Category Archives: altc2010

Socially Acceptable

In a recent blog post I mentioned the impact of Twitter for me at ALT-C.

Overall from my experience, Twitter has really added value to conferences I have attended and made them more joined up and much more a social affair. It has helped to build a real community, especially at ALT-C.

I first went to ALT-C 2003 in Sheffield and to be honest found it quite a souless affair. I didn’t know many people and it was “quite hard” to get to know people without dropping into conversations over coffee, which can be challenging Though there were elements of the conference that were useful and interesting, I decided not to attend ALT-C 2004 even though it was in my own backyard in Exeter.

I did go to Manchester for ALT-C 2005 as we had just done a project for JISC called Fair Enough.

As a result we had a poster and I ran a workshop entitled Copyright Solutions. The workshop was a catalyst for social interaction and as a result I made a fair few new friends. Also having been part of a JISC project and attended programme meetings, events and conferences the circle of people I knew was growing. ALT-C was becoming not just a positive learning experience, but was also becoming a positive social experience too.

Having had a really positive experience of ALT-C I decided I would go to Edinburgh for ALT-C 2006, where I ran a variation of the copyright workshop again and had another poster.

This time, there was an ALT-C Wiki, which sadly due to the demise of jot.com no longer exists. What I do recall of the wiki was that it would allow presenters and delegates to post presentations and discuss them. What was sad was how little it was used by anyone… no one wanted it. With over six hundred delegates only six people contributed. I did put this down to the 1% rule initially. I was also one of the few people blogging the event as well (on my old WCC blog). I was surprised with the fact (and maybe I shouldn’t have been) that six hundred learning technologists were not using the very technology they were presenting on.

However in 2007, things were very different, again not huge numbers, but certainly very different to the year before. ALT-C 2007 in Nottingham was a real sea change for the online interaction and was for me and others the year that blogging changed the way in which we engaged with the conference.

Steve Wheeler it was the first time I really met him was at this conference said

It’s a strange world. The entire ALT-C conference it seems is filled with bloggers. Not only are they blogging about the conference, they are blogging about blogging. The bloggers are even blogging about being blogged about, and blogging about bloggers blogging. Here am I, like an absolute idiot, blogging about the bloggers blogging about bloggers blogging about each other.

Haydn Blackey also said

I know I’m not finished yet, but so far I can reflect that blogging live from conference makes me pay much more attention to speakers than is my common practice.

This is something we might want to think about in regard to Twittering at a conference.

But it was David Bryson who really caught the blogging atmosphere in his blog post and his slideshow.

…wandering around it was interesting to see how glued or involved folks are when working with a computer the common phrase “Do you mind if I use my computer when you are at a table” which we can interpret as something along the lines of “I don’t want to be rude but I am not going to talk to you but commune with my computer” or words to that effect.

The main reason for this I believe was not that people weren’t blogging before, but it was the first time that we had an RSS feed of all the blogs in one feed. This made it much easier to find blog articles on the conference and as a result the bloggers. It did not mean people were hiding behind their laptops, on the contray it resulted in a more social conference.

Importantly and this is why I think ALT-C 2007 was a sea change (and especially a sea change for me) was that these social relationships continued beyond the conference. We continued to blog, talk and meet well after everyone had flown from Edinburgh and were back home.

So when ALT-C 2008 convened in Leeds there was an expectation that there would be more blogging, but it would be more social.

There were though two big key differences between 2007 and 2008, one was the Fringe, F-ALT and the other was Twitter. I had used Twitter at ALT-C 2007 and I think I was probably the only person to do so…

F-ALT added a wonderful new dimension to ALT-C by enhancing and enriching the social side of ALT-C and adding a somewhat serious side to conversations in the bar. It allowed people to engage with others in a way that wasn’t really possible at previous ALT-Cs.

It should be noted that it was at a F-ALT event at ALT-C 2008 that I proclaimed Twitter was dead… well what do I know!

