Category Archives: altc2010

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?

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

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes


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.

ALT-C 2010 Day #3

It’s the final day of ALT-C, not a full day, but certainly lots to keep me busy.

An early start for me, but a late one for Thom Cochrane and Roger Batemen who will be delivering their session remotely from Auckland in New Zealand. Their session is entitled Strategies for mlearning integration.

This paper, which Thomas Cochrane will present remotely from New Zealand, outlines the third iteration of integrating mobile Web 2.0 within a Bachelors level course. An analysis and comparison of the impact of mobile Web 2.0 across all three years of the 2009 course enables the development of implementation strategies that can be used to integrate mlearning into other tertiary courses, and inform the design of further Product Design mlearning integration iterations.

Their work has always been of interest for many years. I have known Thom for many years through the Handheld Learning Forums and met him in person at mLearn 2008 in Dudley. When I was at Ascilite 2009 in Auckland he very kindly acted as my host and ensured I had a great conference and an excellent trip to New Zealand.

After coffee I am going to attend the The life cycle of an ALTC theme symposium.

This symposium, supported by the authors’ analysis of the content of ALT-C Proceedings in the period from 2000 to 2009, seeks to explore the themes that have emerged over the last ten years and how these have evolved.

Then we have the final keynote of the conference from Barbara Wasson.

Then it’s all over…

ALT-C 2010 Day #2

So it’s day two of ALT-C here in Nottingham. It’s another very busy day with lots on.

First up I am going to attend the New Bottles, Old Wine? Symposium.

Educators have started using popular digital technologies, including mobile phones and media players; social networking sites like Facebook; blogging sites such as Twitter, immersive virtual environments, mainly Second Life; and online gaming platforms such as World of Warcraft and connected mainstream console based games. This is a significant development, a distinct departure from the use of technologies that are purely educational or institutional such as e-portfolios or VLEs, where educators and their institutions control the technology and impose the rules. Where popular digital technologies, are used beyond the walled garden of the institution, other rules have already begun to emerge. These technologies are creating more places and modes that people can inhabit, where communities can form and disband, where ideas, images and information can be produced, stored, shared, tagged, discussed, transmitted and consumed and where diverse expectations have developed about language, humour, posture, taste, fashion, etiquette and behaviour. They are like foreign countries, ones where we take our students or ones where we hope to find students, ones where we must learn the rules, where the inhabitants and communities each have their own ideas of what constitutes ‘identity’, ‘consent’, ‘privacy’, ‘harm’ or ‘risk’. There are no easy ‘for’ and ‘against’ formulations; different technologies are used in different ways with different students and in different contexts. The speakers come from social media, gaming, immersive virtual worlds, mobiles and transnational perspectives. This debate draws on a range of strongly held opinions emerging from within a newly formed HEA SIG exploring the ethics of educational interventions, both teaching, evaluation and research, in popular digital technologies. We hope delegates will join the SIG and continue to be involved as discussions and understandings evolve. We hope to identify important and over-arching issues and approaches for educators, in order to support and protect their students, and to enhance their institutional procedures and inform the development of relevant professional frameworks.

I think this may be the debate of the conference and certainly one to come to.

After the coffee break I am helping to run a workshop, Guerilla Narratives of Media, with the wonderful Helen Keegan, Frances Bell and Josie Fraser.

Mobile devices in educational settings are powerful tools for supporting and recording learning, but have had mixed reactions from students. Some students see educational media such as podcasts as an intrusion into their personal use of technology; others who are given standard mobile devices for a project don’t relate to them as ‘personal’ devices. Staff wishing to harness mobile learning technologies in their productive engagement with students can get distracted by the provision of technologies rather than focusing on learning outcomes. This practical workshop will introduce participants to a range of ideas for using personal technologies to enhance the teaching and learning experience through student-generated content production and geo-location services. The emphasis is on pragmatic and resourceful practice by students and staff in using platform-agnostic media and services to support the learning process. Participants will be introduced to new narratives using the mobile phone as a tool for data recording, media production and content sharing, and emerging web services as means of aggregating content from multiple platforms. Geo-location services will be introduced from the perspective of using hyper-local mobile phone applications in education, in order to give participants an idea of how these techniques could be used more widely in a learning context. Taking a ‘guerilla narrative’ approach to rapid learning design, participants will then work in groups to produce learning activities which take advantage of the devices in students’ pockets. Each group will produce 3 ‘snapshot’ ideas – audio, image and video – for using mobile technologies in the classroom. Using their own mobile phones participants will record their snapshots/ learning activities, producing media artefacts which can then be uploaded and shared with the wider community via the session wiki. By the end of the session participants will: have developed a conceptual understanding of a ‘guerilla EdTech’ approach to activity design; be able to upload media from internet mobile devices to web sites, including geo-location services; have acquired a range of sample media artefacts and learning activities for their students.

I then intend to listen to David White, who is one of the invited speakers.

