During the day, many delegates – all enthusiasts for, or experts in, distance-based and online learning – could be seen taking time out to advise colleagues who were being expected to get fully online practically overnight. Yet the room was full enough, the usual ‘buzz’ was only slightly nervous and subdued, and a number of speakers who were unable to attend due to illness or self-isolation delivered excellent presentations from their home offices.
The conference began in its usual way with a welcome from conference co-chair Stylianos Hatzipanagos and from Mary Stiasny, London University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) who pointed out that the slogan ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ was invented in the very building we were sitting in. The first keynote session was a panel discussion with three presenters, taking the same theme as the conference as a whole: ‘Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education’.
Dil Sidhu (Chief Content Officer, Coursera) began a presentation on artificial intelligence as a disruptor by dispelling a stereotype: he would not be talking about robots as teachers. Instead, he described Coursera’s analysis of the mountain of data on their millions of learners, plus the educators that build content on their platform and associated employers. They are using this to find out what engages learners, what they find difficult and what ‘nudges’ they can offer to improve engagement and encourage completion rates.