Now just to compare at ALT-C 2010 there were 6697 tweets, in 2008 we had just over 300 tweets! There were only about 40-50 people using Twitter. But it was an influential 40-50 people. As it happens most people at ALT-C 2008 were using either Facebook or the then newly provided Crowdvine service.

Like F-ALT, Twitter allowed people to engage in conversations that otherwise may have happened, but more likely wouldn’t have. Both F-ALT and Twitter allowed ALT-C to become more social, more engaging and more interactive.

ALT-C 2009 in Manchester really gave an opportunity for Twitter to shine and this was apparent in that nearly five thousand Tweets were sent during the conference. Twitter was for ALT-C 2009 what blogs were for ALT-C 2007. At the time 633 people on Twitter used the #altc2009 tag, more than ten times the number of people at ALT-C 2008 and more than the number of delegates. Twitter was starting to allow ALT-C to go beyond the university conference venue and engage the wider community. This use of social networking was not just about enhancing the social and community side of ALT-C but also about social learning. The success of the VLE is Dead debate can be placed fairly at the door of social media in engaging delegates through Twitter, blog posts and YouTube videos.

ALT-C 2010 in Nottingham for me was as much about the formal learning as it was about the social learning. An opportunity to learn both in formal and informal social settings. I was concerned slightly that the use of Twitter by certain people and FALT would be slightly cliquey. However no matter how cliquey people think it is, it is a relatively open clique. This year it was very easy to join in conversations using Twitter and then meet up socially, quite a few people I know has never been part of the ALT-C family (first time at the conference) and are now probably part of the clique.

As Dave White said in his invited talk (let’s just call it a keynote) talked about the eventedness of the physical congregation of people at a lecture or a conference. It is more than just what is been presented it is the fact that we are all together physically in the same place. I suspect a fair few of us could recreate that kind of social aspect online and I have seen this at the JISC Online Conferences (another one this autumn) but for many delegates it is way too challenging.

There is something very social about meeting up for something like ALT-C and even in these difficult times I hope we can continue to do so. Here’s to ALT-C 2011.

Twittering at the conference

ALT-C this year once more brought the use of Twitter at conferences to the fore again and discussions on the value of the back channel.

Last year in November danah boyd delivered a speech at the Web 2.0 Expo and according to her own words:

From my perspective, I did a dreadful job at delivering my message.

If you read the rest of her blog entry you realise that she was having a bad day.

So that happens to us all. However what marked out danah’s bad day was how the Twitter back channel pushed the front channel out of the way, as danah says in her blog:

The Twitter stream had become the center of attention, not the speaker. Not me.

The internal audience started to use Twitter to not just comment on the speech, but also to attack the way in which danah was presenting, these attacks then became personal. Where this process was exacerbated was there was a live Twitter stream on a screen in the room.

You can see for yourself how she did in this video.

Having heard danah speak before I didn’t think it was that bad and certainly not as bad as the back channel decided it was.

So you can imagine my hesitation when a few weeks later I was delivering a keynote at ASCILITE 09 in Auckland. I had planned to use a Twitterwall and use KeynoteTweet, an Applescript which in conjunction with Keynote will automatically send tweets as slides appear.

In the auditorium there were two projectors, one would have my slides upon them, whilst the other would have Twitterfall showing all the #ascilite09 tweets. Twitterfall worked well, with a fair few people in the UK and elsewhere following the tweets from my keynote.

Of course having read about danah’s experiences I was concerned about having a live Twitter feed in your presentation, especially when it is behind you. However looking over the stream of Tweets it would appear everything went fine. This year I have given more presentations and where there is room I do try and have a live Twitter stream available.

Lets fast forward to the first week in September, when I walked into the main auditorium at ALT-C 2010 I was pleasantly surprised to see Twitterfall live on a side screen to the main screen. So when Donald Clark walked onto the stage I was looking forward to the keynote and the back channel discussion on Twitter. So I was equally surprised when as the keynote started, the Twitterfall screen “disappeared”. I noted my disappointment in a tweet.