Earlier this year my group at the University of Oxford were commissioned to undertake a study of online learning for the HEFCE Online Learning Task Force. Our research showed that the vast majority of online distance learning provided at higher education level is in postgraduate ‘professional’ courses which in these Return-On-Investment times offer an attractive income stream from employers and employees alike. Increasing activity in this area could lead us to believe that we are in danger of generating a parallel ‘training 2.0’ HE sector but the reality is far more complex. Using evidence published in the study, this presentation will explore how the emergent culture of the web is encouraging online students to expect a form of engagement that many in the HE sector have been advocating for years. It will discuss how this is challenging the role of the academic and what strategies institutions are taking to meet the demand for discursive, activity based pedagogies. The presentation will also discuss the need for non STEM disciplines to move online to maintain a balanced representation of the character of our university system in the mêlée of course offerings from around the globe.

Over lunch it’s time to re-visit the posters before attending the keynote from Sugata Mitra.

Then I have decided to attend the Meeting changing student expectations session.

After the ALT General Meeting I will be in the presentation of the Jorum L&T Awards (as I was one of the judges).

Of course in the evening it is the ALT Gala Dinner, which has a lot to match up to the last two years, which were fantastic.

The lecture is dead

Donald Clark opened the ALT 2010 Conference with a controversial keynote on the lecture.

This keynote certainly got people riled and discussing the lecture on the Twitter back channel. I do think that Twitter has changed how we discuss keynotes now. In the last we would have discussed the keynote after it had finished, either over coffee or a reflective article like this one. Twitter allows discussion during the keynote itself and brings in people who are not even in the auditorium or at the conference.

So what was the gist of the keynote, well the lecture is dead!

Donald gave us a history of the origins of the lecturer, attacked the value of the lecture and showed us a clip from Ferris Bueller. He talked about the culture of research which pervades HE and that good researchers don’t necessarily make good teachers. I didn’t feel though he offered us any real alternatives though.

In my experience there are good lectures and there are bad lectures. However it would appear that the good inspiring lectures are rare. The key question is the norm of the lecture so ingrained into the culture of our institutions that any one questioning their value is seen to be questioning not just the value of lectures but also the value of the institution. Do we lecture because we have always given lectures?

ALT-C 2010 Day #1

So it’s Tuesday the 7th September and I am in Nottingham for ALT-C. It’s a very busy day with lots on and I have a fair bit to do too.

The conference opens at 10.00am and then Donald Clark delivers the first keynote of the conference.

He is intending to be controversial and I need to pay attention more so than usual as I will be on a panel later discussing the keynote.

…there’s a dark secret at the heart of HE that really holds it back – the lecture. Apart from being pedagogically suspect, many are badly delivered and few are recorded. Donald will do some deconstruction of the lecture in terms of its history, lack of relevance in the terms of the psychology of learning and serious limitations for students.

This may well be controversial for the largely HE audience at ALT-C whose institutions are dominated by lectures.

And before you ask, yes he is aware of the contradiction!

After the keynote there are many parallel sessions and as per usual a fair choice of subjects and topics. I quite like the idea of the mobile learning demonstrations, but I do know a fair bit about that subject so will probably not go. The Fun with ‘Faux-positories’ sounds like  a different and interesting workshop.

This workshop will give participants a chance to work hands-on with Diigo and Netvibes to develop their own resource sharing and dissemination sites for their departments, communities, or classes.

Alas it was cancelled due to illness.

I do also think the two e-book short papers would be of interest and useful for the symposium later on.

After lunch I am as I had said part of the facilitated discussion on Donald’s keynote. I suspect this will prove quite popular once the keynote has happened!

Like the morning the afternoon parallel sessions offer a wide choice.

I think the Changing staff development short papers will be useful. The demonstration on copyright would also be of interest, less sure about the advertising demo in the same session.

I am really liking the look of the Institutional changing paradigms short papers session.

I would probably attend the Student voice expectations short papers session, however from the abstracts it looks like it may have too much of an HE focus to be really useful.

After a range of other sponsored presentations I will be running my e-book symposium.

After dinner there is a range of F-ALT activity and the EduBloggers meet up in the city centre.

As is usual for ALT-C a very packed and busy day.

ALT-C 2010 Day #0

So it’s Monday and I am off to Nottingham for ALT-C.

For FE this is a particularly busy time and as a result not many of my FE colleagues will be attending the conference which is a pity as there is so much they could contribute to this conference and so much they could take away. I am lucky in that I have a fantastic team working hard in the libraries, likewise most academic staff I work with are working their socks off with enrolment and induction. As a result though it is a busy week for FE, it’s usually quite a quiet week for me, so in many ways an ideal time for a conference!

For me that is the real value of ALT-C. I am usually presenting in some capacity (and this year is no exception) and I always learn something new that will help me in my day to day role at the college.

I am driving to Nottingham, slightly wary, as the last time I was in Nottingham three years ago, my car was broken into and I had a load of stuff stolen. This time I am taking a lot less stuff (as I am not doing a mobile learning workshop this time) and I am expecting to rely heavily on my iPad (rather than a laptop) for my conference amplification and back channels.

I am involved in three sessions this year. The first is being a panel member in a session that responds and feedbacks to Donald Clark’s keynote. The second is my e-book symposium which is generating some interest, though nowhere near the hype and expectation of the VLE is Dead last year. I am also part of the Guerilla EdTech workshop which will be fun.

The networking and social side of ALT-C is also good and it will be nice to touch base and make contact with old friends and new ones too. Social networking services like Twitter, blogging (and in my case Facebook slightly) have ensured that contacts made last year, and at previous ALT conferences have been sustained and built on.

So looking forward to what will be an interesting conference.