Bags packed and tickets ready, it was time to venture out into the realms of ‘Digital Practice’ once again. This time, for the prestigious annual ALT-C conference, hosted at the University of Manchester.
On the walk to the venue, my expectation grew like the cranes surrounding it. Yes, it was raining hard, but that wasn’t why I was keen to get inside.
It had been nine years since my last attendance and i was looking forward to engaging with the ALT community once again. It was a pleasure to see some familiar faces from recent events the moment I walked through the doors. There really is a collective of active practitioners sharing their practice for the rest of the community. For me, that sums up events like this. Real opportunity to learn how others may have already ridden those bumps in the road that you may be approaching. Inspiring, approachable keynote speakers, matched with sessions ranging from 5 min poster presentations to 60 min engaging workshops.
With ample opportunity to network and catch up, it felt like the next few days were going to be rich in digital inspiration and, like the building works all around the venue – constructive!
Talk for tech’s sake
There were many great moments, discussions and presentations everywhere. Everyone I spoke to had a passion for their field and an opinion on where digital sat and role it could or should play. From my experience on the Digital Leaders Programme, I was pleased to hear the points about ‘Digital’ and who that was rather than what it was.
I was engaged in conversations from ‘SPLOTS’, lecture recording, VLE reviewing and even on one occasion – Dungeons and Dragons! In fact, game play in learning was a big part of many conversations I had. My input and an opinion I shared with many, was that ‘gamifying’, done with relevance and pedagogy in mind, could be a fantastic hook to get students engaged, but as with many things digital, using tech for tech’s sake can dilute the learning very quickly and disengage students.
This also led into discussion about VLEs and effective use. Nine years ago the worry was that ‘The VLE is dead’ but we seem to have moved forward to the ‘VLE is essential…but in what way to we use it?’ As a subject specialist in the Digital Practice team at Jisc, one of the projects I have co-designed is the VLE Review. We are looking at the role of a VLE and how that role fits expectation. In a chat over lunch, we all felt that a capable platform is only as capable as the users and the content designed within. Curriculum design and staff confidence/capability are ‘underrated’ in the success of a VLE. We also spoke about how the bigger names were creating smaller independent tools that when put together, could play the VLE role. There has been plenty of work looking at the next generation of digital learning environments by Lawrie Phipps, Rob Allen and Dave Hartland looking at exactly this.
The keynote, delivered by Dr Tressie MacMillab Cotton, hit home straight away for me. While from the US, she found the UK shared many issues in learning technology and continually trying to move forward with educators and institutions. She spoke about ‘context’ in technology being essential and how learning technologists could and should be involved in the design of learning.
— Deb Baff (@debbaff) September 11, 2018
One of the hot topics of the conference was lecture capture. Universities and colleges are looking for ways to make the most use of this technology, yet from the people I spoke to, the adoption is still far from plain sailing. My own point of view being the title is part of the problem. Moving to a tagline more about content capturing rather than only lectures should open some perspective to new ways of supporting students. Conversations on this lasted well past the sessions and coffee breaks on twitter.
This is so true! https://t.co/UAdEvIxFCY
— TEL@StAndrews (@TEL_St_A) September 12, 2018
I’d go content purely because it’s open to uses for both teaching, learning and supporting content. Student uploads, educator uploads, information uploads, supporting uploads. It’s a huge arena, names can be so labelling. #altc
— Zac Gribble (@AppleZac) September 12, 2018
The lasting point from my 2018 ALT-C is about that fear I have. That I feel like I’m not supposed to be in that meeting, or talking a keynote. The thought that everyone else is justified in their position, am I?
A section of Amber Thomas’ keynote spoke about the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ that many of us could feel when working with our colleagues and how that could affect the relationships that are needed.
Relating incredibly hard to these slides by @ambrouk on #ImposterSybdrome, experience, expertise, and the reality of the breadth of work we undertake as learning technologists. #ALTc pic.twitter.com/dv6RoOL2nw
— Charlie 🐿️ 🏳️🌈 (@SFarley_Charlie) September 12, 2018
Sometimes though, it is time to look outward and understand that digital is an ever more depended upon technology in teaching and learning. I look to the Anthony Burrill’s screen print hanging in my house. See you at the next one.