In hindsight some may think it was probably wise of ALT not to have the live Twitterwall behind Donald considering what the back channel was saying about his keynote. Though we must remember that though the back channel is not on display, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. During the final plenary session at ALT-C we did have the Twitterwall on display and as we listened to the panels of speakers we could see what the audience thought floating down behind them.

During this session, @AJCann asked

OK, who in the room finds the Twitterfall distracting and would like it turned off? Vote now.


It was pointed out that this tweet would only reach the Twitter audience… so a vote was asked for in the hall.

Great to see overwhelming vote for Twitterfall ON from the hall

In the end it was felt by the delegates in the room that the Twitterfall added value to the session.

Now not everyone thinks that is the case all the time:

Seb Schmoller in a blog post says:

My experience at this year’s ALT conference has been that the value of the back-channel has varied widely: sometimes it seems to work like a bad feedback loop on a sound system; sometimes it seems to add focus and clarity to a discussion, and to induce productive involvement.

He also said

I’ve got mixed views about the way that Twitter works in these situations. I’m incapable of following a line of argument whilst i) trying to write pithy observations on it, and ii) keeping an eye on what other people using Twitter are writing.

Seb also links to some research and asks whether

…this kind of research evidence show that those who think they can multi-task are, like phone-using drivers, deluding themselves?

I do wonder though if twittering during a keynote or presentation is in fact mult-tasking as eluded in this research.

I would agree if I was watching an episode of the West Wing during an ALT-C keynote then no I would not be able to give my full attention to either. I know I am not paying attention to what is happening during a presentation if I am checking my e-mail or Facebook. However I see twittering during a keynote presentation as a single activity and not multi-tasking. It is in my opinion akin to note taking during a lecture or checking on something said by the presenter in a text book (or online). I will agree it is going to have some kind of impact, but would like to see if the positive outweighs the negative.

You are engaged with the process and engaging with others. The nice thing of course during a keynote is you have the choice if you want to engage, no one is going to mind.

Overall from my experience, Twitter has really added value to conferences I have attended and made them more joined up and much more a social affair. It has helped to build a real community, especially at ALT-C.

Conference Formatting

So I have spent a week in Nottingham at ALT-C that is in many ways a traditional academic style conference. We had keynotes and invited speakers, papers short and long, symposia with panels and workshops.

The focus of ALT-C as I see it is very much about bringing together a community to share practice, network and move one’s own learning forward. I do enjoy the conference and learn a lot from it. It’s great to network, discuss, debate and share with other learning technologists from around the country (and the rest of the world).

I have never seen ALT-C as the type of innovating conference that will “call for change” or move the whole learning technology agenda forward. The format as it stands just doesn’t allow for that. For example ALT-C 2011 is just under a year away, however we already know the theme, who the keynote speakers are and who the chairs of the conference will be. The process of speaking at ALT-C 2011 will be finalised in about five months time on the 14th of February when the deadline for proposals for inclusion is closed.

In the past or for other areas this is probably fine and dandy, but for ALT-C it does mean that newer technologies are not even mentioned.

For example nowhere at the conference was a huge deal made of Apple’s new iPad or any of the forthcoming Android tablets. Then again you could say why should there be, they haven’t been used for any length of time and therefore there are no results or research done yet.

Once you understand that ALT-C is not about innovation or new shiny things, but is about practice, research and outcomes the less disappointed you will be about what you see at the conference.

Though this is no excuse for poor presentation skills. I know that the ALT team try really hard to get presenters to be more effective, they produce excellent guides, tips and advice; but still now and again with people’s lack of confidence in themselves we see slides and slides of bullet points. I do think presenters sometimes forget that the idea of a short paper presentation is to either inspire people to read the short paper in more detail or to undertake further reading, or as an opportunity to allow questions to be asked of the short paper. The presentation is not there to provide your audience with lots of bullet points, explanatory notes on methodology or the inside leg measurement of the lead researcher.

