I was lucky enough to spend a few days recently in Berlin at the Online EDUCA conference. This is the biggest conference in Europe looking at the whole subject of using technology to support learning, and I went thinking that I would be meeting some of the smartest people and listening to the biggest, newest ideas in my professional domain. I’d also been invited to make a presentation to a sub-group there, but came away reflecting on the words of Groucho Marx: to paraphrase, “I’d never want to go to a conference that wanted to have me as a speaker.”
Perhaps the subject of my own talk prejudiced me; that for all the exciting talk about the brave new world of computer and mobile device technology, there is still a woeful lack of application of basic educational principles in most technology-delivered learning.
I was hopeful; I diligently read the synopses in the programme and went along to the sessions that promised to tell me lots of new things, but with one or two exceptions found that what people talked about was only vaguely related to their presentation title, that most people talked in only general terms about things they had done and what that might show, and that there just weren’t that many really new and interesting ideas.
I was also appalled by the general inability to communicate ideas: the PowerPoint slides crammed with indecipherable text or statistics, the lack of structure in delivery and the reluctance to look at the audience when talking. In my funny old way of looking at the world, learning relies on communication and an inability to do this to a roomful of consenting adults does not give me the confidence that it will be done effectively to a bunch of stressed, sceptical or cynical members of staff.
Although the audiences perhaps did not help. In every presentation I attended most people seemed to be dealing with e-mails or updating their Facebook pages on their laptops or tweeting or texting on (the mobile phone of choice) their iPhones. So while there was a whole lot of communicating going on, I’m not sure that many people were paying much attention to the moment.
Which took me back to good old Marshall McLuhan: who cares what you’re saying if you’re saying it on an iPhone?