The Annual EDEN conference took place in Lisbon mid-June, and was my first as EDEN President. This was a very successful conference in many respects: firstly in that we attracted a new record number of participants, at above 550; secondly in the range of interactions and conversations that took place with so many professionals in distance and e-learning from all across Europe and indeed further afield. We had some 42 countries represented. Lisbon is a wonderful place to hold a conference and the partnership with the Universidade Aberta led by its Rector Carlos Reis, and supported by Vice Rector Antonio Teixera was really tremendous. And all of this can be followed in the innovative conference blog which was set up by Mirjam Hauck of the Open University UK, and to whom we owe thanks. The EDEN annual conference is really the star event in the EDEN calendar.
It also set me thinking why conferences were so important and why they were so much enjoyed by so many. Why does the traditional conference as an activity seem so attractive to practitioners and researchers alike? And this is an especially interesting question when our community is committed to distance and e-learning!
I would be interested to hear from colleagues what you think. My own thoughts are that firstly we have created through EDEN an additional community in peoples’ lives over and above their own organisations and institutions, and indeed their national professional networks. There is a real commitment to regarding the European space as an essential element in one’s professional identity, and that commitment has grown over the years. So EDEN in fact plays an interesting role in growing the European identity alongside national and regional identities for us as professionals. The conference also strengthens the sense of professional identity, in a field which is still pushing to convince policy makers and institutional heads in many places that technology-supported learning that breaks the traditional link between the campus and learning is essential for both the scale of opportunity that we need as well as the quality of the learning experience.
It is also an interesting reflection for us as designers and evaluators of learning and teaching that the nature of the conference experience is regarded by so many as valuable. The intensity of the experience is clearly regarded as important alongside all the other more mediated modes of professional learning that EDEN offers through its website, its on-line journal, its discussion sites, etc.
I have engaged with great interest as well as commitment to the development of the EDEN Fellowship scheme. I had the privilege as President to award the status of Senior Fellow and Fellow to some 15 well established colleagues, eminent in their field of distance and e-learning and committed to EDEN over considerable periods. This is the second year EDEN has done this, and I was very pleased to see the engagement and interest this sparked with EDEN conference participants. The award of the Senior Fellow and Fellow status has also supported the sense of professional community and the commitment to one’s own professional development. The conference represents an important arena in which such public accord is given.
Lastly, the conference is such fun and meets in such interesting places. Colleagues who were at the conference or who know Lisbon will understand me when I say it is a deep pleasure to spend the best part of a week in such a delightful capital: beautiful; cultured and very welcoming.
I am sure the research community which is also gathering strength in EDEN will experience the same thing when we meet in Paris in October 20-22, while the EDEN community as a whole enjoyed the presentation at the conference from Gdansk University and the City of Gdansk in Poland where we meet in June 10-13 2009 for our next annual conference. Gdansk is a beautiful hanseatic city on the Baltic Sea with a long history as well as a recent one so central to European development. So put Paris and Gdansk in your diaries if you can!
Lastly, I wish you all a good summer break and hope you get one! I shall spend some weeks in Normandy as usual, walking through the woods and by the sea, finding good cheese (not difficult!) and drinking a little cider.