Last year I missed ALT-C, the Association of Learning Technologies annual Conference, as I had literally just started at Activate Learning. Though the conference coincides with the start of the academic year in FE, I did manage this year to attend the second day at the conference.
This has been for me for over ten years one of the best conferences on learning technologies, the topics, issues and subjects that are covered are inspiring, informative and certainly make you think about what you do and what you are going to do.
The sessions at this year’s conference have been just as inspiring and as good as I have seen in previous years. I particularly enjoyed Catherine Cronin’s keynote and the session from Dave White.
As well as the informative sessions, it is also good to make contact with fellow learning technologists from HE, FE and other sectors. Sometimes the conversations over coffee are as useful and interesting as the sessions in themselves.
It’s a pity that I could only make one day this year, but I certainly am going away with lots to think about and follow up over the next few weeks.
At a recent presentation by Dave White, he used the word churning to describe the rapid pace of change we went through around 2007. That was the year most people joined Twitter, it was the year that Facebook became mainstream, YouTube was starting to hit the big time. There were all these new services and tools, some of which are still with us, some of which have disappeared, Jaiku anyone?
There was a lot of excitement at that time about new services and whenever new services were announced we all went and signed up for it. Did you sign up to Plurk and so on?
These services were so popular that in the end the only way that they could work sometimes was by restricting access to invite only.
Google Wave for me was a turning point, a really great idea, that everyone wanted to be part of…. however it didn’t quite turn out as expected.
It was invite only and as a result, individuals got access and not communities, so even though it took me a while to get an invite for Wave when I did, very few people I knew had access. You can’t really use Wave on your own, so I didn’t use it, by the time access was opened, it was too late, people like me had moved on, well more moved back to Twitter.
I felt at this point that the constant excitement of the new was over. We had moved from a time of “churning” or flux to a time of consolidation. It was now less about finding new, more about using what we had.
That’s not to say new services don’t come along, I for example am really liking Instagram. But the rush for the new is no longer the driver. For some though they are still churning, they are still looking for the new. I just don’t think it’s there.
We may in the future go through another churning phase, but until that time, it’s now the time to use the services for stuff, rather than the time of finding new services.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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