Category Archives: jiscel08

Looking back at online conferences for now

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

With the current situation impacting on conferences, events and teaching, there is a lot of talk and posts out there on how to deliver online teaching, as well as moving conference to online events.

Ten years ago or so, Jisc ran for a few years an online e-learning conference. I participated in these as a delegate, a keynote speaker and for some of these I was the conference blogger and wrote a blog called “Letters from the Edge”.

Letters from the Edge

It can be useful to have an online space (a blog) where someone addresses what is happening in the conference (and elsewhere).

I also published some ramblings about the advantages of an online conference on my blog about advantages of online conferences, many of which still stand up today and are also useful potentially for those who are planning some online delivery.

In this post I discuss some of the challenges, but also many of the advantages of an online conferences.

Why an online conference?

A video about the advantages of an online conference, however it doesn’t take self-isolating into account.

Advantages of an online conference

This post based on the experiences of supporting and delivering webinars over the years and some tips.

Webinaring it


This post talks about the discussions that are possible in an online conference. You will find much more discussion and debate takes place than at a traditional conference. Not only that, the conversations happen over time, allowing for reflection and checking sources. It’s also all written down. This makes it very easy to check back and see what someone said before making a different point. Sharing links and ideas is also so much easier too.


Wherever you are… is a short humorous video, that looks at how you can participate in conferences from any location, which for most people will be home these days.

Wherever you are…

Online conferences can facilitate more in-depth discussions than at traditional conferences.

Due to the textual and asynchronous nature of an online conference discussion it is possible to engage in the conversation either immediately or after a period of reflection over the two days of discussion for each of the themes. it’s a real opportunity to take the time to debate the issues that arise out of the presentation with fellow practitioners and experts.

Challenging Discussions

I am sure if you ask a lot of people why they attend conferences, in addition to the keynotes and sessions, one aspect that will come out is the networking and social aspects of the conference. So isn’t all this social and networking all lost with an online conference, I hear you cry! Well in a way, yes! And in a way, no!

Social awkwardness

Some may find it useful in these difficult and challenging times.

Second Life’s second chance to make it big

I have never been a big fan of Second Life. I have discussed this before, here on the blog and in various conferences and events, such as the JISC Online Conference. I have been to Second Life and I am actually in this screenshot from the 2008 JISC Online Conference.

Many proponents of Second Life have been saying for a fair few years now how “next year” will be the year of Second Life.

However this year they may well be right.

This is the time for Second Life to make that breakthrough that it needs to be accepted as a mainstream technology for learning.

If it doesn’t do it now, in my opinion it will never do it.

So what is making the difference this year?

Well first the bad news, Linden Labs the people behind Second Life are laying off 30% of their staff in a restructuring. This includes closing the UK office.

These cuts are possible as Linden are going to take Second Life in a new direction, one I think gives Second Life the potential that has been talked about for years.

Linden is going to work on making the virtual world accessible from a web browser. In the past you have needed to download software, install it and open various ports.
As the press release says:

First, the company aims to create a browser-based virtual world experience, eliminating the need to download software.

Now installing software was always a barrier, especially if you were trying to do so in an institutional environment with IT departments often wary or unwilling to install the software. The other major barrier was the technical requirements for Second Life, most of the cheap beige boxes (ideal for word processing and spreadsheets) were pretty useless for wonderful 3D environments. There are still possible issues if the browser rendering requirements are high, though at this time we just don’t know.

If Linden are successful they may also move into mobile browsers and this will open up more possibilities.

I am less sure about the following though.

Secondly, Linden Lab will look to extend the Second Life experience into popular social networks.

Read “popular social networks” as Facebook. Other companies have tried to “move” into Facebook, some with success like Farmville, but others less so. Similarily can you see how Second Life and Twitter work together! Tweets abounding in a Second Life environment perhaps.

However back the browser, by making Second Life more accessible, this is the one opportunity that Second Life has in becoming a core learning technology that many people use day to day, rather than where we are at this moment, with many people having tried it, or more likely attempted to try it and some keen enthusiasts. If a browser based Second Life doesn’t take off, I can’t see it ever taking off.

This new direction from Linden will provide many opportunities for practitioners and learners to experience and use Second Life on a more regular basis and as a result come up with useful and exciting ways to use it to enhance and enrich learning….

…or will they just build virtual classrooms!

Read the full press release from Linden Labs.

Advantages of an online conference

I was going through the media I had uploaded to my blog when I found this.

This was a video I made for last year’s JISC Online Conference when I was the official conference blogger. It outlines some of the advantages of online conferences.

The blog, Letters from the Edge was well received last time and the good news is that I am going to be blogging again at this years online conference.

e-Learning Stuff Podcast #014: Half-Term Meanderings

James, Ron and Lilian just chat about a range of different stuff, basically they meander…

This is the fourteenth e-Learning Stuff Podcast, Half-Term Meanderings.

