New communities, spaces and places: inspiring futures for higher education

Each year the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) holds an annual conference for its members, with a dedicated preceding conference for members who are newer HE researchers. Having helped co-ordinate Newer Researcher events over 2011, along with colleagues Patrick Baughan (from City) and Saranne Weller (from Kings College London), this was the first year that I was co-convenor for the Newer Researchers conference.

The theme for the conference was: New communities, spaces and places: inspiring futures for higher education – a theme which Patrick, Saranne and I spent an afternoon deciding on thanks in part to a creative thinking technique called synectics (helpfully facilitated by former City colleague Uma Patel). We wanted a theme which would convey postivity in a time of increasing uncertainty, especially in the HE sector. We further wanted to widen our net and appeal to researchers engaging in Learning Technology-based research.

We received over 80 abstracts for paper presentations by newer researchers in the UK and across the world. After spending the summer months sending out abstracts for review and making final decisions, we accepted a total number of 50. The conference was held over 2 days at the Celtic Manor in Newport, Wales from 6th – 7th December 2011. We were happy to learn that most of the accepted authors were able to secure funding to attend the conference, despite tightening departmental budgets.

A view from the Celtic Manor resort

We were lucky enough to arrange not one but two keynote presentations from highly-regarded academics – Dr Paul Ashwin from Lancaster University, and Professor Grainne Conole from the University of Leicester.

Paul’s talk was fascinating and gave researchers an honest and frank account of what HE research is really all about. Basically – its messy! As a relatively new HE researcher myself, I thought Paul’s talk helped to desmystify the process of HE research and helped me to consider how to conceptualise it better. Paul’s talk was very well received by the other newer researchers, you can view his presentation’s slides here.

Grainne’s talk tackled a different subject and was equally fascinating. Grainne took us on a journey of learning technologies, exploring how they have evolved and how we can navigate our way through them in the future. I enjoyed Grainne’s take on e-pedagogies and she also sparked lots of interesting discussion around the use of open resources and in particular open publication – should we publish our research exclusively online via blogs? will doing so attract greater interest in our work? Or is traditional publication by submission to journals better? What are the implications of doing both? Hmmm… You can view Grainne’s presentation on slideshare here

So overall another really good conference by SRHE – looking forward to the next one!

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