Getting ready to return to the UK after what has been a very enjoyable couple of days in Sestri Levante, a gorgeous italian village on the Ligurian cost south of Genoa.
Giunti Labs has been our host and organiser this year for the European Learning Industry Group AGM (22nd) and the Digital Education Content Marketplaces (DECOM 2008) conference and workshop.
I don't really know where to begin; I think these have been two of the most singularly useful conferences I've attended for a long time. The quality of the audience and the speakers was extremely high so the subsequent opportunities to network and to have extremely interesting conversations with decision makers and persons of influences was tremendous. The content was of an equally high standard and the design of both days allowed for quite a bit of interactvity, group work and conversation on a chosen stream.
Day 1 was the AGM of ELIG. ELIG is positioning itself as the leading voice of the European Learning Industry which really is as broad as the title suggests – representation from Academic institutions, content providers, learning consultancy firms, system vendors, publishers, EU agencies ensured a diverse a range of views as it was possible to get in one room and I think ultimately that is the real value of the group, and the event itself. A couple of things stand out I think – ELIG as a group includes organisations that pursue very different agendas and hold quite conflicting ideas, particularly those around Open Content/Access. This issue alone caused much debate and from my perspective it was very valuable indeed to have a forum where contentious notions of Openness could be discussed frankly and in safety – and I think it worked to a degree. The question of openness is a very nuanced and complex one and this is sometimes not expressed when organisations espouse the moral force for social good that they believe Open Content almost certainly is. This in my view is too simplistic and fails t take into account a whole range of issues including quality, authority, credibility, relevance, preservation, sustainability (in particular), accountability and perceived value – that's just of the top of my head. The fact that there were a number of publishers present helped advance the debate around Openness and helped some organisations to adopt a less naive and a richer view of the question of Openness. This is my hope anyway. ELIG have an important task here to help manage the conflict and tensions of such a diverse group.
The ELIG event was much more than that however, but more later.
DECOM2008, hosted in Giunti Labs stunning coastal HQ, was an equally fascinating and enormously interesting day. The opening presentations from Fabrizio cardinalli, David Worlock and Judy Brown were real highlights for me, not because they were so very new – my own views were very much echoed by the presenters – but because my Chief Exec was in the room and it's nice to have him hear it from someone else – another Chief Exec helps!
This was another very diverse day and allowed for group breakouts in the afternoon to discuss any one of ten subjects on offer. I was pleased to report the findings of our table to the audience and to talk at some length about the future value of Community, social tools and the unbundling of content on the web. The question of Openness was raised again and the assumption always is that as a publisher I'm dead against it – however it's easy to point out some of the different approaches to Openness – Open software, no problem (InTouch is built on Open Source software since we believe building communities is a better use of our time not creating new software), Open Content – what content? User created content I welcome very much. I pursue a 3 C's strategy with InTouch (community, content and context) and UCC is an important part of that approach. UCC adds real value to Editorially created content (ECC) and in fact isn't new. We tie ourselves up in knots with this and it's not that tricky really – all content has spawned UCC however in the past it may have taken the form of conversation, annotation, notes and reviews (Quill pen, ink and parchment). So it goes on the web and we now call that UGC or UCC. I'm relaxed about that content – it's a natural expression of interaction with content and people and can help guide people to make informed decisions about content and communities in terms of relevance, trust, quality, ownership, perspective and agenda.
I'm very grateful to the organisers, Richard Straub at ELIG and Fabrizio Cardinalli (Giunti CEO) for arranging such a stimulating couple of days. It's not often such a diversity of insight, experience and perspective is assembled in the same space and to have the opportunity to challenge and to be challenged on some very important issues is very rare and correspondingly valuable. Thanks guys.