By Tom Davis
On March 2nd my colleague and I travelled down to Birmingham to attend the Digifest conference held in the International Convention Centre. As this was the first conference I had attended I was not sure what to expect, and after walking into the main area where the talks were held I immediately felt I had stepped into the future. Firstly noticing the giant inflatable igloo looking structures (which were used for holding sessions across the two days), I then found myself surrounded by moving robots and a variety of other machines and gadgets on display. After a brief moment there we then moved across to the hall to attend the first session of the conference, which was on “The power of digital for change”. This session explored the general theme of the conference looking into the use of technology in education, which was then followed by smaller talks and workshops focusing on more specific components under this area.
Throughout the first day I found it interesting to learn about the progress of modern technology and the exciting new educational benefits and opportunities this poses into the near future. The main highlight from this was getting the chance to look around and inspect the various machines and gadgets on display. The first thing that caught my eye was the 3D printer, which I had the opportunity to learn about and observe whilst in practice. From what could be mistaken for a large microwave from a distance, with a closer look I was able to witness a data scan being transformed into a 3D plastic model. I was also able to get my hands on some previous models that had been printed earlier in the day, and seeing the fine detail in the objects it was hard to believe that they were printed from a machine.
I was also able to experience the virtual reality headsets, from which I was immersed into a number of different environments, from rollercoaster rides to seaside villages and mountainous terrains. I was blown away by how drawn in I was to the seemingly real environments, and by the end I was left both amazed by the technology that seems to be on the verge of appearing on the mainstream market, and also left pondering on the impact and benefits this poses towards future learning and teaching methods, should any of these technologies be introduced into the educational environment.
The second day began in similar fashion with an opening talk on “ The power of digital for teaching and learning”. I found this first talk in particular was a real eye opener into the advancement and expansion of technology in education and its impact on the modern learning experience. One specific point made during this talk which I found interesting, was the exploration of the changing learning spaces from the traditional to the modern learning environment through digital learning. The speaker looked into the pros and cons regarding this current change, discussing how the modern learning space is more open with improved accessibility and freedom, allowing students to work from home with more flexibility in time and scheduling. The speaker then went on to debate the issues with this off campus digital learning system, discussing how this can lead to isolation from peers and tutors, and a loss of a sense of community within a course, emphasising the necessity for campus libraries and physical learning environments. The speaker concluded by suggesting some form of combination between these learning spaces as ideal, drawing upon the positives identified in both spaces whilst combating the issues that come with it.