Download the podcast in mp3 format: Half-Term Meanderings

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

James is joined by Lilian Soon and Ron Mitchell.

e-Learning Stuff Podcast #014: Half-Term Meanderings


  • Geoff Minshull runs DirectLearn and uses WebEx for running online conferences. At the last JISC Conference they also used Elluminate for live presentations.
  • Gabbly can be used to discuss a website.
  • Feedburner from Google allows you to create a better RSS feed.
  • Feeder allows you a lot more control over your RSS Feed.

Blowing my own trumpet

This blog post is really just me “blowing my own trumpet”, well can’t one do that now and again?

Why the self trumpeting?

Well the evaluation of the JISC 2008 Online Conference has been published on the JISC website.

One of the questions asked was about the blog I wrote for the conference.

The evaluation said:

Most of the respondents who included their comments thought the blog was excellent. Six people from forty-two did not find it useful or thought it was extra reading in an already busy conference, but most of the comments on the blog were in the following vein:

“It gave a useful overview of the conference that looked at the whole picture instead of the detail.  Also generated new ideas.”

“It was excellent and tied together much of the technology and reasoning behind the usefulness of an online conference.”

“For me it was one of the highlights of the conference – very, very good indeed.”

“Also enjoyed James Clay’s blog entries – amusing yet informative! Hats off…”

Really quite chuffed about the comments.

Finally to bring me down to earth, here is the bloopers tape from the conference, as not everything goes to plan….

Please turn off your phones and close your laptops

This week I am blogging at the JISC Online Conference. At an online conference it’s almost given that you will be using a computer, maybe even a laptop!

What about at a non-online conference?

 Do you now pack your laptop, extra battery, power cable? Or do you use a PDA, an iPod touch to make notes? Or do you still prefer to use that trusty old pen and paper?

Please turn off your phones and close your laptops

I remember the first time I took a wireless laptop to a conference (a JISC programmes meeting as it happens) and the hotel had wireless access and I had a wireless laptop. Some of the older people out there may remember a time when laptops did not come with wifi cards as standard.

It was a real enabler.

When a link was shown, I could there and then check the site out, add it to my bookmarks, or ignore it.

Whereas before I would scribble it down and try and remember to check it out later which would take up time – and there is never enough time. Often I would forget to check it out, or lose the piece of paper.

If someone said something I didn’t understand or couldn’t remember, a quick internet search saved me having to ask a question. I could remind myself of previous projects, previous presentations.

Today I will use Web 2.0 tools such as Twitter or Jaiku to correspond with remote colleagues and ask them the questions the presenters are asking me. Sometimes with interesting results. I will also blog about the keynote or presentation too.

Having said all that, I will also admit that at some conferences I will with my laptop check out my e-mail or check a few websites, usually during a conference keynote. Though I will also take notes or scribble actions.

This is more down to the conference speech being either not applicable or totally boring! You will know what I mean, some keynotes deserve to be ignored. I  remember going to one keynote at a conference  and they had a minister speaking who was so obviously reading a prepared speech he pronounced JISC, J I S C (spelling out the letters), rather than JISC (as rhymes with disc). Rather then walk out, I could get on with other things using my laptop.

I think part of the issue is that a lot of conferences are very passive experiences, and we are now all more active learners then we may have been in the past.

At the ALT conference back in 2006, most of the workshops I went to were 90% listening and 10% activity. The conference had a wiki and I think six of us contributed. It didn’t help that there was no wifi and very few places to charge a laptop.

In 2007, ALT-C had good wifi and a good preponderance of bloggers and this was the medium of choice, lots of blogging and lots of contacts made.

This year, Crowdvine (which I had first used at the JISC Conference) was the conference success story (though Twitter had its place too I think).

I am making an assumption that in this year’s online conference we will see a similar level of discussion and debate that has happened in previous years. The depth and breadth of discussion is something that you never really see at a non-online conference, well not during the presentation or workshop itself.

What I would like to see during a non-online conference, is an online area to enable further discussion and questions relating to the conference speech or workshop. Just to get a little of the depth of discussion we will see next week.

I tried this out myself at ALT-C at the two workshops I ran, I used a blog and got the workshop participants to blog their experiences and thoughts, it seemed to work quite well. Made life easier for me as in my Web 2.0 workshop there were about seventy delegates…

I have read that this hasn’t always worked when tried, but if there was full and proper wireless access and online delegates as well as attending delegates this could enable more discussion and debate.

Finally at any e-learning or learning technology conference would you believe that there are still people who object to delegates using their laptops during keynotes and presentations? The main complaint that was given was lack of attention and the noise of typing. At any other conference I would expect that kind of attitude, at an e-learning conference I expect everyone to be connected, either via their laptop or mobile device.

What do you think?

Fishing Boats and Seagulls

Fishing Boats and Seagulls

I have spent the last few days away on holiday in a place called Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast.

