practitioners to concentrate on creating new, unique material.
  • The online materials within the repository are fresh and different - it is possible to 'give something a go' that you have perhaps not tried in your teaching before (other people have different ideas about how to teach certain points)
  • Sharing pedagogy (this was felt to be particularly relevant to using and creating online materials - an area in which educators may be less experienced)
  • Sharing good practice (particularly with reference to effective eLearning pedagogy and design, but also in relation to using online materials in the classroom or to support a course)
  • A greater range of quality materials available to users than would otherwise be the case simply by searching on the internet
  • Encourages collaboration with colleagues/other institutions rather than competition. In this respect, it is a move 'against the competitive re-purposing/corporate re-purposing of universities'
  • Saves time - it takes a long time to create effective online learning resources and activities, and so a bank of ready-made materials is very appealing
  • It is possible to edit and change materials quickly and easily, allowing for greater personalisation of resources, and thereby enhancing the student experience
  • In such a repository, materials are quick and easy to find and access
  • New copyright arrangements, such as Creative Commons, allows for materials to be shared and edited with creator-approval. On the subject of copyright, participants felt this could be both barrier (see below) and benefit, in the sense that digital copyright is currently so hard to be certain of, that a bank of copyright-friendly resources would be extremely appealing.


  • Lack of institutional support: Many participants felt that there was a lack of support for sharing within most institutions: they felt that as individuals, there was a desire to share, but that this was not encouraged on an institutional level where the emphasis is on retaining unique ideas in order to improve the institution's appeal to students (who are now increasingly seen as customers)
  • Not invented here - this sentiment was reflected at an individual and institutional level. Many participants felt an instinctive trust in their own (or their own institution's) materials over those produced by someone else. There was also a suggestion (encouraged by institutions) that materials should be created in-house to make best use of existing knowledge and skills.
  • Copyright - participants felt this to be an extremely problematic issue on a number of levels, not least the primary concern that institutions hold the copyright over materials created on their computers, so that even if a creator wanted to share material, their institution would be able to prevent this (should it choose to). Other concerns in this area were the lack of knowledge about digital copyright within the educational community and the lack of any 'test-cases' to help decide the law - would a creator of online material have to be certain of copyright on every single aspect of their material, e.g. pictures, audio recordings, texts and so on? At the moment, it seems that he/she would, and participants felt that this strongly inhibited sharing. The issue of uploading information to the repository was also raised - shouldn't creators set the level of copyright when they upload material? And shouldn't information on digital rights be available to downloaders/uploaders?
  • Time constraints (in reference to uploading material to the repository). Currently, a resource must have a reasonably large amount of metadata attached to it in order for users to find the resource and be able to use it. This is relatively time-consuming.
  • Is it applied research?
  • Participants highlighted a lack of access to technology and a skills gap which prevents them from producing online materials and sharing with colleagues; and may prevent them from using a digital repository in the first place.
  • Sustainability and maintenance: participants raised the question of who would administer and monitor the repository? They felt there was a need to keep materials up-to-date and refreshed, while contributing new resources.
  • Too many similar resources: participants mentioned that due to the lack of a wide-range of online learning resources, materials might seem similar and repetitive to students. However, it was agreed that the number and variety of online resources was increasing all the time, and that in the future, this might not be so much of a concern.
  • In specific relation to the prototype repository, participants mentioned problems with understanding how to download, unzip and use material. Facilitators explained that due to current technical capabilities in making 'content package' files, many of these difficulties cannot, at this moment, be avoided - but are being improved upon in subsequent projects. Participants also felt that more instruction was needed in the use of the repository - or perhaps a more intuitive interface was needed - in order to aid users in finding and accessing material.
  • Quality of materials: participants felt that they would be willing to share if they could be certain of the quality of the materials within a particular repository; although it was agreed that what constitutes 'quality material' is subjective, and so perhaps a 'wide variety of materials' would be a more realistic aim, allowing practitioners to select appropriate material to their taste.
  • Terminology: for some participants, the use of terminology such as 'repository' or 'pedagogical asset' was distracting, for others is was evident that such jargon was unavoidable.

