Going down the #altc road again

This is an updated version of this blog post from 2016. It now includes details of the 2016 and 2017 conferences.

#altc in Liverpool

Reading Maren Deepwell’s recent post about her #altc journey, it reminded me of the many conferences I have attended and like her the impact that they had on my life and professional practice. Going back to my experiences of my first ALT-C I was surprised I even went again!

2003 – Disappointment

The first Association for Learning Technology Conference (#altc) I attended was in 2003 in Sheffield. ALT was ten years old by now and well established in the world of what we called e-learning back then in the higher education sector, less so in further education. I was in the middle of a project called FAIR Enough part of the JISC FAIR programme and had been asked to deliver a short session on the issues of copyright that we had found as part of the project on sharing resources across our college consortium.

Alas my memory of the conference was one of disappointment, I found it overwhelming, very clique, way too much happening and spread too far across the Sheffield campus, lots of walking. Oh and the conference dinner In the Town Hall was a something of a disappointment.

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. What I did learn from this is this how other people, new to ALT-C must feel?

2004 – What was the point?

So in 2004 I didn’t go to Exeter for #altc even though it was just down the road from me. I do remember looking over the programme, but didn’t really see anything that would make me go.

2005 – Mad for it

Despite my earlier experiences I did find myself in Manchester in 2005 for the conference.

I did submit a poster which got a commended award which I was very pleased with.


I also ran a very popular workshop on copyright that I then went to run at various colleges and events over the next few years.

I really enjoyed this conference and to be honest I would call this my first real ALT Conference. 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.

2006 – Wiki, what’s a wiki?

Having really enjoyed ALT-C 2005 I did go to ALT 2006 in Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.


This was a rather busy conference for me with a poster, another copyright workshop a demonstration of JISC FE Exemplars of Online Resources, with a workshop on embedding digital resources in teaching and learning: the role the JISC Exemplars can play.

This was also the time of the great ALT-C Wiki experiment, in which a wiki was created to allow people to create an online record of the conference, share links, presentations and discuss. Sadly due to the demise of jot.com no longer exists.

What was sad was how little it was used by anyone… no one wanted it. With over six hundred delegates only six people contributed directly to the wiki. 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). My main takeaway from this event was that 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.

2007 – when we discovered blogging

Sadly my main memory of this was having my car broken into and quite a bit of stuff stolen on the final day.

What the real takeaway from this conference was how blogging became really big and important at the conference. We were blogging about the conference sessions, we were blogging about people blogging and lots of other stuff too.

Steve Wheeler wrote:

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 similar stuff in his blog post:

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.

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

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.

2008 – Talking on the fringe

My main memory of this conference was not the conference, but the fringe!

As with other festivals and events, the fringe of ALT, known as F-ALT was a series of external events and discussions (usually in a bar). 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.

At least forty people used Twitter at this conference, but the main social engagement was through Facebook and Crowdvine.

ALT-C 2008 also had the best conference dinner ever!

2009 – I have a dead VLE!

This was the year that delegates at ALT-C discovered the Twitter! In 2008 there were roughly 300 tweets and about forty people tweeting, in 2009 the amount of tweeting went through the roof!

I personally remember 2009 as the year I won Learning Technologist of the Year. I was well chuffed to receive this prestigious award.

Most people remember that year as the year I allegedly said the VLE was dead! We had certainly over the months leading up to the conference trailed the debate with blog posts, tweets and even a trailer.

If you watch the video of the debate and discussion  you will see that my view was that the VLE was more of a concept a place where a learner starts their journey and other technologies could be plugged into the institutional VLE to enhance and enrich it.

I still hold that viewpoint that the VLE is a construction of different tools and services. Learning Tool Interoperability can make that a reality connecting tools such as WordPress, Marahar and Moodle all together creating a seamless experience for learners.

The debate was huge, with hundreds of people in the room, sitting on the floor, standing by the walls and we also live streamed the debate over the internet (which was quite revolutionary at the time). Overall an amazing experience and an interesting debate that still goes on today.

2010 – Don’t lecture me…

I believe a good keynote is there to make you think or be inspired, or challenge your thinking. What Donald Clark did was to challenge our perception of the lecture, and it appeared to me that the over-whelming consensus of the audience was that the lecture still had some place in the delivery of education. This was reinforced for me by Dave White who gave a wonderful (unplanned) response to Donald’s lecture, with an invited talk on the eventedness and social impact of coming together to learn. This talk was probably the highlight of the conference for me, and has made me reflect more on my personal view that learning technology doesn’t always have to be a choice, but what it can do is provide choice. For example if you weren’t there in 2010, you can now watch Dave White for yourself on YouTube.

