Welcome to the pleasure domes

The dome village created by Graham Brown-Martin and his Learning without Frontiers team - at Olympia in London this week - seems to have been a great hit for many delegates. Edgy, futuristic and a visual spectacle in all their underlit splendour, the domes hosted debates, panels, presentations, demonstrations and a chance to get hands on lego, Nintendo games, retro computers, robots and a whole host of other interesting goodies. The two salons, 'Foucault' and 'Bourdieu' (after the famous French comedy mime duo) hosted a rolling programme of presentations throughout the two days of the conference/festival, and at times seemed to be bursting at the seams. (OK, I'm joking about Foucault and Bourdieu - I know they weren't a duo). Whether the move from the East End to Olynpia is a success will be debated for some time to come, but just about everyone I spoke to agreed that the conceptualisation of the domes was inspired. For me, the National History of Computing Museum dome was a draw, with its display of working BBC B, Master and Archimedes computers, complete with their external floppy disk drives and chunky Microvitec monitors. I was struck with a sense of nostalgia (and duly took two paracetamol) because computers of their ilk were the ones I cut my programmer's teeth on all those years ago in the early 1980s. The entire space for LWF12 was utilised in a creative way, with the main auditorium hedged on three sides by the dome village.

The invited speaker line-up was stellar, including video presentations from Noam Chomsky and Sir Ken Robinson, and live presentations for the likes of Mitch Resnick, Jaron Lanier, Conrad Wolfram, Ellen McArthur, Charles Leadbeater, Keri Facer, Stephen Heppell and Ray Kurzweil. Politicians from both sides of the house (specifically Lord Jim Knight and Culture secretary Ed Vaisey) also put in an appearance on the main stage - but sadly not together. Unfortunately, the close proximity of the arena stage to the open balcony made for a lot of noise problems, as just below was one of the largest learning technology exhibitions since BETT. The constant background drone of conversations rising from below was a little distracting, as was the sharp odour emitting from the freshly painted false walls of the arena, but most people seemed to successfully tune their senses out to concentrate on the presentations.

But it was around and inside the domes that much of the conversations, connections and creativity took place. The domes were a stark contrast to the adjacent conventional exhibition and speaker spaces in the Learning Technologies and Skills Conference, which ran concurrently on both days, a couple of floors above. I will discuss the issues surrounding the juxtapositioning of two of Europe's largest learning conferences in a future post, but for now, it is worth saying that the co-presence of the two events under a single roof brought benefits and limitations in equal measure. The domes were a triumph, the LWF programme was inspirational and GBM and his team have once again has delivered a superbly crafted, memorable, and inspirational event and a clear reference point for revolutionary and disruptive learning futures.

I will write more reports on Learning without Frontiers and also Learning Technologies in future blog posts.

Creative Commons Licence
Welcome to the pleasure domes by Steve Wheeler was posted from London, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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