I decided to attend the Vielmehr conference in Lübeck this year instead of the GMW. The main reason is the co-location of a number of different conferences, an e-learning conference, a human-computer interface conference, a usability interface and a cognitive design conference. Over 500 people are milling around the University of Lübeck, attending the lecture.

The main result up front: No one used the word "learning object" in my hearing during the entire conference! There are new buzz-words, however. These are the talks I attended:

  • Rolf Schulmeister spoke about the Myth of the Net Generation (in German). He listed many studies and statistics that show that there actually is not such a thing as the "Net Generation", no matter how often the media try and tell us that they are there. There is actually quite a number of subgroups that are very diverse. And most youth watch TV and listen to music, sometimes using a computer to do so, instead of participating the Web 2.0. When they do participate, they are interested in the communities, i.e. communicationg with their peers.
  • Martin Gieseking (University of Osnabrück) demonstrated an interesteing system, media2mult, that offers a wiki-based authoring system for cross-media (web and print) publishing. It sounds like just what I need for my current book project, so I will be trying it.
  • Angela Carell and Isabel Schaller from the University of Bochum used a mix of Netvibes, WordPress, Google Docs and Bibsonomy for sorting out learning processes. Bibsonomy is a tagged literature database that I will be looking at more closely. They report that the students didn't use Google Docs, but didn't investigate the reasons.
  • Sarah Voß from the University of Frankfurt reported on a class she conducted in Second Life. But she did not evaluate anything or measure anything, but the students were happy although there were a lot of technical problems. Why, she doesn't know. And it was so difficult to record what people did, so she is now working on connecting up a wiki and SL. Why she just doesn't dump SL is a mystery, she got a lot of flak in the discussion about her paper, which was more of a "My nicest memories from work" essay.
  • M. Dahm, FH Düsseldorf discussed the problems that occur when usability and security meet - they seem to be mutually exclusive.
  • Roland Hartwig, User Interface Design, preached to the converted, talking about in-house usability testing and doing some advertising for his company. He also demonstrated that self-moderation doesn't work.
  • N. Oberg from the company phaydon had some nice slides with a lot of things we already know before she started talking about using ethnographic methods for doing usability testing. These were interesting, but she breezed through overloaded slides. She didn't manage to have a paper for the conference proceedings, but one can send her an email. Or maybe you can find it on the company homepage.
  • Harald Amelung discussed his Master's Thesis from the FH Erfurt in which he looked at usability methods for mobile devices. Many techniques of traditional usability evaluation are not usable or adaptable to the mobile applications. There is a nice picture of the context of mobile use to be found in Savio and Braiterman.
  • Then a group of computer students presented their semester work (this seems to be a trend at this conference, completely unreflected work without empirical evidence is presented, mostly in the form of: gee, look at me, I can program a web site / PDA application / server. There are horrible slides and mumbled technical explanations. When questioned on how on earth this can work, they have no answers. In this case they developed, among other things, a chat application that children are to use on a PDA via WLAN outdoors. That there is no cheap, readily-available WLAN outdoors was just a technical problem. Sigh.
  • Ekatrina Kurdyukova wins my personal prize for research dedication for her Evaluation and Design of Auditory Feedback for a Mobile Outdoor Training Assistant. She was evaluating whether voice or signal was better for a jogging training assistant. She had her 20 test subjects think aloud while using the systems, and she jogged along, taking notes.
  • Gilbert Cockton gave the invited lecture on Tuesday, and decided to use a military metaphor of usability for his presentation. He began equating usability to shooting: Load, aim, fire. One "wins", when the target is hit. That hitting targets with guns or cannon involves killing people seemed to have escaped him, he joked on, and then introduced a bunch of diagrams and forms that have a column for recording "emotions". I wonder how he defines emotion. I went up to him in the coffee break and told him about my displeasure with his analogy, he defended himself with the origins of usability being in the military. Well, gosh, the entire computer industry is rooted in industry, but that doesn't mean that we can't be using it for peaceful purposes. Thinking about one's metaphors might be helpful. At least he was the only one to footnote his decorative pictures, a habit I have gotten into lately myself.
  • Jürgen Steimle demonstrated a paper-centric interaction concept for collaborative learning, that is, writing using the Amoto method after doing ethnographic studies (these seem moern at the moment).
  • Another student project was presented (at least nicely presented) by a student from Linz. The group set up a MirrorBoard that takes pictures of passersby and integrates them into the picture, i.e. a vacation goal or a piece of clothing. Violent objections from the audience were put off by the session chair, who was the advisor of the student group. Eventually, one guy read off the data privacy law paragraph for German, which quite clearly states that this is not permitted.
  • Anja Hashagen from the University of Bremen spoke of a nice application, "Der Schwarm" (the swarm), that is projected onto the floor and which interacts with people (here kids in the 3rd and 4th grade) to show them how a swarm of things reacts. However, they chose beetles, which as far as I know don't actually swarm. But it was a fun-looking application.
  • The last three talks I attended was on the topics of data privacy in E-Learning. One young whippersnapper ripped into an old version of Moodle, explaining how bad it is. Well, it is open source, propose a fix! Actually, the HU Berlin has fixed it, although the young man had a slide stating that it was unfixable. A nice lawyer explained data privacy for universities and E-Learning in very understandable terms. I used one of the statements he used at a meeting on Wednesday and appeared to be very wise. The third one was a woman going on and on and on an on about some system made with an enormous amount of taxpayer money that is not actually in use yet, but they are publishing papers on it by the minute.
Then there was a business meeting, and I could go home. Had a lovely trip with a former thesis student who is now working in industry and was attending the conference.

Meeting folks was fun and useful, but the quality of many of the talks was lacking, one wondered what the program committee was actually thinking when they accepted these papers.

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