GCCCE 2011 in Hangzhou

June 7, 2011, [MD]

Last week, I went to Hangzhou to participate in the Global Chinese Conference on Computers in Education (GCCCE). Hangzhou is a beautiful city, where I once spent half a year, and I was looking forward to a chance to go back. The registration fee for the conference was also quite reasonable, only \$75 for students, and I wanted a bit of a chance from the village life. The trip began with waving down a bus going to Xi'an from the side of the highway that passes by close to the village where I am staying. Three hours later, I got there, had some noodles (they had hot dry noodles - which this blog is named after (reganmian), something you almost never see outside Wuhan!).

Then on to a sleeper train for a 24 hour trip to Hangzhou. They had trains that only needed 18 hours, but the tickets were sold out (and soon, they will probably have high-speed trains that make the distance in much less). It was reasonably uneventful, I read on my Kindle for most of the distance, until a little child was walking on the platform during a stop-over, and fell through the gap between the train and the platform. It was quite dramatic, while the mother was lowered down on the platform to retrieve him through a service entrance.

I got to Hangzhou, and went to the hotel to register. There I was very happy to run into Zhang Yibing, a professor at Nanjing University who spent time in Toronto as a visiting scholar. He invited me along with some colleagues to the famous West Lake for some green tea, and we had very nice discussions about his work on adapting Knowledge Forum to be used in local schools.

Although I have participated in some international conferences in China before (including OpenCourseWare Consortium 2008 in Dalian), and some workshops and meetings, I'd never participated in a full-blown peer-reviewed conference all in Chinese. And this was also a "global" Chinese conference, which meant that many of the presenters were from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and even the US.

Attending any conference is always quite exhausting - a never-ending parade of 15-minute presentations on new topics, often by people who are not very good at public speaking, and are eager to get through all the minute details of their research in the allotted time. Add to that the fact that it was all in Chinese, often in "interesting" dialects, and many times with slides in traditional characters, and I was completely worn out by the end of the two days.

I did take notes on some of the presentations I attended - some of these are quite minimal, because I sometimes began to take notes, and then realized that the contents were not very relevant to my interests, or I was simply too tired to continue.

The quality was quite varying. There were some excellent presentations on the one hand, and some incredibly simplistic ones (using 15 minutes to explain how to use basic internet technologies, for example), and everything in between.

Nancy Law from HKU presented on sustainable technological innovation, with many examples from Hong Kong and around the world. A very important point for those of us who wish to see the good practices and software innovations that come out of our research be widely implemented in schools and school districts. Yang Zongkai introduced the national education plan, which I have mentioned here before. He was one of the people involved in writing it, and in a very good position to explain it (and the process of writing it). He underlined the importance of a whole chapter being devoted to educational technology, however the plan is so detailed, that his speech became a very high-level fly-over.

Gwo-Jen Hwang from National Taiwan University of Science and Technology had a very engaging and humorous keynote about the research and experimentation his lab has done around ubiquitous and mobile learning. Lot's of great examples, highlighted with video clips. Unfortunately I could not find any of these videos on his website, but he has a long list of publications.

Some of the presentations were highly technical, and did not so much focus on the pedagogical aspects of how their technical innovations could be used, for example Cai Su's 3D environments, and Sun Maoyuan's semantic intelligent question answering system.

Probably the most interesting presentation was by Chen Wenli from Singapore's National Institute of Education, who presented on a tool called GroupScribbles, and what she called "Rapid Knowledge Building". The tool looks really interesting, and I am planning to read some of the articles about it, and blog more about it (unfortunately, it only seems to run on Windows, so I won't be able to easily try it out on my Mac).

I am vegetarian, and although they almost always have food I can eat at Chinese restaurants, they still think of meat as "higher status", and sometimes it can be hard to find vegetable dishes at "fancy" occasions, like weddings or banquets. Imagine my surprise when I asked whether there would be any vegetarian dishes, and was told that there was a special table for vegetarians! I ended up having very nice dinners both days with a group of Taiwanese researchers (not a single mainland person at the table), many of whom were Buddhist. This only strengthens my wish to visit Taiwan sometime soon.

All in all, an interesting event, and a great warm-up for CSCL 2011 in Hong Kong next month.


Stian HĂ„klev June 7, 2011 Toronto, Canada
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