ASCILITE23 series: Getting to know our keynotes – David White

David White, Head of Digital Education and Academic Practice and President of the Association of Learning Technology.

The world is divided into two types of people, dreamers and doers and there are a few in our midst who are a bit of both. Meet our first keynote speaker David White, a person way ahead of his times. When the world was still grappling with web-based technology and the internet, he was already advocating for the web as a ‘real’ place with tremendous opportunities for teaching and learning. His tech solutions-based approach to education makes him a fountain head of ideas and innovation.

What if?

Imagine if the Covid lockdowns had happened in 2010, not 2020. We would have rushed to the web, and it would have immediately broken. It simply wouldn’t have been robust enough. Advancements in technology in terms of reliability have been huge. It’s rare, these days, that technology is fundamentally broken – when I started work in the mid-nineties, we were delighted, and surprised, if any of the tech worked at all.

Given the technical stability of the digital environment, the challenges have moved on to practice and culture. All thanks to the constant efforts and skills of the tech folk whose ingenuity allows us to ‘forget’ how complex our digital infrastructure is. Having said that there is still an undercurrent of cultural snobbery toward the digital in tertiary education which is driven by the value we place on scarcity.


Thread imageEven though our use of the Web during pandemic-related lockdowns accelerated the integration of the digital environment into our lives with hybrid or flexible working, it didn’t do as much to disrupt the underlying structures that shape what is considered authentic.  Hence the constant back and forth about the pros and cons of remote working. In the education space, this highlights ongoing tensions between traditional or proper ways to do things and the new, where practices give the individual more choice and power.

As someone who has worked for more than two decades in promoting the validity of digital learning, I spent a lot of time arguing that the web was part of ‘real life’.

It’s easy to forget that until around 2009 most people saw the web as a kind of cyber-fantasy world (either dystopian or utopian) in which nothing of value could ever happen. 

Back then I was also teaching various forms of interactive narrative at the University of the West of England. My degree was based on an ethnographic filmmaking course.

Some of the academics were anthropologists interested in how digital media could allow an individual to explore a period or event from multiple perspectives. It was fascinating, everything seemed creatively possible because the web had not yet settled into patterns of consumption and production.


At the University of the Arts London, I spent a significant amount of time developing new Digital Learning roles, expanding the capacity of the university to support digital pedagogies, and arguing for the value of digital approaches as crucial to an inclusive educational offer. From then till now the world has changed tremendously.

The ASCILITE conference reflects that change. It brings together teachers, technologists, and academics from Australasia and beyond and fosters a sense of community, learning, and fellowship for those working in roles that may not be understood by institutions.

This year I’m interested in exploring the relationship between the ‘effective’ and the ‘meaningful’ within education systems. Digital education sits at the nexus of these ideas, and I worry that we are still too concerned about efficacy. This is especially interesting for me as the Creative Arts must be meaningful beyond notions of efficacy and efficiency.  I would also like to explore the structure of practice and culture. I believe pedagogy is best understood in the context of our institutional cultures.

This is something we are all sensitive to as all educationalists are cultural theorists at some level. We all have our own philosophies of education that are supported or thwarted by the environments we work in. This spans from how we chose to design our digital environments all the way through to assessment practices and group work.

I look forward to this year’s conference and exploring the theme that celebrates diversity, forges partnerships, and enables us to deep dive into the subject of digital pedagogy.


Read more about David’ keynote and the 2023 conference here.

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Tom Worthington
6 months ago

Actually, there was an outbreak of SARS-CoV-1 in 2003 in East Asia resulting in universities, such as NUS, having drills to practice online teaching to students at home (Chandran, 2010). Unfortunately amnesia set in after that, just as it has after SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which causes of COVID-19). The lessons which were learned more than a decade ago, are being forgotten for a second time. This is partly because face to face educational institutions have a very effective business model: charge high prices for a premium product (even though the educational outcomes are no better than online), and made the customers come… Read more »