Online Educa Berlin (OEB) 2023

Online Educa Berlin (OEB) 2023

Online Educa Berlin (OEB) is an annual global, cross-sector conference and exhibition on digital learning and training. It has been running since 1995 and always promises to be at the forefront when it comes to developments in the learning and teaching technology space. This year’s OEB 2023 conference centred around the theme The Learning Futures We Choose and delved into critical questions regarding the integration of digital solutions, the role of AI in education, and the future landscape of learning.


The Thursday opening plenary on Will our digital evolution enhance human potential or eclipse it? set the tone for the conference, emphasising the need for educators to adopt disruptive thinking to navigate the evolving digital landscape. CEO, Aspire Change EDU, Eric Sheninger gave a call for action stating that “your calling is to make a splash and shatter the status quo“. Founder and President of the Reboot Foundation Helen Lee Bouygues suggested we explore our cognitive biases, and Professor Luciano Floridi, Professor of Cognitive Science and Founding Director of the Digital Ethics Centre, Yale, gave an interesting talk using philosophy as a lens to explore education and semantic capital and identity. All three touched on the implications of generative AI on education and our new reliance on computers possibly leading to passivity.

Opening plenary
Opening plenary – photo by OEB

On Friday the plenary covered The Big Reset: Adapting to a New Educational Landscape. We heard from Brent Anders, Director of Institutional Research and Analaysis, Center for Teaching and Learning, Lecturer, American University of Armenia, Armenia who has recently written a book on AI literacy. Brett covered the need for firstly awareness mentioning AI use in gaming, job recruitment, dating apps and governmental decision making. Then capability looking at prompt engineering and the difference between narrow AI (specialising in specific tasks), general AI (possesses human-like versatility) and super AI (which would surpass human capabilities across all domains).He discussed the need for guardrails and concerns of over reliance and loss of existing skills pointing out that Chat GTP now has 180.5 million, Bing 45 million and Bard 50 million users – these numbers are increasing incrementally. Margaret Korosec, Dean of Online and Digital Education, University of Leeds discussed their comprehensive digital strategy which has involved curriculum redesign for every single programme with a spotlight on users. Sian Bayne, Professor of Digital Education, University of Edinburgh, concluded the trio by discussing cyclical narratives of transformation, disruption and automation. Those working in the digital space have allowed ourselves to fall in to a cycle of reaction based on the narrative that education is broken. We need to move out of this cycle. Siam implored us to consider how technological change raises fundamental issues around what it means to be an educated human and how as educators we can  tell better stories about the education futures we want.  Using examples from educators like Jen Ross (Digital future for learning) she pointed out that we can have can have control over this future

No trend is destiny…Multiple alternative futures are possible

UNESCO Futures of Education

Key Themes: AI and assessment

Naturally the impact of AI on assessment is an important area us.  Ole Henrik Mølmann and Kjetil Brathetland both from Vestland Fylkeskommune, Norway led a boardroom session discussing how AI can be used for learning tasks and formative assessment. The session focussed on the need for new competencies in the curriculum (see the UNESCO competencies framework) and supporting changes to teaching practice.

Dr Andy Clegg Associate Professor in Academic Innovation and Enhancement, Head of Academic Development at the University of Portsmouth. ran a session on ‘AI proofing your assessments’. There were some useful processes that could possibly be reused when working with academics. Andy shared quite a useful tool on the Monash site (think it is H5P) – go to review assessments to reduce risk.

I presented at session entitled Redefining Assessment: Unleashing a New Era of Engaging Learning Evaluation. I shared recent examples from UCL’s innovative academic community where the focus is increasingly extending beyond cognitive ability to the assessment of crucial soft skills, ensuring students are equipped for the challenges ahead.

In my session there were also a presentation from Professor Jenny Pange from the University of Ioannina, Greece on how they have been gamifying assessments using open source and free tools. And from Vincent Meertens, Associate Director Digital & Learning Innovation, WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, looking the approach they have taken to online exams using Moodle, ANS question bank and Schoolyear screen blocker, they also use Procturio in particular cases.

Marieke Guy presenting
Marieke Guy presenting

Key Themes: Creativity, passivity and what it means to be human

One less explicit theme, and very much related to consideration of AI’s impact on education, was creativity versus passivity. In a session entitled Renewing Our Focus on Non-replicable Skills to Outperform Machines three panellists explored this tension and implications for future skills requirements. Edoardo Binda Zane, Trainer, EBZ Coaching, introduced how creativity works: it is the ability of creating two seeming unrelated elements or frameworks of reference in a new and unusual way to generate new meaning. It involves process > play > failure potential, and happens through divergent and convergent thinking (lots of ideas then reduced in number). Reports such as the World Economic Forum Future of jobs all put creativity very high in future skills. Katarzyna Kowalik, (e)Learning Thought Leader, Independent Expert, Poland discussed how AI may just be a tool we need to get to grips with, while Anja C. Wagner, Managing Director, FROLLEINFLOW – Institute for creative flaneurs, Germany pointed out that we are stumbling in to a creativity issue where we even need to be told how to learn. In this environment character building  with broad ambitions, education as a culture and developmental orientation are the most important skills we can have.

Edoardo Binda Zane presenting
Edoardo Binda Zane presenting

The conference was supported by an exhibition with commercial providers from a multitude of learning technology tools and services. Probably the most useful aspect of the event was hearing from non-UK Higher Education providers on their experience of dealing with Generative AI. We sometimes forget that our  experience is very much framed by our own national culture, government and related ethical frameworks.