Carol Skyring about visual communications, telepresence and education (#diverse2009)


ZoopraxiscopeThese last few weeks before my summer leave where extremely busy, so I hadn't much time to finish my blogposts about the Diverse Conference 2009. But I want a clear head before I leave, so without further ado, let's start with some reflections on the keynote speakers of Diverse 2009, starting with Carol Skyring of LearnTel, Australia. Skyring has been involved in the design, application and effective use of learning technologies for education and business applications and keeps a blog about videoconferencing.

Visual Communications: from Zoopraxiscope to YouTube
Carol Skyring kicked off Diverse with her keynote about the developments of visual communications: past, present and future. You can watch her keynote online via an Echo360 capture.

Since the invention of the zoopraxiscope in 1879 to the launch of YouTube in 2005, moving images have influenced the way we see the world and have been eagerly embraced by educators. Visual communications are developing at an astounding rate. New devices and new software have the potential to change the way teachers and learners communicate. But have they delivered what they promised and have things changed all that much in education? (from abstract Diverse Conference 2009 Handbook)

The main theme in Skyrings’ keynote is how technology effects learning and learners. She raised some important questions about how developments in technology and visual communications will influence the design principles of education and the succesfactors of visual communication in education. It was a story I heard before, but  an important one to be told, especially at the beginning of a conference. Many of her questions were themes and topics of the sessions during the rest of the week.

This is the opening video of the keynote. The soundtrack “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”, is taken out. But the message is clear: there is a lot more to be seen.

During her keynote I learned about the concept of telepresence. I learned a new word. Telepresence is about allowing a person to feel as though he was present at a location, other than his true location, by the use of technology (source: Wikipedia). This of course can be achieved through the use of videoconferencing, but also other technologies, stresses Skyring. Telepresence and -standards let applications know where you are, what you are doing and what kind of communications you are prepared to receive.

What does telepresence mean for students? Students experience lots of interaction online (social networking), expecting almost instant reply, choosing whom they want interaction with, choosing whom they want to learn with and not where. Well, I think the ‘where’ is still important, but developments like open educational resources, like for instance iTunes U and YouTube Edu, make it possible for students to shop for education.

These notions were familiair to me, part of the ubiquitous learning & geo-everything concept, but I like the connection with the concept of telepresence. I like to think it focuses more on the aspect of  ‘feeling’ present online, than ‘being’ present online, and the effect this has on education and teachers: teachers and students adapting to new dimensions of communicating. Telepresence is an important concept in blending formal education with the personal web of students.

Next to the trend of telepresence (and videoconferencing in HD-quality) Skyring spoke of three other trends:

  1. Online social networking will becoming more visual through video;
  2. Video will become more mobile;
  3. Virtual worlds are growing and becoming more important: the real world and our virtual world are mixing up together.

Skyring mentions Second Life as a leading example of how virtual worlds are used in education, saying that Second Life is definitely not the future, but the first virtual world that isn’t just a game. Second Life or other virtual worlds are not something I’m very active with and maybe I should change that. My main problem with virtual worlds that it is often presented as a formal learning environment in education, copying the traditional approaches of learning. I know of some great innovative examples of effective use of virtual worlds, mainly social simulations. I doubt if the ‘telepresence’ of our young learners fits with the virtual worlds-platform. Are they not creating their own virtual worlds with their web 2.0/social networking tools, communicating more effectively then in virtual worlds as Second Life?

After the keynote, Tom Visscher took the opportunity to interview Carol Skyring for a ‘flipumentary’. He asked her the question how we can help teachers with technology in the classroom and outside in this increasingly complex world. Watch the flipumentary on SURFmedia.

In the video Skyring speaks about helping teachers making informed decisions about choosing technology for the right purposes, together with technical staff and students. The next step is to increase the awareness level of everybody in the learning organisation by showing the technoloy and what it can do, motivating others to join the effort. This process must be supported by professionals who can guide teachers moving into using this technology and the change it involves. Skyring gives teachers the advice to just have a go with it and don’t pretend you’re an expert but be open about your learning process with the students. Be brave!

Read more on the keynote of Carol Skyring on the Diverse website and the SURFgroep conference wiki.

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