I’m at the BCNet annual conference at Simon Fraser University’s Harbour Centre location this week.
Planning conferences is a lot of work, and it’s tricky business dealing with sponsors and such – so hats off to BCNet for a well-organized, information-packed conference that is well worth it for BCNet members and partners. I could only hope to do as good a job with my own upcoming conferences and such.
I got to the opening keynote a little late because I flew in from Victoria after my morning spin class at the Y (too darn conscientious to get a sub) so I didn’t catch all the talk on “Creating the University of the Future Today,” by James Ptaszynski, Senior Director at Microsoft. I thought I walked in on a good session at first, as he was talking about personal learning environments. My colleague had given a talk on how PLE’s are changing education (check it out at his blog) at a conference in Saskatchewan last week, so I was interested to hear Ptaszynski’s perspective.
However, it seems his perspective was little more than “buy my product.” He demo’d the way OneNote can be used, and then he showed another Microsoft product, and then another Microsoft application … you get the idea. After a few minutes I thought maybe I had entered the wrong room. I understand how one might be a little attached to one’s own product, and I can tolerate a nod or two (i.e. “Of course I think my product is the best, but applications like OneNote, EverNote, etc are changing the educational landscape in ways a, b and c …”) but I expect a more visionary talk from a keynote, rather than a product demo. I realize I did get there late, but the people I talked to afterward indicated the entire presentation was in the same vein. Oh well.
The next presentation I attended, Open Platforms Toward (Mostly) Open Education, couldn’t have been more different. Brian Lamb and Novak Rogic demonstrated collaborative online solutions they’ve developed at UBC Office of Learning Technology: wikis and multiple-user blogging. I came away with my head swirling with possibilities around how to implement similar stuff within BCcampus (as internal communications is one of my many responsibilities). Most salient for me: the need for training and metrics, and the ability to allow “conservative” users to participate using their preferred existing tools (email in many cases, even though as Brian pointed out: “email is the place information goes to die”). In my workplace about half the people use the internal wiki, but half are not plugged in to the organization that way. Giving them training on the existing wiki/intranet is one thing, allowing them to participate without adding another layer on to their workflow is a other. The secret to allowing everyone to create content is to syndicate it–to integrate existing tools and processes into new technologies wherever possible. Info on the presentation is here. Brian’s blog is here.
After the break, I attended the presentation on the NEPTUNE underwater observatory project (NEPTUNE Canada: The First Nine Months). NEPTUNE is like the remote science labs that BCcampus is facilitating, except on a much larger scale.
Benoît Pirenne, the Associate Director of IT for NEPTUNE, described the information architecture involved in submerging instruments on the ocean floor, connecting them with datalines to UVic, collecting and storing the data and (here’s the best part) making the data available to researchers and enthusiasts worldwide. They’ve developed “oceans 2.0” – allowing web-based collaboration between scientists, giving real-time access to researchers who are at the remote controls of the dozens of sensors embedded in each networked hub on the ocean floor off the coast of Vancouver Island.
I missed the last presentation of the day but did meet some fascinating people at the reception afterward, then found myself at Steamworks with a table full of people from UVic. I got feedback on our own Post-Secondary Application Service from some programmers from the IT department, met an astrophysicist from the observatory located on the Island and a particle physicist working with CERN on the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.
This conference is geek girl heaven. I’m really looking forward to Day 2.