Lovely place, however connectivity was seriously lacking. The place we were staying at had no internet which generally isn’t an issue for me as I have a 3G USB stick (or I use my phone as a tethered modem or using JoikuSpot as a wireless hotspot).

However despite the area being very trendy and popular could I get a mobile phone signal? No I could not! No signal from T-Mobile or Vodafone…

As a result I had no connectivity apart from when we travelled to an area with a mobile phone signal or at a place with wifi.

Now generally when I am on holiday lack of the internet is not a problem – hey I am on holiday – but even on holiday it can be useful to have net access for holiday stuff: finding out opening times for attractions, locations and pricing. Also useful for finding out the times of In The Night Garden. It was also weird just having four TV channels, my Freeview Tuner for my Mac couldn’t pick up any channels in the area.

However this time (though I try and avoid working on my holidays) I had a meeting to organise in London and was also blogging at the JISC online conference, so as well as slightly inconvenient on my holiday, was annoying from a work perspective.

It did make me think about those learners who don’t have easy access to the internet, and despite falling costs of both broadband and 3G it can still be sometimes impossible to get online as the area itself does not have broadband or 3G coverage. Rural and coastal areas are often places with minimal 3G coverage and broadband access. Using 3G at 7.2Mbps in the centre of London streaming video and browsing really fast makes you sometimes forget that in some areas this is an impossibility.

The coffee is usually better…

Those of you who know me will know that I quite like online conferences and have participated in a fair few over the years.

JISC are running another of their innovating e-learning conferences this November.

JISC Online Conference – Innovating e-Learning 2008: 4- 7th November

Programme now available online.

The programme has a range of presenters and facilitators including quite a few from FE, Richard Everett, Geoff Rebbeck, Ellen Lessner, Andrew Williams, amongst others. There will be quite a few people from FE attending as well.

There are a few advantages of online conferences over traditional face to face conferences, feel free to add to them in the comments.

With an online conference it is feasible to go to all the presentations and workshops even if they are at the *same time*.

If you are a reflective person, then like me the question you actually want to ask the presenter is thought of as you travel home on the train, with an online conference you have a chance to reflect and ask that question.

You can attend a meeting at the same time as attending the conference.

You can teach a lesson at the same time as attending the conference.

You can watch Merlin at the same time as attending the conference.

You can attend the conference at 2am, useful for insomniacs and those with small children.

Having said all that it is useful too to make time for the conference, shut the office door, work from home for a bit, wear headphones, move to a different office, work in the coffee spaces in the college.

You can see presentations again, you can pause them, you can ignore them and (virtually) walk out without feeling you may be offending someone as their talk doesn’t relate to you as you thought it did.

No more do you have to stand on platform 12 at Bristol Temple Meads wondering if the delayed 18.19 is in fact ever going to arrive before you freeze to death.

The coffee is usually better.

The coffee is usually better...

A few disadvantages as well…

No bag, so nothing to add to that huge collection at the back of the cupboard in the office…

No physical freebies, no mouse mats or mugs…

From the JISC, further reasons to attend.

Innovating e-Learning 2008 will put you in touch with e-learning ‘thinkers and doers’, both nationally and internationally – with a vibrant social scene,  it’s a great place to network

Innovating e-Learning 2008 also offers a wealth of content to engage with, if it’s new ideas you’re after – 10 expert sessions plus 3 keynotes make this an extremely rich and engaging event

Being held online, it has some unseen advantages – a pre-conference reading period gives you a chance to cover a lot more than is possible at  a f2f conference and you have a chance to think about what to ask the presenters

If it’s debate you’re keen on, a high degree of interaction between participants and presenters is another plus of the conference – last year’s Innovating e-Learning was highly praised for ‘the sheer amount of real interest and useful conversation’ it generated

The content this year is the most wide ranging yet – from Using Second Life for learning and teaching (tours with experienced guides available free!) to Mobile technologies – disruptive or enabling? With expert presenters, this is a chance to explore what you have heard about, but may not yet have put into practice

Innovating e-Learning 2008 is for further and higher education – the programme for 2008 has widespread appeal

Innovating e-Learning 2008 still costs only £50 per delegate and can be accessed online at times and places convenient to you. This has to be the most cost-effective staff development event ever!

Book now for JISC  Innovating e-Learning 2008 :  4-7 November 2008

100% of last year’s delegates thought the conference was good value for money. Here’s what some delegates said last year:

Peter Whitfield, City College Manchester
I have enjoyed this so much!  Even though there are frustrations in bringing about change.  I will take away a desire to me more disruptive in my designs for learning and make no apology for tossing tired models out in favour of creativity, collaboration and student-centred activities.  And with the motivation of the inspirational presentations and discussions at this conference I will be less apologetic for doing so.

Karen Pinny, Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies.
I have found this discussion really encouraging and stimulating and will be going away with a reinforced enthusiasm to explore some of the issues further with my unsuspecting students!

Finally the JISC have asked if I will be the conference blogger, hmmm, do they realise what they have done….

Go, you’ll enjoy it.