Technology provides a choice on how and where we learn. It’s a pity we don’t have any audio or video media from those earlier ALT conferences.

2011 – How is Clive?

One of the things I really wanted to do at the ALT Conference was provide a video back channel. At this point many people were using the Twitter for a social media back channel, but with the live streaming of the keynotes and invited speakers, I felt that what ALT could do with was an informal backstage channel of behind the scenes interviews, follow up interviews with the keynote speakers and delegates. If you have ever watched Glastonbury, T4 on the beach or the Olympics, what I was trying to achieve was that back stage room with interviews, thought pieces and discussion.

What the end result was ALT-C Live beta

ALT Live Beta

which for me will always be ALT Clive! I was lucky enough to partner with Darren Moon from LSE to enable the whole thing to work, combined with early live video streaming using Justin.TV (this was before the days of Periscope and Meerkat). We had proper TV cameras, a Tricaster mobile TV production unit and lots of microphones (a fair few which didn’t work properly). A real highlight for me was interviewing Sugata Mitra about his work.

I reflected on Clive in this blog post.

ALT-C Live

2012 – On my own…

I hoped to repeat ALT-C Live in 2012, but alas though we had the equipment, Darren fell ill at the last minute and it was impossible to get a replacement. Though possible in some respects to deliver aspects of ALT-C Live on your own, it was hard and I was disappointed that we couldn’t repeat the success of the previous year. However I do feel that our experiences with ALT-C Live influenced and inspired how edtech conferences provide a better experience for remote delegates and those that can’t attend. For me this is what technology is about, not replacing a conference, but amplifying it, enhancing the conference and make it accessible.

Of course one of my personal highlights for this conference was being an invited speaker.

It gave me the opportunity to talk about teaching with tablets and even made the press.


2013 – Missing…

In September 2013 I started a new job, which meant that I didn’t attend ALT-C as I couldn’t get the funding to go, which was a real pity.

2014 – Hello and goodbye

A year later I managed a day at the conference, but it was really nice to see everyone and engage in the sessions. Attending just for a day reminded me that the conference experience is more than just attending the sessions. I really felt I had missed out on this event. However my main role at this time was as an IT Director so my focus was slightly skewed.

2015 – I’m back!

Now working for Jisc I was able to attend the whole conference as a delegate and I really did enjoy the whole event. Two things that I remember the conference for (well apart from the coffee) was the first keynote from Steve Wheeler, the marmite of keynote speakers and the keynote by Jonathan Worth.

On the coffee front, yes I was disappointed with the fact that the café at the Museum was closed for three weeks, however I did manage to find an equally nice (or even a slightly nicer) place for coffee over the road at the Christie’s Bistro.

Overall I left Manchester feeling exhausted, but full of enthusiasm for learning technologies.

2016 – being human, sketching and mapping

The conference returned to Warwick this year and I do like the campus feel that you get attending, but do miss the buzz you get from places like Manchester.

I really enjoyed the keynote from Donna Lanclos and Dave White, nice to have a conversation and an interaction on the stage.

Donna and Dave

Myself and Lawrie Phipps ran a mapping workshop at the conference, it was quite a challenge to condense what would normally be anything from half a day to a whole day into a single hour. However the session was well received.


This was also the first conference to which I took my new iPad Pro and as a result started sketch noting the keynotes.

2017 – if the walls could talk

In a change of direction, the conference went to Liverpool. Yes there were issues with the venue, but I actually thought it was a very brave decision and I liked the venue and the location. I didn’t get a chance to explore much of Liverpool.

There were some great keynotes and I found both Bonnie Stewart and Sian Bayne’s presentations very inspiring and thought provoking.

I delivered a short session on the Intelligent Campus with a focus on the spaces we use for teaching and learning. What if they could speak to us, what would they say?

One of things I did which I enjoyed doing and other people liked were my sketch notes of the keynotes.

The death of a network: data and anonymity on campus

My sketch notes are really for me, rather than other people. The process of sketching allows my to digest for myself what is been talked about and demonstrated. The sketch note provides me with a mechanism that provides a process for my interpretation of what is being said and what I understand from the talk. The process of sketching engages me in the talk in ways in which note taking does for others, or conversing on the Twitter. They are not done for other people, if other people find them useful then that’s just a bonus.

Really pleased as well to see Josie Fraser receive her Honorary Life Membership of ALT.

Josie Fraser receiving her Honorary Life Membership at #altc in 2017

2018 – well….

It’s the 25th anniversary of ALT-C and it’s returning to Manchester.

So what’s going to happen, let’s wait and see!

2 thoughts on “Going down the #altc road again”

Leave a Reply