It’s hard to think of a better location for an ocean-themed conference than Deakin University’s sparking waterfront campus. As with previous years, the Ascilite conference brought together some of the best minds in both the Australian and international learning and teaching field, opening up many interesting discussions around different aspects of educational technologies, as well as the current state and future of higher education itself.

Spanning over four days, the conference was jam-packed with presentations that highlighted the innovative practices of academics and professional staff in the area of learning and teaching. While it’s impossible to capture all of these presentations without running into thousands of words, here’s a brief glimpse of some of the emerging themes from the presentations I was able to attend.

Equity in higher education

The conference kicked off with a keynote from Professor Paul Le Blanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University. Covering Professor Le Blanc’s experience in making higher education more accessible to student cohorts from disadvantaged backgrounds, the keynote offered clear insights into the changes that can be made to create a more equitable environment in higher education, and how this extends beyond a degree, into employment and better opportunities for future generations. The approach of Southern New Hampshire university is unmistakably innovative, shifting the organisational structure of a degree from one based around class hours, to a more flexible arrangement in which completion of the degree is based on assessing key competencies. Professor Le Blanc also touched on changes to the way that we work in contemporary life, and what rapid developments in technology might mean for the future of work, offering ideas into how higher education can continue to adapt.

Digital literacy, for staff and students

Under the conference sub-theme of Sink or swim: improving digital literacy, it was evident that the gaps in digital literacy for both staff and students remains an ongoing issue. This was an interesting one – we often think that our student cohort, primarily made up of millenials, is unlikely to experience problems in using the technology required for their studies. Many presentations suggested the opposite – that there are many students who do not possess the digital literacy skills required for their studies, and struggle to find opportunities to gain them. All up I counted 9 presentations, in the form of papers and posters, on digital literacy. Ranging from LMS change, to digital literacy expectations, the idea of digital natives, and embedding digital literacy as a learning outcome within a degree, it seems digital literacy is certainly not a cut and dry issue for students or staff.

Embedding new technologies

Following on from the digital literacies theme, new educational technologies were a major focus for the conference. Judging from the overflowing attendance at the presentations covering LMS change, this is a big concern at the moment for most universities. Special mention in this category goes to this nod to spaghetti westerns.

There was more than just LMS change up for discussion. Erica Southgate presented a fascinating case study of creating serious video games to help students improve their literacy skills, and demand-driven disruption facing higher education also came up.

Ever-evolving assessment

While technology might be on the move, some things don’t change, and one of these is that assessment is constantly being rethought and reinvented at universities around the country. Most of these papers pointed to the changes needed to keep assessments useful and relevant to students, and most of all, authentic.

See you next time

It was my first Ascilite conference, and it was certainly a memorable one! Ascilite 2019 will be held in Singapore next December, so make sure to mark it in your calendars.

Feature image by Khachik Simonian

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