Research Fest proves "we have finally arrived"

11 November 2010

When Dean Robert Tierney faced the crowd at the Learning Technology Research Fest with the question, "Are we there yet?", he was referring to the realisation of the promising partnership between learning and technology, and one look at the numerous enthused attendees was enough to make him answer a resounding, "Yes." Describing his years of faith in the potential of joining the fields of learning and technology, he told the hundred and fifty attendees that he believes the fields are now and will continue to come together in effective ways.

His enthusiasm was matched by that of Professor Archie Johnston, Dean of Engineering and Information Technologies, who spoke of the essential benefits of collaboration between engineering and education (as well as a brief aside on the essential benefits of Scottish whiskey).

Spirits of one type or another continued high with Manu Kapur, of the National Institute of Education in Singapore, delivering a charismatic and engaging keynote to a packed hall. He spoke on "productive failure"; how designing conditions for learners to solve complex problems before they have the information required for success can actually lead to uniquely effective learning outcomes. The video of the keynote is available online.

In addition to this keynote, the fest shone a spotlight on the growing and vibrant research in the University of Sydney and further afield. For example, CoCo co-director, Peter Goodyear joined Rafael Calvo, director of LATTE, in a roundtable discussion on approaches to understanding the student experience. Faculty researchers Wai Yat Wong, Donna O'Connor, Wayne Cotton and Vilma Fyfe lead a roundtable on web-based video for learning. Over all, the fest showcased thirty nine posters and ten roundtables, with a broad range of topics being addressed by researchers from Sydney, and other institutions including UTS, UNSW, Macquarie, the University of Wollongong and even the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

It wasn't just numbers of posters and roundtables that grew this year; at nearly 200 registrations the fest was bigger than ever before. It also hosted several new interactive events including technology presentations on interactive whiteboards, tabletop interfaces, and a display of physiological sensor technology, where fest attendees were invited to provoke a reaction from engineering student Payam Aghaei Pour, who had electrodes on his head reporting his emotional changes on a live screen. (Rumour has it that the very scientific approach of sneaking up behind him and shouting "BOO!" was the most popular way to get a big result.)

It was also a big year for our research students in awards; PhD candidate Sylvia Huang was awarded Best Poster by the Fest judges, and the People's Choice went to Nino Aditomo. The crowd was overwhelmingly positive about the event, with attendee Nicola Fehlmann offering her congratulations on organising "a superbly orchestrated and extremely enriching event; clear, interesting, varied and welcoming."

The event was sponsored in collaboration by the CoCo Research Centre, and the research groups CHAI and LATTE from Engineering and IT. (Peter Goodyear is accepting suggestions for a good umbrella name for this collaboration that retains the coziness of the warm beverage theme, but with a bit more edge to it.)

The culmination of a year of dedicated effort, this fest would not have been possible without the dedication of Agnieszka Bachfischer, the support provided by the Faculty Research division, CoCo's team of volunteers and, of course, all the speakers, presenters and attendees. Video, photos, information and the winning posters can all be viewed at the Research Fest webpage, and we look forward to seeing you all again in 2011!