If you want innovation, ideas, cutting edge, then to be honest you are not going to find them at ALT-C. So where do you go?

Well ULCC’s FOTE 10 one day conference this year does allow for this kind of radical thought, innovative ideas and inspiring new practices.

So does ALT-C need to change?

Paul Lowe in his recent blog post says

But the overriding feeling for me at my first ALT-C was a sense of nagging disappointment that despite being populated with over 400 of the best practitioners of learning technology around today, what did we actually achieve in concrete terms, what artefact, statement, decision, conclusion or prediction did we build?

Though I agree with Paul in the essence of what he says, we need to remember that the focus of ALT-C in my opinion is not (despite even what it says on the advertising literature) that. It is about Learning Technologists reporting on what they are doing in their institutions, probably based on work they started planning two or even three years ago! ALT-C is not about the future it’s about the past.

Also with the date of ALT-C the same time as one of the busiest weeks of the year for FE we saw FE under-represented at the conference and much of the energy and innovation we do see in FE wasn’t going to be discovered at this year’s ALT-C. The other aspect of that is the proposal submission process does not allow or reflect the actual work and stuff that happens in FE.

Paul continues…

I had expected something much more creative and collaborative, along the lines of the unconference idea or barcamp for example.

I would like to see an unconference stream at ALT-C, the challenge is to get people to attend that stream. At one of the Handheld Learning conferences, they did try that, but it was surprising how few people wanted to be involved in those sessions. It’s not to say there isn’t the demand for ad hoc stuff, at this year’s ALT-C I discussed with various people the merits of Elgato’s EyeTV and Apple’s iPad as well as cultural change in expanding the use of learning technologies in institutions. All interesting subjects that would fit into a barcamp type stream.

However one of the problems with running a non-traditional conference is that it is then challenging for people to get the funding to attend.

ALT-C works in one sense that people will get the funding to go if they present a paper at the conference, if they can’t present a paper then they can’t get the funding. ALT-C isn’t viable unless it has lots of delegates attending. So the format of the conference is dictated by the fact that in order for it to run, it needs lots of delegates to attend, they will only attend if they are presenting and as a result the conference has to consist of lots of papers and presentations. This is why you get lots of short papers and workshops that are only 60 minutes long.

An unconference stream would be really interesting and useful if run well, however I can’t see people getting the funding to attend to facilitate sessions in that stream as it would not be related to particular projects, research or institutional objectives.

I have run various unconferences in my time and I have had lots of correspondence from people who wanted to attend, but couldn’t because staff development funds weren’t available for travel (the events were free) as there was no concrete objectives or outcomes for the event. Well there were, it was just that in order to secure funding it is easier if they can show a programme of keynotes and presentations!

At the end of the day I do think we let ALT-C be ALT-C and try not to change it. To change it to something that is that different probably would result in it not working at all.

The only way to change things, is to instigate that process of change yourself. If we want to see different kinds of innovative events then we need to create these events that produce the results we want to see. We can of course involve ALT, or ALT could even lead that process. I would like ALT to add two more events to their calendar in addition to ALT-C.

Firstly would like to see a conference with an FE focus, one that was less about research on FE practice, but more a showcase of existing FE practice. With the demise of Becta there is now a real vacuum for FE in sharing what they do.

The second conference would be on that focuses on the issues Paul talks about in his blog, on innovation, predictions, new stuff, future stuff. This could be a TED type conference but could instead have an unstructured unconference format. We could have a series of bar camp events that lead into the conference. One of the issues however with the unconference format was mentioned by me on an article I wrote for ALT on the Second ILT Champions informal conference in which I said

I did consider that such an informal approach this may have a possible downside, since what we want to see and discuss might not always correlate with what we need to see and discuss. This is not so much about dictating what should happen, but ensuring that delegates are informed about issues and subjects which they may have not have previously considered fully or dismissed as irrelevant.

