ICALT2015 wrap up: striving for real impact

The 15th IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT2015) happened last week, from July 6-9 in Hualien, Taiwan. I had the opportunity to go and present my paper on the service-oriented architecture framework for serious games (and the paper got a best paper award! :) ).

In this post, I try to provide a short wrap-up of the conference and the take-away messages. It is not an easy task, since it was a four-day event, with 6 keynotes, one panel discussion and a total of 182 accepted papers and posters in 18 tracks. Nevertheless, if I had to summarize the conference in one single phrase, it would be Mike Spector‘s message in his keynote: we need to make sure that the research we do finds its way to practice and policy, and that it results in real improvements.

The same concern had already been voiced by Miguel Nussbaum in the opening of the conference, when he noted that teachers were not being prepared to integrate technology in the classroom. How to integrate conventional and digital resources? And how to use technology to train children for creativity, reflection, meta cognition and building meaning, instead of focusing on rote learning and repetition? Our technological innovations are still too concerned about “how to teach”, instead of focusing in the very important question of “what to teach”. What can be done to change this?

These questions remained open as the conference closed, almost as a challenge for the researchers gathered there. But, as it was pointed during the panel session, changing “what to teach” takes longer than “how to teach”. In a research environment that encourages a high output of papers with novelties, there is no time for researchers to focus on real impact — which takes time (sometimes years, as Elliot Soloway and Cathleen Norris noted in their keynote), replication studies (which nobody wants to do) and meta-analyses (which can be hard when nobody reports their findings in a way that allows this nor publishes their data openly).

There is clearly a problem here, but nobody really knows what to do with it. Whose responsibility is it to change? Senior researchers have more leverage to strive for longer projects than juniors who need to build a career, but it certainly is not as simple as pressing a button. I heard a similar message in ECTEL2013, and two years later the Technology in Education field is still struggling to get its researchers away from the shiny new technology and closer to real impact.

Sessions and papers

There were many tracks happening at the same time, so I could only cover so much. I made an effort to have a look at the tracks about games for learning (Track 4), adaptive and personalized learning (Track 2), collaborative learning (Track 5), big data and learning analytics (Track 7) and affective computing (Track 10).

There were some interesting ideas and applications, and I tweeted about the ones I thought were most interesting (check the hashtag #icalt2015 for my and other people’s highlights). I will not detail any of those here, but maybe I’ll write separate posts about the ones that I had the chance to read the paper, discuss and understand better.

In any case, it was very good for me to go around in different tracks, since I was to be able to make contacts with other people working in applications that could be incorporated in my SOA framework for serious games, or developing games that could benefit from my work. More about these to follow!

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