Re-connecting with my Learning Sciences Community

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The 3rd Annual Meeting of the International Society of the Learning Sciences (ISLS) was recently held in Montreal, Canada. For a span of five transformative days, from June 10 to 15, we embarked on a collective journey, exploring the ever-shifting terrain of educational paradigms. Amidst this dynamic backdrop, I witnessed the harmonious merger of two distinctive conference programs: the Learning Sciences (ICLS) and the Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL). Hailing from every corner of the globe, nearly 900 learning scientists convened in person, infusing the event with an electric international spirit.  

Stepping into the bustling halls of the Concordia University’s Downtown campus with fellow learning scientists felt like reuniting with a long-lost family after years of absence. The familiar buzz of eager conversations, the animated exchanges of ideas, and the shared enthusiasm for unravelling the intricacies of human learning brought an immediate sense of belonging. As a learning scientist, I had eagerly awaited this moment to rekindle my connection with the community that had shaped my perspective and fuelled my passion for understanding how we learn, adapt, and grow.  

The conference theme “Building knowledge and sustaining our community” was interpreted broadly with hundreds of presentations discussing varied topics such as data literacy, innovative approaches to language learning, youth engagement, inclusive education by engaging marginalised communities, collaborative learning, STEM learning, social network analysis, professional development, and many more. My own research in collaboration with colleagues Dr Lilia Mantai from the University of Sydney Business School, Dr Eve Guerry and Jane Thogersen from Chau Chak Wing Museum discussed how Object-Based Learning (OBL) assists business students in developing a deeper understanding of the dynamics of leadership. Our poster attracted considerable engagement from the attendees. The conference proceedings will be published soon (link will be updated when available).  

Our Poster presented at the conference (Authors: Dewa Wardak, Lilia Mantai, Eve Guerry and Jane Thogersen)

Conference keynotes  

In the first keynote of the meeting, Henry Giroux highlighted how the rise of authoritarian politics across the globe triggers deep concern and brings forth echoes of a fascist past, signalling a looming and dangerous threat to education and democracy. We are witnessing systematic censorship of knowledge, books banned, and critical ideas, along with independent thinking, coming under relentless siege. Drawing on Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux’s talk explored critical pedagogy as a theoretical and practical project that enables us to re-examine the interconnectedness of education and politics. By understanding their inseparability, critical pedagogy provides a foundation for creating public spheres where diverse voices are heard and critically engaged citizens emerge.  

A more light-hearted keynote was presented by Nikol Rummel on the second day of the conference. The presentation highlighted the challenges of analysing collaborative learning processes, which can be time-consuming and laborious. Nikol drew an analogy between the relationship of CSCL and learning analytics to a marriage, suggesting that while there is an initial attraction, deeper exploration may reveal compatibility issues. The presentation prompted us to consider the potential benefits and limitations of integrating CSCL and learning analytics in educational contexts. It highlighted the complexities and evolving nature of educational research and technological integration, acknowledging that successful integration requires addressing practical challenges beyond initial attraction. 

Nikol Rummel keynote presentation

The meeting included two further keynotes by Susan Goldman from the University of Illinois Chicago, and Jan Hare from the University of British Columbia. While discussing the last 50 years of research in the learning sciences, Susan reflected on her own research journey and highlighted future challenges arising from technology and socio-political tensions. Jan explored the challenges and opportunities in representing Indigenous knowledge in digital spaces, highlighting the transformative potential of emerging technologies to reshape colonial learning practices and prioritise Indigenous ways of knowing, teaching, and learning. 

Responses to AI in education   

A spontaneous special session brought together representatives from renowned global educational institutions, including the Indian Institute of Technology and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. The sweeping integration of new-generation artificial intelligence (AI) into education is not a matter of choice but inevitability. Amidst discussions, the focal points were the dual nature of excitement and concerns surrounding AI’s influence on learners and educators. The session resounded with a call for immediate research and dialogue, emphasising the need to explore the far-reaching implications of generative AI on learning approaches, collaborative efforts, design, and the pursuit of an inclusive education paradigm. This unexpected gathering marked the initial stride toward an AI-infused educational landscape, igniting a collective dedication to both embrace and shape the forthcoming evolution. 

Exploring possibilities: Rekindling Australia’s Learning Sciences Community  

Amidst the conference’s vibrant energy, I reunited with my former mentor and PhD associate supervisor, Associate Professor Kate Thompson. Our conversation went beyond the usual catch-up, delving into a shared vision that set our minds racing with possibilities. As the conference unfolded around us, we found ourselves contemplating the idea of reigniting the learning sciences community back home in Australia. The notion of creating a local hub where minds gather to unravel the enigmas of learning stirred our aspirations. With newfound determination, we are now poised to nurture the seeds of this discussion and cultivate a thriving Learning Science ecosystem Down Under. 

Featured image: Adobe Stock Images (Looker_Studio)

About the author

Lecturer in Educational Development at the University of Sydney Business School - Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA) - Learning Scientist

Published by Dewa Wardak

Lecturer in Educational Development at the University of Sydney Business School - Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA) - Learning Scientist

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