The Twenty-second International Conference on Learning was held in Madrid on 9th-11th July 2015. It attracted over 300 delegates from the academic and professional arena across the world: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, UK, United Arab Emirates and USA.
The theme for this year’s conference was “What counts as learning? Big data, little data, Evidence & Assessment”, a title that covered 10 different themes: Pedagogy and Curriculum; Assessment and Evaluation; Education Organization and Leadership; Early Childhood Learning; Learning in Higher Education; Adult, Community, and Professional Learning; Learner Diversity and Identities; Technologies in Learning; Literacies Learning; Science, Mathematics and Technology Learning.
Under such a variety of themes, presentations offered a multifaceted, multicultural and multidisciplinary view on the latest projects and research undertaken around the world. The University of Reading was represented at this year’s conference by a project led by Dtt. Enza Siciliano Verruccio (Department of Modern Languages and European Studies) and Ms. Maria Pilar Gray Carlos (Institution Wide Language Programme).
The theme Technologies in Learning focused on exploring the influence and impact of technology on areas such as “human values: learning through and about technology”; “access to learning in, and about, the digital world”; “new tools for learning: online digitally mediated learning”; “ubiquitous learning”. This formed the perfect platform for Enza and Pilar to present their project on “OpAL: Open Access to Learning”, a project that commenced towards the end of 2013. The project was partly funded by Routes into Languages, the Teaching and Learning Development Fund from The University of Reading, the International Study and Language Centre and Partnership in Learning and Teaching also from the University of Reading.
The aim of OpAL is to break down barriers to learning modern foreign languages. In order to achieve that aim we count on involving our students actively in the creation of materials. The materials created will be in turn available to the student community in the form of OERs (Open Educational Materials). The idea of the project came as a response not just to the language tutors’ experiences in language teaching in the higher education classroom, but to a clearly perceived difficulty of learning a second language by the students. These perceptions are evident in a national survey shown below which was carried out by The Guardian on 1001 students aged 14 to24 years old across the UK.
OpAL intends to encourage change in the UK language learner. It is inspired by two essential pillars of adult learning. The first is David Kolb’s learning theory (1984) on experiential learning or learning by doing. Our students explore areas of language on which they work to produce and test materials that at a later stage will be offered via the Web as OERs. The second is Alexander Astin’s and George Kuh’s work on Student Involvement (Astin, 1984; Kuh, 2009), that explores and explains how the involvement of students in co-curricular activities has a positive impact on student satisfaction and retention.
By engaging students in the OpAL project, they not only gain a deep learning of the subject studied, but they also become change agents in dispersing the fears and taboos related to language learning and, project an outward image that the higher education institutions are eager to portray: that of constructive change in the culture and nature of the relationship between students and the academic community within which they learn.
For further information on this year’s conference please visit http://thelearner.com/the-conference-2015/program-and-events/schedule-of-sessions.
If you are interested in attending or presenting at the Twenty-third International Conference on Learning, under the very suggestive theme of “Education in the Age of the Anthropocene” please visit http://thelearner.com/the-conference.