University of Hertfordshire
The Fifth International Blended Learning Conference held at The University of Hertfordshire was well attended with a range of speakers on the subject of ‘Developing Blended Learning Communities’. The keynote speakers were from Calgary in Canada and The University of Queensland Australia.
Apart from a particularly inspirational paper entitled ‘Dreaming about Collaboration’ given by someone from Kingston University whose name escapes me for the moment…. the one that fired my imagination was a presentation by Alun Edwards from University of Oxford, ‘Community Collections: Of the people, for the people, by the people’.
This was a project that invited the general public to submit letters, poems and memorabilia from the First World War to the University of Oxford collection. Employing a combination of ‘road-show’ events and an online facility, for collecting: scans of original documents, photographs of objects, and audio of the soldiers or their relatives reading the letters and poetry. Using an open source piece of software called ‘CoCoCo‘, they curated over 6500 items for their collection, along with the provenance and the human interest stories to go with them.
One such story is of a soldier who had been training in Scotland and was on a train going down through England and passing through his hometown, but not stopping. He wrote a letter to his family put it in a matchbox and threw it out of the window as his train passed through the town. He was killed in France a few days later, but the matchbox and letter found their way to his family and now forms part of the Oxford collection.
Academically, the Collection and the Second Life site are being used in research and teaching literature. For those unfamiliar with Second Life it’s a ‘virtual world’ that you log into online, create an avatar and explore the environment. You can listen to audio and watch video clips by clicking on various objects. Oxford have turned their Second Life site into a First World War trench with a low light atmosphere, rain and explosions going off in the distance, you can click on objects to hear poems being read while looking at the accompanying photographs and biographical information. I confess to not being a huge fan of Second Life, but this is an effulgent use of the medium and if you immerse yourself in it, an incredibly moving experience.
Other highlights of the conference were the not soon forgotten sight of academics dancing at the ceilidh and an interesting paper on Simshare , UKCLE’s open educational resources (OER) project, aimed at creating a repository of simulation resources. Subject areas currently include: Law, Medicine, Architecture and Blended Learning.