It is with a tinge of regret that I make this report, as this will be my last such effort as I will be leaving the CTI Centre at the end of July. It seems like yesterday when in January 1994 I took up this CTI Economics appointment. Much has changed in teaching and learning technology in the couple of years that has passed, and a great deal has also happened to CHEER in the intervening period. It is now already more than a year since we put our first tentative offering of the journal onto the World Wide Web, without fully realising the implications of the use of this rapidly burgeoning medium. A number of institutions are already moving ahead quite rapidly in assimilating the Web into the teaching and learning process. Not only as a means of more effective administration of classes but also in starting to tap into the tremendous potential for independent learning on the Web, as well as the intriguing possibilities for delivering formerly mainstream "face to face" material. Sadly, its my impression that Economics faculties are not exactly in the vanguard in this movement. I would certainly like to be proven wrong on this one.
It is into this rapidly changing and challenging environment that I would like to welcome my successor Ros O'Leary. Ros has a background in Economics, has worked for BT and has just completed a teacher training course, so I feel sure she will be able to bring some interesting and fresh perspectives to this role both on the technology front as well as from that of teaching and learning.
One of the really onerous tasks that occasionally befalls a poor overworked CTI co-ordinator is the chance to meet European colleagues at some exotic location on conferences or award events. As many of you will already be aware the European Academic Software Award finals were held in Klagenfurt, Austria, at the end of May, beginning of June. Jurors, including yours truly, from some 17 European countries gathered for the final judging process at the event held in Klagenfurt. This was a new experience for me, and I thought as a parting shot I'd share some of these experiences with you rather than the usual dry CTI Economics "what we've done" since the last CHEER style report.
Evaluating software is not an exact science - there are probably as many perceived ways and means of evaluating educational software as there are pieces of (up-to-date) software! Imagine the scenario of jurors both academic staff and students, all coming together with our national intellectual baggage and preconceptions of how to conduct the evaluation of the 35 or so finalist packages in this, the second of such Eurojunkets. Couple this with 17 different educational and cultural backgrounds and layer on the possible linguistic communication issues and you have the recipe for a potentially enlightening and lively two or three days.
The entire three day final judging event was held entirely in English (of course I hear you say - Really - I think to myself; That obvious is it... hmmmm). The finalists were all required to make a verbal presentation (15 minutes spiel plus a further 15 minutes for close hand to hand interrogation and defence of their project) in English. My heart went out to one student finalist from Romania who had submitted an outstanding OCR entry developed on what we would now consider to be antiquated hardware (an early 286 PC east European clone). That he was able to express himself sufficiently eloquently in a foreign tongue on a technical level to a multilingual / disciplinary audience and convey extremely well some of the key features of the project was exemplary. Unfortunately, he did not win an award.
The winning finalists. There were 10 awards in total: One to a commercially sponsored project; 7 to departmental projects; Plus 2 awards to student entries. The reader will find elsewhere in this issue a piece from Gillian Austen of the Centre for Computing in the Social Sciences at the University of Bristol extolling and highlighting the "departmental" EASA96 award to the TLTP Economics Consortium software WinEcon. This project has been managed and run from the CCSS University of Bristol (formerly known as the CCE - Centre for Computing in Economics). Phil Hobbs and Simon Price were at Klagenfurt representing the Economics Consortium, and were duly relieved and mightily pleased that the WinEcon software had picked up yet another gong to complement that awarded in 1995 by the British Computer Society.
In total the United Kingdom garnered four awards. The UK captured the commercial category with Calculus Connections - engineering/mathematics (Universities of Cambridge and Keele), plus three of the departmental projects: Medi-Cal - medical science (University of Aberdeen); SToMP - modular physics (University of Surrey led TLTP consortium); and WinEcon principles of economics (University of Bristol led TLTP consortium).
It's interesting to reflect that all four of the UK winners are outstanding examples of integrated multimedia Computer Aided (or Based) Learning software (while noting that EASA96 was definitely not limited to CAL/CBL entries!). Also two of the winners were TLTP funded projects, both of which were consortium based, and effectively managed. Both incidentally managed / located within CTI Centres.
Now I have an admission to make. The erudite amongst you might have put two and two together and of course calculated five. CTI Economics is located at Bristol, as is the WinEcon project - of course they won an award. Fortunately, or otherwise, I had no input into the final evaluation of WinEcon. The reality of the final process involved the creation of judging teams of five or six jurors tasked with looking at a batch of projects - We had eight projects in our group, and these were assessed by each of us individually on weighted criteria with respect to Content (correctness / relevance / coverage); Education (interaction / learning / usability); Design (navigation / documentation / interface); and some EASA96 specific criteria (relating to use of the computer / adaptability / innovation). The jury groups were also tasked to rate/rank their batch of projects as a group in a mini plenary session, using the common evaluation scheme, and finally all the jurors came together in plenary session to discuss any disparities that might have arisen out of this judging process. I can hand on heart declare that WinEcon was handled by another group of jurors, and was rated sufficiently highly by that group and within the final plenary session to warrant (richly) their award.
So my congratulations to all the UK EASA96 winners. Particularly to Robert Harding and Douglas Quinney for Calculus Connections, to Dick Bacon and the team for SToMP (a fellow CTI'er), to Neil Hamilton and team for Medi-CAL, and to Phil, Simon, David, Li Lin and the rest of the team for WinEcon.
For anyone interested in looking at brief details about the 35 or so EASA96 finalist entries, they can be viewed on the WWW at URL http://asi.uni-klu.ac.at/easa.html but please be aware that this web site will be closed at the end of the summer. Also for anyone interested in understanding more about the evaluation process employed at Klagenfurt, may I suggest you sign up for CALECO96 at Bristol in September, I feel a conference paper on software evaluation coming on.
To all who have peppered me with questions at the Centre and to every colleague with whom I have had the pleasure to mix, my thanks for a fruitful two and a half years, please by as kind to Ros.
University of Bristol