A greek tragedy
I'm afraid for me ICODL has been a bit of a damp squib. Greece brought the world the marathon, tragedy and democracy. This conference has all three.
Let's start with the venue - an interesting one. The 'Multicenter Appollon' does just what it says on the tin. It's an old refurbished factory deep in the heart of an industrial suburb of Pireaus. The taxi driver was confused - didn't know where it was, and circled around endless narrow backstreets hanging with washing and riddled with alley cats, navigating hair-raisingly around double parked cars, and narrowly avoiding pedestrians. Eventually he drew us up outside a large square two storey building. 'Here!' he gabbled in fluent English (better than my Greek... 'afta!'). We paid him and walked straight into a Post Office. Hmmm ... more confusion. 'Round the back' we were told, we would find the exhibition and conference centre. We walked into an area of controlled chaos and found ourselves at the registration desk for the conference venue, in amongst about 300 ancient sculptures on plinths, and dozens of paintings hanging from the walls.
The conference eventually started. Its title: 'Forms of Democracy in Education: Open Access and Distance Education' was promising, but that's where it ended. The first 2 keynotes and most of the welcomes were delivered in speed Greek. Then Alan Tait (UK Open University), followed by Michael Moore (Penn State University), gave a couple of retrospectives on distance education. Michael also talked about his new museum of the history of distance education which he has established in Second Life. 'There's not a lot there at the moment' he declared, but more would be added he promised. Presumably when distance education gets some more history in.... Call me cynical, but although I think retrospectives are OK in small doses (I have one of my own for Tim's sake), I would rather look forward to what is happening now in, dare I say it - e-learning - than gaze at the covers of old books that were published 20 years ago. I like Alan and Michael a lot, and greatly respect their vast experience and achievements, but tragically, their keynote speeches both failed to grasp the opportunity to spell out a new agenda of democracy and freedom in learning.
Paul Clark (UK Open University) gave a speech that was more in keeping with current events in e-learning, and he opened the debate on social software and its potential to transform educational experiences. Democratic forms of learning are premised on openness and freedom of speech - wikis and blogs and other Web 2.0 software have it in spades. The rest of the conference, I'm afraid, was organised badly with sessions going on from 0900-2015 each day (a real marathon), the content was generally very poorly presented, and throughout most of the 14 papers I listened to on the first day, I was left with a single question... so what? Over two thirds of the papers were in Greek, and the rest were in broken English. I eventually lost heart. My own paper was scheduled in a session of 6 papers starting at 1830. 'It's the graveyard slot' moaned my co-presenter Mark Townsend. He was right. Needless to say, very few people were still around at this time, as most had gone off to get their souvlaki and chips.
To cap it all - and here, non-smokers will cringe - the whole place was continually filled with a fug of cigarette smoke - there was no designated smoking area in the centre, because smoking was allowed just about anywhere. Not a breath of fresh air for an asthmatic (me) but party time for all the chain smokers on the delegate list.
I will go back to Athens again one day, but it won't be for ICODL.