KMi Keynotes@ICOOL: Hypermedia Discourse

The OU and KMI were represented last week at the International Conference on Open & Online Learning (ICOOL’03), where I was invited to give a keynote address. Held at the University on the beautiful island of Mauritius, ICOOL attracted a wide range of delegates from all over the world.

A distinctive feature of ICOOL was its focus on the challenges of introducing sustainable e-learning in developing countries. Educational technology conferences are often held in relatively wealthy countries, where such issues receive minimal attention. ICOOL foregrounded these issues with numerous sessions where speakers from countries with struggling economies illustrated the gulfs that need to be bridged when missing human and technical infrastructure that we often taken for granted. This set a challenge for advanced nations to forge partnerships to share their experience and resources more openly.

In my keynote, I introduced the mission and work of KMi, exciting interest in tools such as BuddySpace, Hexagon, FlashMeeting and Lyceum. Focusing on the specific theme of “Hypermedia Discourse”, I outlined the transitional period in which we find ourselves as The Book is now complemented by new media, genres and practices. Hypermedia Discourse was proposed as approach to tackle an important but missing element in current e-Learning, whereby students/analysts can express and contest different interpretations of the meaning of learning resources, defined by their interconnections, resulting in conceptual networks which offer different affordances for browsing and filtering. I outlined three different KMi projects which exemplify hypermedia discourse in diverse contexts: D3E (Digital Document Discourse Environment and the Journal of Interactive Media in Education), Compendium and the ScholOnto project’s ClaiMaker and ClaiMapper tools. A tool such as ClaiMaker goes beyond current conceptions of educational metadata or ontologies, which assume consensus on how to codify learning resources. When dealing with new and/or contested domains, with multiple perspectives and debates about the significance of ideas, new representational schemes are needed.

Following a request from the conference chair Alain Senteni, who founded VCILT (the Virtual Centre for Innovative Learning Technologies – the University’s version of KMi), I ran an impromptu afternoon session in VCILT where I demonstrated some of KMi’s technologies, and answered questions from students and other delegates about their applications, and the prospects of studying/working in KMi! I also established links with several research groups around the world who wanted to trial our Hypermedia Discourse tools.

My attendance was made possible by the generous support of the British Council in Mauritius, and following a tour of their headquarters, I discussed with the Director Rosalind Burford possible opportunities for the OU to support their work in Mauritius, which has a particular focus on English teaching and assisting students to study with British universities. It is amazing that this tiny island sends 1600 students to the UK each year, as many as Brazil!

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