VI International Seminar on Open Social Learning (VI): e/merge: Peer learning online from developing contexts

VI International Seminar of the UOC UNESCO Chair in e-Learning

e/merge: Peer Learning Online from Developing Context. Laura Czerniewicz and Tony Carr, Director and Senior Lecturer, respectively, of the Center for Educational Technology at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Notes from the Open Social Learning, organized by UOC UNESCO Chair in E-Learning and held in Barcelona, Spain, on November 30th and December 1st 2009.

Conferences are changing, in several dimensions: time, space and scope. In this sense, openness means space, transparent, boundless, etc. We think of open as the opposite of closed, good vs bad, in a binary decision. But there are different kinds of openness, related to social, learning and technological issues. We need to use a continuum for openness, along criteria and categories and in relation to needs and aims.

e/merge is a conference which purpose is to grow and consolidate the community of learning technology professionals and researchers in developing countries, specially Africa.

Regarding the social issues, we have found power relations “flattened”, people from different levels engaging in conversations. But 30% of participants generate 70% of the activity. Passive participation is not considered negative “lurking”, although participation is encouraged. There is a strong sense of online presence, multiple communication channels, presence indicators and informal conference spaces. There is some risk, also, as some participants may feel uncomfortable with such an open setting.

Q&A

Why don’t you open it to anybody?

We do not want the conference flattered by hundreds of people from Western institutions; we would like to promote participants from Africa. We want it open enough but not open completely.

How do we keep alive this kind of meetings? What about using new technologies?

e/merge is a two week special event every two years, but we don’t have an ongoing community based on technology. In fact, we could go for it or it could kill us.

You said “open and safe”. What do you mean by “safe”?

We mean it as trust; in order people take risks in a safe way, exposing you to other people. So it’s safety for risk taking. Bloggers are a good example of that. It’s especially new in the African context, so we need to adapt it. A culture of open conversation, acceptance has grown in e/merge conferences. You don’t get negative feedback, but other kinds of responses. It’s a nurturing space, but with positive criticism.

Asynchronous conversations predominate the conversation itself, especially on bad conditions, electricity problems, etc. Do you expect to empower the synchronous part of e/merge?

It has been increasing from one conference to the next. But people use both synchronous and asynchronous tools in a similar way, especially when the conversation is “buzzing”.

What about the “merge” part of e/merge?

Every conference of e/merge includes speakers from other countries, so it’s a combination of global and local participants. Of course we expect to see the number of participants from Africa increase in a near future.

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