So it is important that we not only have an open format, but we consider all the issues. Though who decides on these issues is an important question.

I do expect that ALT-C 2011 will take place in Leeds next September. I am hoping to attend, though with the budget cuts expected this year that is no certainty. Will there be an ALT-C 2012? I hope so.

e-Learning Stuff Podcast #057: Where have you been?

James has been attending ALT-C in Nottingham. He describes what he attended and thoughts on the “end of the lecture”.
With James Clay.

This is the fifty seventh e-Learning Stuff Podcast,Where have you been?

Audio MP3

Download the podcast in mp3 format: Where have you been?

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Shownotes

The Lecture is… ALT-C Reflections

The ALT Conference is always a good conference to challenge your assumptions, make new discoveries and question your practice.

This year’s conference was no exception, there was plenty to make you think, question, challenge and importantly learn from others. As with many conferences the discussions outside the sessions (either on the back channel or over coffee) are just as valuable as the content of the sessions themselves. However they can’t exist in isolation, the presentations and discussions are important and complement each other.

Last year, the VLE was a dominant theme, this year the lecture came under the spotlight. Donald Clark who opened the conference with his keynote riled people and annoyed them with a blanket attack on the lecture.

There are reasons to question practice, it is often too easy to fall back on what we have always done, because we have always done it that way. However while I think Donald was right to question the validity of the lecture, his approach was to attack, dismiss and offer no serious alternatives to the current lecture format. Donald’s only serious suggestion was to produce online learning packages. Yes there are historical reasons why we have lectures in the form that they are, however this isn’t necessarily an accident of history, it could be the evolution of a useful and efficient teaching process.

Having said that I do recall from my undergraduate days one lecturer whose lectures were word for word taken from his book. I bought the book and never went to the lectures. I guess at least I had a choice, though the book was very expensive as I recall! Though that was some time ago and you should never rely on personal experiences to reflect what is happening now across the whole sector.

After Donald’s keynote I was part of a session that gave delegates at ALT-C an opportunity to discuss and debate the keynote. One of the issues we did discuss was the impact learning spaces have. If we have lecture theatres then we have lectures and lecture theatres make it challenging to do other kinds of activities. So we hear lecturers saying they do want to do different kinds of stuff, but the space prevents it. Though it was interesting to hear from others that had created new types of learning spaces, lecturers complaining and wanting lecture theatres back. Sometimes it’s the space, sometimes it’s the practitioner.

The following day, Dave White, from TALL, gave a passionate defence of the lecture.

Dave with his extensive experience with TALL is certainly well qualified to understand the benefits and limitations of online delivery. However he discussed during his talk the importance of the social benefit that physical lectures provide for a community of learners. This is though not impossible to recreate online, is very challenging. Dave demonstrated through his delivery and content that the lecture in itself can be a useful way to stimulate discussion and debate.

I should also at this point congratulate Dave and the TALL team on winning the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year team award.

In my opinion for some learners the lecture can be a useful method of learning. The problem arises when you start to rely heavily on the lecture as your main method of delivery. Using a lecture can be great for learners, only using lectures is not. It’s the same with any kind of learning activity, just using one type of process is not going to be effective, for most learners it will become boring and tedious.

There are other challenges facing the sector with the question of whether universities should focus on research or teaching and whether we should split the sector up into research universities and teaching universities along models found elsewhere in the world.

Another challenge is obviously funding and the inevitable cuts we are facing over the next few years. It will be seen as easy and “efficient” to give lectures to hundreds of undergraduates rather than break them down into small groups for other activities in order to save money.

Overall the conference did succeed in getting the delegates taking about the issues, the challenges and the possible future role of the lecture. I do believe as learning technologists we should question the effectiveness of not only what we do, but also look at existing practices to see if they are still valid and useful.