Saturday, October 29, 2005

TALO SwapMeet05 Roundup

**Get the audio recording of the TALO swapmeet 05 roundup.**

The TALO swap meet was a hoot! Thanks to Western Sydney Institute’s support, keen members and guests were able to come together for the first time, meeting face to face and swapping ideas. It was looking sketchy for a moment in the beginning though. About four of us, sitting in 4 far corners of a room, straining to maintain conversation, long silent spells, intersected by hmms… I was livered that so many would just not turn up! 10.30am came along and the four of us were starting to acknowledge the poor turn out. A sickly feeling of rejection was creeping through my stomach.

But it wasn’t quite as bad as all that. Actually the small initial group was quite up for it. Peter Shanks, Don Perrin, Maria Trevaskis, Tony Lorriman, Michael Nelson, Jenny Hartlett, Helen McFadden and myself discussed a number of interesting topics - especially digital game based learning. We stewed up what I think is a great idea - Local Area Network (LAN) gaming parties for the local community. Gaming events for people to converge on as a social event, gain comptency recognition in the process, with perhaps some considering further study in an IT course at the hosting Institute – a recruitment activity!

LAN parties are quite popular underground events in most districts, but poorly understood by the mainstream, therefore getting council permission to open up the parties as local business has been difficult. Business proposals in areas like the Blue Mountains and Lithgow have been rejected in the past (the councils have associated gaming salons with pinball parlours and delinquent youth…). Here then lies and opportunity for the IT Faculties in TAFE to host LAN parties open to the public, not as a business, but as a social event for learning. TAFE have the resources to do such a thing, and if done regularly, could become an excellent way of capturing students by offering recognition for competencies demonstrated at the events. Not only would it be a way of accrediting people’s skills in LAN setup, but would likely be a way to facilitate informal learning communities around the events. One sticking point I can think of perhaps, is TAFE’s unlikely willingness to host such events after hours – after hours being traditionally a better time for holding such events.

LAN parties wasn’t all our small group talked about. Digital game based learning developments were also discussed with Tony Lorriman drawing our attention to a staff member at his Hunter Institute IT Faculty. That staff member has successfully developed games from templates (mods), and has recently won funds to further the initial developments. Many in the group resolved to find out more about moding, with a view to developing game based learning content in their own areas. The irrepressible Michael Nelson from Blue Mountains IT has already started looking at it with a couple of his students!

The conversation started moving onto wikicourseware development for the new Training and Assessment certificate that is compulsory for all new teachers and trainers in Australia. It was right about then that the Sydney crew rolled in. Stephan Ridgway, Sean FitzGerald, Anne Patterson, and Alex Hayes joined as, with Steven Parker from Wollongong arriving at the same time. The relief for the extra numbers made for good vibes all round – we had a group size worthy of calling a conference!

Stephan went straight to work, setting up his MP3 recorders and snapping pictures, while I briefed the new arrivals on what was talked about so far.

We picked up on the talk of the Training and Assessment wikicourseware developments, with Maria offering some fine ideas on how to make the most of such an effort. Maria mentioned inter institutional bench marking as a way to formalise collaborations through wikis. Maria also pointed out that focusing in on the Training and Assessment competencies may only limit the development, and that perhaps it would be best to broaden the effort into many areas of teacher training generally. This suggestion in particular addressed a recurrent problem with wikicourseware development – just how to make any development reusable on a global scale so as to be open to global network particiation. Such participation being what is realistically needed for wikicourseware to be valuable and sustainable.

So the model goes that we continue to think about global issues and topics affecting teaching training, looking to develop in a wiki, links to good resources relating to all things teaching and learning related. Then we would simply create a page for the Australian Training and Assessment Competencies and point each competency to the apropriate content. Each competency would also have its own assignment, requiring the learner to produce their own content that is usable in training the next learner… the original Pay it Forward wikicourseware model.

Photo by Stephan Ridgway.
Half an hour before lunch, Alex Hayes and Anne Patterson then injected excitement into the group, giving everyone an opportunity to try moblogging. They had brought along several mobile phones, handed them out, and had everyone snap a picture of an OH&S scenario to send to a TALO moblog for a waiting peer review type assessment. Alex impressed everyone with his efforts in moblogging the TALO SwapMeet so far, demonstrating how feasible it is to offer almost live coverage of an event through moblogging.

Photo by Leigh Blackall
Inspired and buzzing, we all headed off for a roadhouse style Mexican lunch for an hour, not stopping for a moment, talking of teaching and learning online, with Colin Tyrrell joining us. It was great to have such an energetic and engaged group.

After lunch we had an hour before our red double decker bus trip around Cliff Drive. Michael Nelson kicked us back into gear demonstrating his use of blogs, wikis, online personal orgainsers and other free web based technologies for his web design classes. I wasn’t personally around much for it as I was lining up the bus ride, but knowing Michael it would have been innovative, realistic and interesting.

Photo by Alex Hayes
Stephan then came in with a demonstration of Voice Over IP with a crew online waiting to talk with us. Stephan used Skype for the demonstration, and Sean and I talked a bit about Gizmo and its free conference, record and voice mail features – easily making it a better app than Skype. But Skype’s popularity is what wins the day, even if it is light on the features. Stephan perplexed everyone with his recording Skype conferences through a mixer set up, (its simple really, but does require quite a few bits and pieces + knowhow). The audio filling the room during Stephan’s demo was fantastic, ending the day with quite an artistic expression of distance and human contact. I urged Stephan to explore more abstracted notions of audio in his podcasting, looking to Radio National’s The Night Air for inspiration.

At 3.30pm we all headed into Katoomba to check in to hotels and catch the double decker for the afternoon. It was a quaint trip, all of us on the top deck talking more about TALO. Access to the magical views from the bus were not as good as I‘d hoped. Luckily we made it back to the township in time for sunset drinks at the Carrington Balcony, which had views over a lightening storm down on Sydney for us to watch. The cool change was a perfect lead into dinner.

Photo by Leigh Blackall
We had dinner at Journey's Restaurant, in a room specially booked for our group, with a lounge and coffee table, and a live band down stairs emanating up to us at a level just right for our continuous chatting. I was really happy to see the levels of energy persist well into the night, with everyone curious to know who Don Perrin was and why he had come. Don continued to peak our interest with his experiences throughout the night.

There was talk of the next TALO swap/meet being in Hong Kong next year, depending on our success at gaining the necessary funds in 2006. Alex has the contacts in HK, and the reasons for Hong Kong are sound (Internationally central, technologically advanced, reaching out to Asian neighbours...).

Photo by Leigh Blackall
Next day, those of us left went for a beautiful bush walk along the National Pass trail from Valley of the Waters to Wentworth Falls. Personally I think it’s the best walk in the mountains, and I think everyone who came was well impressed by it.

Photos, feedback, ideas and links continue to feed into the TALO swap/meet 05 wikispace, and hopefully Stephan is finding the time to edit down a few audio recordings ready for publishing via Casting the Net.

TALO Swap/Meet 05 was a warm success and certainly something we should try and do as often as possible. Those who came hoped others in TALO's eGroup will host similar events throughout the year, building and strengthening the community, ready for the next annual swap/meet wherever it may be… Thanks to Western Sydney Institute for supporting the event, thanks to everyone who came, and thanks to our collective spirit that made it such an easy going success.

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