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Educational Design and Engagement

Educational Design and Engagement

Enriching the student learning experience & supporting development of on campus and online courses.

Reflections from the Ninth International Conference on Networked Learning 2014 7th, 8th and 9th April 2014

Earlier this week I was able to attend the International Conference on Networked Learning when it was held in my home city of Edinburgh. I’ve not been to any of the previous conferences and was pleased to find this to be a very friendly and welcoming conference attended by an interesting group of delegates. It was also a very well organised event (and I’m not just saying this as much of this was so ably arranged by colleagues at the University of Edinburgh).


The conference hashtag was #nlc2014 and there was lots of twitter activity. I’m not yet experienced enough at multitasking to contribute to twitter during the sessions, but I could see that plenty of people around me where doing so. Interesting slides where photographed and on the twitter stream before I’d thought to take a photo. It also allowed me to get an idea of the sessions I’d not been able to attend. Tweets and retweets were coming from people not attending and it was clear that people were following the conference from elsewhere which really added to the buzz of the event and feeling of connecting to a wider community. I’m now following many people from this event which should give my Twitter account a new lease of life!

During the three day event I attended two key notes, two symposia and 17 full papers presentations/pecha kucha presentations and it appears (now that I am back in the office) that I wrote 18 pages of notes. Leaving me with the dilemma of how to distil this experience into a coherent blog post! I’m also aware that this is a very active group so much of the conference has already been blogged and tweeted (I’ve added some links at the end of the post).

For this post I’ll briefly talk about the two plenary speeches which were definite highlights for me. I think these have been recorded so should be available for others to enjoy, I’ll add the links when they are available.

Neil Selwyn: Why it is crucial to be critical

The first was from Neil Selwyn, Professor from Faculty of Education, Monash University in Australia. He gave a thought provoking opening plenary on ‘Why it is crucial to be critical’ in which he suggested that ‘Being critical is not in the ed-tech DNA’. He encouraged us (as educational technologists) to ask awkward questions:


Ask awkward questions – Selwyn

Q. what underlying values/agendas are implicit?

Q. in whose interests does this work? Who benefits?

Q. what is new here?

Q what are the un-intended consequences…what are the second-order effects?

Q. what are the potential gains…what are the potential losses?

Q. what are the social problems being addressed?


He also suggested 5 things for educational technologists to do:

  1. Need to de-personalise how we perceive ed-tech
  2. Need to be nasty (but after some debate downgraded this to snarky)
  3. Need to do this with humour and good grace
  4. Need to be contrary, contradictory, uncertain
  5. Need to be persistent and prominent

Followed by the call to: write often, publish often and publish widely.

I’m greatly looking forward to reading his book Distrusting Educational technology.

Steve Fuller: The lecture 2.0 or why the future of the University depends on brand

The second plenary speaker on the second day was Steve Fuller, Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology in the Department of Sociology University of Warwick who gave a talk ‘The lecture 2.0 or why the future of the University depends on brand.‘

He started by asking: What difference do Universities make? Are they past their sell by date? Going against the current trends he states that lectures are very important. What is valuable about the lecture is not that it provides reliable transmission of information. Lecturers should exemplify ‘daring to know’, not be someone who can be reduced to their PowerPoint.

He made the case that since the Enlightenment the value of a University education was to teach individuals to learn for themselves and to make judgements for themselves. The right for free expression came along with this. Academic freedom was a guild right, because they had developed the skills to make judgements.

He proposed Lecturing as an art form of the University. Other providers can produce materials to transmit information and there are other accreditation bodies. Writing was made to come alive in the lecture. It is/was a branding medium, great Universities had the great lectures. They understood the difference between speaking and writing as mediums. The importance of improvisation, saying much more than is in the notes. For Steve Fuller being a good performer is important for an academic.

This was a great conference and I’m aware this post doesn’t really do justice to the breadth of the work presented. I’ve been privileged to meet fascinating people undertaking interesting work and I’m going to think further about how this impacts on my job, particularly around the development of the Social and Cloud based learning and teaching consultancy service which I am currently supporting and developing.

The first Networked Learning Conference was held in 1998, and has been held every two years since. The 10th conference will be in 2016, with the venue to be decided. Even if I can’t be there in person I’ll be following it on twitter.



The Networked Learning Conference Website:

Nicola Osbourne’s Live blog from Networked Learning 2014 gives lots more details of the sessions she was able to attend:

Peter J Evans blog post about Steve Fuller Keynote:



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