HERDSA conference - Rotorua 2 – 4 July 2008

Traveling to Rotorua for the Herdsa 2008 conference was a smooth hop to Christchurch and Rotorua. The first day we spent in the eLearning Guidelines workshop sharing our project experiences with the other project leaders. I was pretty proud of the poster created by Sunshine - spot the one with the arrow below. The vertical brochures looked great as well. NorthTec's poster was pretty good as well - very little text, eye-catching and with a separate handout, an A4 brochure with all the info about the project. More on this later...
The highlights at HERDSA 2008 were the key note speakers - Dr Pita Sharples, Dr Barbara Holland, Judith Ramaley, Dr Stuart Middleton and Dr Etienne Wenger – and the Inquiry-based research workshop. I will concentrate on the key note presenters in this post and do another post around the IBL presentation.
  1. Dr Pita Sharples spoke at the Powhiri and shared his perspectives on Maori learners and participation – it is okay to take a long time to get your education – he did. His talk was enjoyable and set the scene for the conference about disadvantaged learners such as Maori, however, only the keynotes addressed this area with regard to engagement, and I only attended one presentation which dealt with this – Selena Chan (given by Nick) and the use of mobile technologies so that bakery students had access to resources. A lot of speakers spoke about engagement and communities of practice, but not about access and equity and diversity. Dr Sharples spoke about the importance of “language nests” for Maori children and also schools where they could carry on the learning. Taking children from Te Kohanga Reo and putting them in mainstream schools did not work. Te Wananga were another advance for improving the participation of Maori students.
  2. Dr Barbara Holland – spoke about communities of engagement. She mentioned how contemporary students crave active and experiential learning eg mobile learning and social networking – I was curious and want to investigate the research on this. She suggested a conference - International Service-Learning conference - Hong Kong 2009. There are different perspectives on what engagement with the community means. For example, an exchange of ideas and information is heading towards engagement, whereas Incubators, continuing education, internships and clinical work which are work-integrated and which promote networking are examples of community engagement. In other words engagement is connected learning and discovery. Dr Holland framed this as community-based learning which enables participants to explore their interests leading to greater self-esteem, motivation, engagement, empowerment. I liked the ideas Dr Holland put forward, as the theoretical basis of a practical framework which Judith Ramaley explained later on. However in vocational education community-based learning is not new. Certainly in nursing and other health professions there is a strong connection with professional communities which is linked to learning objectives and reflection. The development of academic/clinical positions in the School of Nursing at Otago Polytechnic has been dually beneficial. I wonder if they still exist?

  3. Judith Ramaley – was charming and funny as she spoke about how a framework of engagement in an organisation can lead to transformative change where “adaptive expertise” is foremost. That is proponents have the capacity to “learn on the job” and solve problems creatively as they arise. Anyone and everyone can lead change as people work together collaboratively using inquiry and emotional learning to form communities of practice. I particularly liked her analogy to social networking where “institutions become equivalent to a social network or open source model in which anyone may offer suggestions, contribute to advancing the institution and feel an integral part of the enterprise as a whole” - a “transformational change dynamic”. It is not a top down model and I believe OP has the beginnings of this capacity although our managers are immersed in a model of strategic change. The work we are doing with the Commonwealth of Learning through WikiEducator is an example of community-based learning and this is being led from the “coal-face”. It is disruptive, complex and collaborative and transformative for anyone who becomes involved and capacity is building around the nexus of open educational resources (Holland & Ramaley, 2008, p45). References: Holland B. & Ramaley, J. (2008). Creating a Supportive Environment for Community- University Engagement: Conceptual Frameworks. HERDSA Annual Conference 2008 Proceedings, p33-47.

  4. Dr Stuart Middleton – was also funny and it was obvious he was not very impressed by politicians and the impact of government policies on access to education. We now have a situation where education has become more academic and has lost flexibility – the one size fits all approach means there is no longer a differentiated curriculum. The result is that disengagement is now occurring, and even though there is growth in education a large number of people turning are turning their backs on education and there are serious skills shortages. He likened the educational system to a nut which was resistant to change (the nut cracker), with disengagement showing up as one of the cracks as the arms of the nut cracker (changing demographics and economies) squeezed the nut. As Dr Middleton said, “Given the filters of failure that currently operate within education up to the point of entry into further and higher education, the group that presents itself for postsecondary education has become such a distorted reflection of the community that even the most carefully attentive and sensitive selection procedures would simply not achieve equity nor provide access for a majority of students.” We have a “leaky education system” with large numbers dropping out of secondary school, truant and leaving with no qualifications. Maori participation has increased thanks to the Te Wanangas, however, participation and completion rates in mainstream universities continue to be low. The diagram below depicts equity and access, and shows where some of the cracks lie in the transition from secondary to higher education. I will link to the paper once the proceedings are online. In the not too distant future, white Europeans will be in the minority so those groups of learners who have traditionally been under-represented are increasing, meaning HE needs to work differently. For example, the Pacific Island population is predicted to increase to make up 51% of the population in Auckland in the next five years. He also referred to examples in the literature around student retention and success stating, “Supporting students is critical to their success”.
Dr Middleton’s presentation was very powerful and I particularly liked the following quotes: “Simply by sailing in a new direction, you could change the world” (Curnow). “We have to be careful not to cross a crevasse in two steps” (Middleton), this was regarding the new funding regime – which he believes is a good move as we have moved away from the previous system but it is happening too quickly. For example, the Adult Community Education funding should never have been dismantled as 40% of people participating in Community Learning Centres in Auckland go on to HE. And the best quote, “Resources have to be distributed unevenly when the need is uneven” (Middleton).
5. Dr Etienne Wenger – rearranged the main venue and put us in circles facing each other. This was tricky for some who were unable to nod off, though believe it or not, they tried. Etienne tried to engage the audience in reflection on some of the presentations about Communities of Practice which worked a little but people had come to hear his wisdom and they were tired from the conference dinner and dancing so not particularly responsive and there was no real discussion. Personally I would have liked to hear more about his new theories and frameworks for COPs, but apparently this would have repeated his workshop. There were a couple of good diagrams about the social discipline of learning, an approach also
covered in his latest book, so I hope the diagrams will appear on the conference web site
The conference was closed by Rotorua's Deputy Mayor and his closing speech and prayer sent us on our way after he led a rendition of pokare kare ana.
The poster (spot the one with the arrow) will be travelling to Wellington with John Milne and then to the DEANZ conference in Wellington.