CALRG · Editorial

Distance learning practice features among presentations at CALRG Confererence 2021

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The Computers and Learning Research Group (CALRG) annual conference took place across 15th - 16th, June 2021.

The two-day online conference hosted a range of presentations and interactive sessions exploring various of relevant topics to computing and learning research, including:

  • learning and research during Covid-19 pandemic
  • digital assessment
  • teachers’ education and professional development
  • learning analytics
  • supporting learners in online environments, and,
  • learnings from innovative methods

The conference featured presentations from across the OU, including academic and non-academic researchers at IET and the OU's Faculty of WELS (Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies), as well as guest keynotes from leading experts from across the higher education sector. Presenting on Day 1 of the conference, Professor Simeon Yates, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Research Environment and Postgraduate Research at University of Liverpool, addressed CALRG with his session titled ‘Digital inequalities – what they are and their consequences’.

Discussing the impact that COVID-19 has had in increasing awareness of digital inequalities and the steps needed to address the divide, Prof Simeon Yates shared:

"Rather than consequences in-and-of-itself COVID-19 has made visible the digital inequalities already present in the UK. "

"Going into the pandemic half a million UK kids did not have access to both a decent device nor broadband – despite many proposals and programmes this figure has not greatly fallen. Many digital health services were not accessible via devices owned by older users, nor has Zoom addressed issues of loneliness for many people. "

"Digital inclusion 'is everyone’s problem but no one owns it'. It cuts across government departments, local and national government, education, health, and the work of the charity sector. Solutions need to address policy, access, skills, efficacy and capabilities and therefore needs these groups to come together to deliver local solutions and interventions. There are great examples of this from all round the world that can be drawn upon."

As well as Prof Yates, Professor Tamara Clegg, Assistant Professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, presented her keynote session, titled ‘Communitizing Science: Communities as Contexts for STEM Learning’ on Day 2 of the conference.

Prof Clegg highlighted the potential of hyperlocal community settings - neighbourhoods, community centres, after school programs - for promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) learning in everyday life. Highlighting findings from two studies, Science Everywhere and Data Everyday, Prof Clegg illustrated ways STEM learning can be connected to issues and topics relevant to community members’ goals (e.g., cooking, sports).

Discussing some of the individual and collective-community benefits to localised STEM learning for people of varied ages in everyday life, Prof Clegg commented:

"The biggest benefit we’ve seen is the potential to help re-shape community members’ dispositions towards STEM - emphasising how they think of STEM, what it looks like in everyday settings, and who can engage in it. When we take these hyperlocal approaches, community members who previously had not seen STEM as relevant to their lives began to see ways that they could engage in STEM and ways in which it was pertinent to their day-to-day lives and responsibilities.

Additionally, STEM in these contexts has a different look and engagement style - often being much less formal than people typically think of STEM environments. Instead of Bunson burners and flasks, youth are using mixers and ovens, thinking about how they can use science to perfect dishes. For some who are used to more formal learning environments and approaches to STEM, such environments can help them recognise science when it’s happening in these informal ways. In each of these cases, the benefits of such dispositions are that community members expand what it looks like to do science and who can engage in it, opening the door for those previously disconnected to see ways they can contribute uniquely to science."

On the question of whether multi-generational learning has been identified in her research, Prof Clegg added:

"Yes! That has been one of the most exciting parts of the Science Everywhere project. In this space, we’ve had researchers working alongside community volunteers and youth to engage in science experiences relevant to the community. When we first began the project, we were really focused on youth dispositions towards science, which of course are really important. What we observed over time was that the adults’ dispositions were beginning to shift as well, having many additional benefits for youth and the community more broadly."

In closing, Prof Clegg discussed the outcomes of STEM-learning experiences being positioned at the heart of communities, commenting:

"I believe... that the true benefit is the development of a virtuous cycle of science learning and community development that persists beyond any one project and that has the potential to reach large swaths of the community. As community members see the value of science in their communities and daily lives, they begin to think of their own new endeavours and activities that leverage science to advance the community."

Find out and register for further CALRG events on the CALRG blog here.