The Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE) is a University of London initiative focusing on research, training, capacity building, and strategy and policy development to support innovation in online and distance education. On 28 and 29 March 2023, CODE held its 17th annual conference – a hybrid in-person and online event – on Research in Distance Education (RIDE). The theme of RIDE 2023 was sustaining innovation and sustainable practices.
Here are a half-dozen of my personal highlights and takeaways from the conference:
- In-person conferences are better than virtual conferences. Last week I met someone from my undergraduate days, a person I hadn’t seen in four decades. And I caught up with a colleague from the early days of the TEL team, who is now working in London. (It’s remarkable how many Portsmouth EdTech people seem to have ended up in London!) It was great to reminisce and to hear what is new. These interactions I guess might have happened online, but I doubt it.
- Hybrid conferences are hard to get right. The Senate House was constructed in the 1930s, and it is simply not set up to handle a hybrid conference. The organisers did their best to ensure that in-person and online participants enjoyed an equivalent experience, but the limitations of the technology and the physical spaces in the building made it difficult. I can understand why conference organisers want to run hybrid events (and why teachers want to run hybrid lectures) but these are hard things to get right. I have attended many excellent online conferences, and many excellent in-person conferences, but I cannot recall a hybrid event that has ever worked seamlessly.
- The sector is continuing to debate and think-through the opportunities and threats posed by generative AI. Professor Mike Sharples, from the OU, delivered an excellent keynote address. He noted that he had given the talk several times recently, and each time he had to update it: developments in this field are currently happening on a weekly basis. (It was also interesting to learn that Mike began research into AI and education during his PhD – about 40 years ago!)
- The concentration on sustainability provided an interesting lens through which to view our practice. One session looked at the move from in-person, paper-based exams to online exams. The claim was that this was a much more environmentally friendly approach to distance education. That might be so – but a full accounting was not given of the environmental costs of online. A lot more research is needed.
- The University of London Worldwide is experimenting with AI tutors. The intention is not to replace human tutors with AI tutors but to see whether this technology can help provide some elements of a personalised education at scale. They are just at the start of this project – it will be interesting to see how it develops.
Credit Image: Photo by Open Journey