UCEM’s brush with world leaders in online education at prestigious conference in Toronto, Canada: Guest blog by UCEM Chair of the Online Learning Research Centre, Dr Tharindu Liyanagunawardena

Posted on: 6 November, 2017

UCEM Dean – Learning and Teaching, Nick Moore, and I represented UCEM at the World Conference on Online Learning from 16-19 October 2017 in Toronto, Canada. This was the 27th biennial World Conference of the International Council for Distance Education (ICDE) and this year it was organised and hosted by Contact North Contact Nord.

Our presentation, ‘Online, Flipped, Blended Approach to Apprenticeship Education: A case study of UCEM’s Surveying Technician Diploma’ was on the second day of the conference. We presented to a full room of around 50 people and that was followed by a lively question-and-answer session. Afterwards, we received lots of compliments about our presentation and it was an honour to gain such feedback from a wide range of leaders in the profession from across the world, and to represent UCEM there.

Nick and Tharindu standing next to the conference banners

UCEM Dean – Learning and Teaching, Nick Moore, with UCEM Chair of the Online Learning Research Centre, Dr Tharindu Liyanagunawardena, at the World Conference on Online Learning

Many attendees had not come across UCEM before but were keen to learn more about the institution and its specialist educational offering. Professor Asha Kanwar, the President of the Commonwealth of Learning, was interested in the work we do and our focus on the Built Environment, whilst Dr Olena Zhadko (Director of Online Education at Lehman College, City University of New York) was very interested in the work we do on accessibility.

Well-known academics within online learning such as Dr Stephen Downes, Dr Tony Bates and Dr Terry Anderson‏, as well as Ontario’s Minister of Education, Mitzie Hunter, were also there. Sign language interpretation and simultaneous translations (French and Spanish) made the conference more accessible to over 1,400 delegates.

Each session had around 11 parallel presentations and it was very difficult to select which presentations to attend as they all were on interesting topics. Nick and I attended two different parallel sessions at any one time so that we could, between ourselves, attend the maximum number of presentations to make the most of our conference attendance.

I learnt a lot from each session I attended but I particularly liked the Dr Tony Bates’s ‘Teaching in the Digital Age’ presentation series. Tony is one of the best known and cited academics in the world of educational technology. I used Tony’s ACTIONS/SECTIONS framework (Bates 2005) in my PhD thesis and it was a privilege to meet him in person and receive a complimentary signed copy of his latest book Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Designing Teaching and Learning.

During his presentation series, he made the analogy of teaching as mining coal and learning as gardening – mining coal assumes that truths exist (objectivist approach) whilst gardening creates the right environment to encourage people to learn (constructivist approach). Dr Bates also emphasised how one style of teaching/learning may work in one context but not in another.

Two other presentations which stood out for me, and could be of relevance to the learning output at UCEM, were Research Professor Pierre Beust’s (University of Caen, Normandy) and Associate Professor Sabine Bottin-Rousseau’s (Universite Pierre et Marie Curie) on online proctoring and Independent Learning Academic Program Director, Sarah Korpi’s (University of Wisconsin-Madison) on portfolio projects.

Pierre and Sabine presented case studies involving the respective universities they work for in which online proctoring was used to hold remote exams – perhaps a path to follow for other institutions in future? Sarah’s presentation looked at using a portfolio project as a summative assessment in a distance learning introductory language course which was interesting from an online institution’s point of view.

Whilst over there, I managed to see a bit of the city too – a busy city which was very keen to shout about Canada’s 150th anniversary during our visit! Niagara Falls, the CN Tower and Prince Edward Island were among the attractions I managed to squeeze in during my stay.

Ultimately though, it was four full days of inspiring talks and demonstrations of the latest technology and its innovative pedagogical use in education – and that was that until the 28th World Conference on Online Learning which takes place between 4 and 7 November 2019 at Dublin City University.



Bates, A W (2005) Technology, e-learning and Distance Education (2nd edn), London: Routledge.