ALT-C 2015: Reflections from a first-timer

Last week I was lucky enough to be able to attend the 2015 Association For Learning Technology Conference (or ALT-C), held at University of Manchester. It was my first time at the conference and it didn’t disappoint. There were so many interesting sessions that I couldn’t possibly attend them all, but I did manage to learn some interesting things about what other institutions are doing and listen to some thought-provoking discussions and debates, both in person and on Twitter.

One of my favourite sessions was on Digital Storytelling as a collaborative learning experience by Sarah Copeland from University of Bradford, who completed a PhD on Digital Storytelling as a Community Informatics Approach in 2014. Sarah told us how her research had involved three case studies with different groups who were based in rural areas. The first involved learners with learning difficulties and disabilities developing ‘digital CVs’ at a Further Education college, where the Digital Storytelling method fostered connections between the group and enabled collaborative learning to inform the developmental activity of creating a CV. The second case study looked at how the Community Digital Storytelling method (or CDST) was used with a mixed age community group to generate their own digital artifacts. Unfortunately, the artifacts created couldn’t be shared at the conference due to the personal nature of the stories that often arise from Digital Storytelling, but it was interesting to hear Sarah describe how the inter-generational group interacted with and learned from each other. The project not only improved the group’s digital literacy, but generated a sense of activism which continued after the group learning experience. The myth of the ‘digital native’ was debunked once again and Sarah highlighted how many of the group’s older members were more familiar with software such as Photoshop, due to attending photography classes in their spare time and having the disposable income to buy it. The older members of the group helped many of the group’s younger members to edit their digital artifacts. The third case study is an ongoing project as part of Sarah’s research at the University of Bradford looking at how group learning can effectively take place using variations on the Digital Storytelling method. More information about Digital Storytelling as a movement can be found on the StoryCenter website.

Another session I found really interesting was a panel discussion focusing on the some of the outcomes of the Jisc Digital Student project. The panel consisted of people who I would consider ‘experts’ in the Learning Technology field such as Helen Beetham, John Webber and Dave White as well as two students from Sussex Downs College and a PhD student from the University of Southampton. The discussion focused on the need to include students in a dialogue around their digital experiences and expectations in education and one of the underlying messages was that more effort needs to be put into engaging and empowering learners in this way so that they are part of the changes that take place in educational environments. I was particularly struck by the students from the FE College who had taken part in staff development days and actually trained staff on the use of some of the technologies that were available in the classroom. Their professional attitude and desire to help others was fantastic and it was uplifting to see young people wanting to make the experience better for everyone in their learning community.

The other things I learned included, but are not limited to:

  • How Liverpool Hope crowd-source their university policy using Communities of Practice and Google Docs.
  • How University of Manchester’s Medical School use WordPress as their VLE
  • Some of the uses of Google Glass in education.
  • How to make a hat at a conference dinner in order to win free wine. Thank you #altcgame.

Listening to debates around the politics of learning technology and some of the more critical discussions was one of the most worthwhile parts of the conference for me. Laura Czerniewicz’s keynote, which looked at the changing HE landscape through the lens of social justice, gave us a lot to think about as a sector and Johnathan Worth’s keynote drew attention to some of the consequences that can arise from digital learning and questioned issues surrounding privilege and control of the narratives of online information.

I also attended the session that followed on from the lively debate on whether ‘learning technologies are fit for purpose’ that occurred at Jisc’s Digital Festival earlier this year. Lawrie Phipps and Donna Lanclos‘ ALT-C session opened up the debate to the room and we could have spent half a day having discussions around this, as it is clearly a topic that remains divisive. Some others have already reflected on this session and I particularly like The Ed Techie’s post about the ‘institutional sediment’ that can build up around our use of technology. It’s a reminder that we need to think critically about how we adopt technology in our institutions and how social and cultural perceptions around specific technologies are just as important as the functionality. Donna Lanclos and Dave White also ran a session on the problematic nature of the ‘Digital Native’ concept and how assumptions we make about the technical abilities of learners can actually get in the way of pedagogical innovation.

Overall I enjoyed my first ALT-C experience and got a lot out of it, as well as meeting some new people and having some interesting discussions. I’m already thinking ahead to possible conference paper ideas for next year. Links to the papers from other members of the E-Learning Development Team can be found below.

Further Links

Photo credit : Chris Bull

3 responses to “ALT-C 2015: Reflections from a first-timer

  1. Pingback: York E-Learning Newsletter – October 2015 | E-Learning Development Team·

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