Notes from the Inaugural National Learning and Teaching Forum

This week I attended the, grandly titled, Inaugural National Learning and Teaching Forum being held in Melbourne. It was an interesting experience. It was not a large forum by any means but the list of speakers was impressive, including Professors from many universities and many senior academic managers. The first day really focussed on quality and standards while the second day was mostly around learning spaces, virtual and physical.

For me the highlight has been the keynote on day two given by Dr Paul Kim who is the Chief Technology Officer of the School of Education at Stanford University (as an aside, how refreshing is to see an academic who is also a Chief Technology Officer for an academic organisation. If only we were more open to this idea in Australia.). This was an inspiring presentation about the rapidly evolving global higher education environment. It was the only presentation that really talked about some of the things that I see as being big issues in higher education at the moment. Specifically, online learning, mobility and the rise of new higher education providers. It was a beacon of inspiration amidst much that was somewhat disappointing.

Much of the rest of the forum covered topics that we could well have been discussing ten or fifteen years ago and essentially represented business as usual with a 20th Century model of what the university is and does.

The conference was run by a private company and it was telling that:

  1. I was the only person tweeting the forum (but at least it allowed me to choose my own hashtag)
  2. The presentations are being made ‘available’ for a short period on a password protected web site.

Both of these give you an idea of the highly traditional nature of the forum and perhaps help you understand the cultural divide that I can see emerging between progressive educational technologists, modern educationalist theorists and many of those still managing the quality assurance processes surrounding learning and teaching in universities.

Also disappointing was the emphasis on the word Teaching whilst much less focus was placed on Learning. Again this seemed to me to be reflective of an expectation that we are continuing with a  traditional model of course delivery for universities.

Overall I found it a disappointing forum. There was a focus on input, not output, it was traditional and didn’t offer much in the way of new thinking. As I’ve said, the stand outs were Dr Kim but I was also impressed (again) by Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington from Monash University as well as Professor Suzanne Vaughan from QUT who was one of very few who emphasised Learning.

I won’t be going next year.

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