Workshop 2: Finding a needle in a hay stack: how the learning and teaching context helps you find the online learning materials you need

This workshop focussed on the need for effective resource descriptions - metadata - to enable educators to find appropriate resources. Participants evaluated existing ways of describing resources and then discussed how these might be improved with reference to the L20 Project's findings on metadata. It became evident that description of the learning and teaching context was essential in effective resource description and discovery.

Participants raised some interesting questions about what 'metadata' is, how it should recorded, and who should record it:

  • Describing a resource is difficult to do - but extremely important since most search engines will search this field when attempting to locate a resource. There is a need for a precise description, probably including all keywords. However, there can be widely varying descriptions - even of the same resource - by different people because the description field is particularly open to subjective interpretation by the cataloguer/resource creator. How can we get consistency in the way that resources are described?
  • This led to the question: who is the best person to catalogue or describe the resource? Creator or cataloguer? Generally, participants saw an ideal situation as being when a resource is jointly catalogued, so that a the creator contributes their expertise in pedagogy and understanding of the learner context, and a cataloguer contributes their expertise and understanding of correct cataloguing procedures.
  • However, some participants felt that the materials creator was too close to the material to describe it effectively, and that he/she may make assumptions about how the resource will be understood and used. This was felt to be particularly pertinent to describing possible further/other uses for the material (beyond the original teaching intention). Participants felt that this information was highly useful in order to share and re-use the resource. It was suggested that in the future, new technologies might be able to indicate 'further uses' or other metadata fields automatically, based on metadata already completed and stored knowledge of a teaching and learning taxonomy.
  • Another area where the need for consistency and accuracy was felt to be imperative was the 'keyword' section. Participants suggested that a taxonomy would be very useful here.
  • The workshop highlighted an aspect of metadata that had become clear as a result of the L20 Project, which was that good metadata informed good eLearning. The act of considering how best to describe a resource in precise and direct terms encourages the creator to think deeply about the pedagogical and practical nature of what they are creating. To this end, participants suggested that the process of thinking about the correct metadata to attach to a learning activity could be used as a tool in teacher training.
  • In looking at the resource description fields for pedagogical assets which were chosen for the L20 Project, participants felt that there was a need for some indication of level. The problem of assigning any kind of level to a resource was discussed at some length: it was agreed that it was easier to assign level to a learning object because the tasks within it would have been created for a particular student group; however it was problematic for pedagogical assets, which have no inherent task. There was a clear need for an idea of level in order to guide teachers as to whether to consider the resource or not; however, language teachers are used to using all kinds of resources in a wide variety of contexts and tasks, and so a stark indication of level could actually be misleading and hinder resource usage. A suggestion to this dilemma was to describe the language in a more detailed way, e.g. 'a native speaker speaking at normal speed, using a high number of colloquialisms'. Participants agreed that there was no perfect solution that they could currently see.
  • The workshop concluded with a discussion on whether metadata categories applied to describe a resource actually matched the kinds of terms that people use to search. It became clear that metadata arising from the creator's intentions might be different when we approach it from the angle of assisting in an automated search for resources. It was suggested that there is a need for technology-assisted ways of understanding the teacher taxonomy and automating searching, browsing and cataloguing to help practitioners to find effective resources efficiently.

Conclusion and comparison to the findings of the eLearning Symposium, 2005

The 2007 workshops looked at the issues surrounding the sharing and cataloguing of online resources from a practitioner's point of view. This stands in partial contrast to the focus groups on 'sharing' from the 2005 eLearning Symposium, held at Southampton, which took a broader, more theoretical and research-orientated view. Despite this, both workshops and focus groups highlighted similar, as yet unresolved issues in relation to the sharing of online material: namely, IPR concerns; a lack of skills to develop and make use of online material; time constraints arising from the creation and cataloguing of material, and the 'not invented here' syndrome. There was, nonetheless, across both Symposium and workshops, a strong desire to share materials - and a certainty that this would have a positive impact on education.

It is interesting to note that in some areas, little has changed over one year and practitioners are still grappling with the same issues that cause barriers to the sharing of material. However, it seems that there has been a subtle shift in emphasis: participants in the 2007 workshops are now actually having to confront and deal with these issues as part of their daily working life. This must be a cause of satisfaction for the eLearning community - that despite appearances, we are slowly, but inexorably moving from theory to practice.