UCT hosts a conference of a different kind later this month, as e/merge 2004 examines blended collaborative learning in southern Africa. In this case, the medium really is the message, as the conference takes place almost entirely online at http://emerge2004.netfrom June 28 until July 10, 2004.
"Blended learning" refers to learning approaches that integrate both face-to-face and ICT-based learning methods, an increasingly common practice at both residential and distance tertiary institutions.
e/merge is being organised by the Multimedia Education Group (MEG), in partnership with the Tertiary Education Network's Developing Information Technology Capacity in Higher Education (DITCHE) Programme.
In many respects, e/merge 2004 will be just like a face-to-face conference, with registration, a formal programme of selected papers, and discussion between presenters and participants. Presenters will use a range of formats such as full text papers and slide shows with accompanying audio narration, and will each engage in online discussion with participants about their presentation and related topics for a period of several days.
Of course, conferences are equally or perhaps even more valuable for the informal networking, and the virtual environment aims to encourage this with a virtual cafÃ©, an "open space" for new topics, and an exhibition area.
The conference is designed to share good practice and knowledge about educational technology innovation within the tertiary and secondary education sectors in the region, as well as to strengthen communities of researchers and practitioners.
Virtual keynote presenters are Dr Gilly Salmon of the Open University on Scenarios for the Future of e-learning, and Dr Derrick Cogburn of Michigan University on Going Global, Locally: Geographically Distributed Collaborative Learning Environments for Studies of Globalisation and the Information Society.
The full programme includes 25 papers and three workshops, and has attracted over 100 registrations so far.
MEG opted to present the conference online both to facilitate networking that might not otherwise take place, and as a way of modelling online collaboration as part of the process. To encourage participation and ensure that discussion is focused and meaningful, the organisers are paying particular attention to processes of online facilitation.
The live conference opening takes place on Tuesday, June 29, at 17h00 in Kramer LT1, with a conference introduction by Laura Czerniewicz from MEG, a virtual keynote from Cogburn, delivered by Internet video-conference, and a reception from 18h00 to 19h00. Everyone is welcome at this event, but please RSVP if you plan to attend.
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