Netskills Corner: The 2nd International Symposium on Networked Learner Support (NLS)

Walter Scales summarises the 2nd International Symposium on Networked Learner Support (NLS), held on the 23rd and 24th June 1997 in Sheffield.

The Symposium, organised by The Networked Learning and Work Research Group at the Department of Information Studies in the University of Sheffield, was held in a very convenient location in Sheffield: lecture rooms, dining and bar facilities and bedrooms were all in one building, Halifax Hall, one of the University's halls of residence. The grounds were nice, too, complete with squirrels and at least one owl.

The programme didn't differ from the advertised programme, and ran very smoothly and exactly to schedule. The way it was arranged meant that everyone could attend all the papers. All the papers and most abstracts were placed on the Web well in advance of the Symposium, and this was alluded to more than once by speakers and participants alike as exemplifying the best spirit and practice of NLS. The papers and abstracts are shown in the programme below, under the respective links paper and abstract. A (very subjective) summary of the papers can be found by following the links summary.

The Symposium's declared aims were twofold: to focus on the potential of computer-mediated communication (CMC) in general and the Web in particular, and to discuss the organisational and professional development issues associated with the NLS role. These aims were to be tackled under the three heads of:

  • The design and implementation of NLS strategies and materials
  • Professional development for NLS
  • Organisational and other strategic issues.
The symposium was truly international: four out of the twelve papers were by overseas presenters, and about 30 of the 80 or so participants were from overseas. Most participants seemed to be either librarians or IT specialists of one shape or another, and only 2 of them were not from academia.

The welcome by Professor Tom Wilson, Project Head of NetLinkS, made formal reference to the work of Nick Bowskill and Sarah Ashton, as well as the Project Management and technical support. Tom also pointed up the fact that the term NLS seems to have now passed into commonly accepted usage.


Monday, 23rd June

10.30-11.30 Registration & coffee
11.30-11.45 Welcome and introduction to the Symposium
11.45-13.15 Helene Williams & Anne Zald, University of Washington: "Redefining roles: librarians as partners in information literacy education"
Abstract | Paper | Summary

Madeleine McPherson, University of Southern Queensland: "Practising the paradigm shift: real world experience of on-line support"
Abstract | Paper | Summary

14.15-15.45 Bob Hunter, University of Lincolnshire & Humberside: "The development, delivery and support of the Effective Learning Programme at the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside"
Abstract | Paper | Summary

Bob Banks, Fretwell Downing Data Systems "Beyond the on-line library - the learning environment"
Abstract | Paper | Summary

16.15-17.45Tracey Mulvaney, University of Birmingham "The TAPIN Electronic Libraries Project and the experience at the University of Birmingham"
Abstract | Paper | Summary

Trine Schreiber & Camilla Moring, Royal School of Librarianship, Copenhagen: "The communicative and organisational competencies of the librarian in networked learner support"
Abstract | Paper | Summary

19:00 Bar & Symposium dinner

Tuesday, 24th June

08:00-08:45 Breakfast
09.00-10.30 Jo Pye, University of Exeter: "Academic partnership in NLS resource design: a European case study"
Abstract | Paper | Summary

Christian Langenbach & Freimut Bodendorf, Friedrich-Alexander-University of Erlangen-Nuremburg: "Learner support in a distributed learning environment - the use of WWW-based teachware packages"
Abstract | Paper | Summary

11.00-12.30Gilly Salmon, Ken Giles & John Allan, Open University: "Large-scale computer- mediated training for management teachers"
Abstract | Paper | Summary

Tina Wilson & Denise Whitelock, Open University: "Facilitation of on-line learning environments: what works when teaching distance learning computer science students"
Abstract | Paper | Summary

12.30-13.30 Lunch
13.30-15.00 Michael Hammond, University of Sheffield: "Professional learning and the on-line discussion"
Abstract | Paper | Summary

Philippa Levy, University of Sheffield: "Professional development for networked learner support"
Abstract | Paper | Summary

15.00-15.30Symposium close, tea & departures


The one strong theme of this symposium was the perceived need for collaboration between different specialisms - not only within institutions but even within the individual NLS worker many skills were seen as amalgams of convergent disciplines. Virtually every paper addressed this aspect in some guise, and Philippa Levy's paper, concluding the Symposium, took a nice overview based on this theme. Another strong theme was the idea of change, particularly the shift of student from traditional school-leaver to life-long learner.

The accommodation and catering (especially the desserts!) were excellent, with lots of fresh coffee to break up what would otherwise have been a rather punishing two-day regimen. Rather surprisingly, the venue seemed to be without networking facilities. The symposium was very vigorous, with not a single instance of cardigan or spectacles-on-a-chain visible. Average age was probably late 30's, with a near-equal male/female mix.

Above all, the symposium was thoroughly enjoyable, with presentations by enthusiastic and knowledgeable speakers, and a friendly and open atmosphere, with hospitable organisers. All the papers were followed by vigorous question and answer sessions.

Note: much of the formatting, all the abstracts and papers, and many of the ideas are as contained in the NetLinkS pages at The summaries of the papers, however, do not necessarily reflect the views of Netskills or of NetLinkS.

Author Details

Walter Scales,
Netskills Trainer
Tel: 0191 222 5002
Date published: 
Saturday, 19 July 1997
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