Category Archives: conference

Weeknote #18 – 5th July 2019

The beach at Sand Bay
The beach at Sand Bay

A busy and confusing week for me with various non-work activities taking place, resulting in a more agile and flexible way of working.

On Monday, that Amazon Photos reminded me that on the 1st July in 2007 I was taking photographs of our brand new library at the new Gloucestershire College campus on the quays.

Gloucestershire College Library

What really impressed me back then was that my library team came in over the weekend to unpack everything and ensure that the library was ready to open. They didn’t tell me they were going to do that, as they wanted to surprise me (and everyone else as it happens). The library was welcomed by staff and students. It would take a little time to embed the use of the library across the student body, but within a year or two we were there.

At Gloucestershire College I was responsible for TEL, the libraries and learning resources from 2006 until 2013. Ofsted at our March 2013 inspection. Ofsted said “Teachers and learners use learning technologies extensively and creatively inside and outside the classroom. Most courses provide a good range of materials for learners through the college’s VLE. Outside lessons, many learners make constructive use of the college’s libraries and resources.” This was achieved by working with curriculum teams and students on show how the library and technology could be used to support learners and enhance the learning experience. I was very proud that all the work myself and my team had put into the use of learning technologies, the VLE and the library was recognised.

I quite enjoyed the tweets this week from Microsoft celebrating the 1985 initial release of Windows.

My first experience of Windows was some time later with Windows 3.0 and remembering the big advance that Windows 3.1 brought to computing. It was probably Windows 3.1 that really made me appreciate the affordances that technology could bring to teaching.

I remember the huge fanfare that was Windows 95 and what a step change it was from 3.1. We even had video now on Windows, though it was quite small.

I never really moved to Windows 98 and moved straight to Windows 2000 when I started a new job in 2001. Well the laptop I was provided with did use Windows Me, but I soon moved over to 2000. I liked Windows XP and thought it was a huge improvement over previous versions of Windows.

After that I was more of a Mac person and rarely used Windows. I did have to use Windows 7 for a while, but found it confusing as I hadn’t used Windows for a long time. Today I have been known to use Windows 10, but my main computing platform these days is still OS X.

David Kernohan of Wonkhe wrote an interesting blog post Visualising the national student survey 2019.

I’ve long argued that NSS by institution only isn’t helpful for prospective students or others – you include so many different student experiences l that an average doesn’t offer much help for understanding how your experience may compare.

He then goes through a range of visualisations including results that allows you to get as close to results for an individual course as the data allows.

I liked the use of Tableau to enable you to interact with the visualisations.

Another news item this week caught my eye. Police face calls to end use of facial recognition software.

…independent analysis found matches were only correct in a fifth of cases and the system was likely to break human rights laws.

Relying on new technology for some stuff can be excused, but using unproven technology that could result in negative impacts on people’s lives is inexcusable.

Actually relying on technology without a human element is also inexcusable. The number of times we hear the phrase “well the computer says…”.

We need to remember that computers and software are designed by people and people can be wrong, biased and will make mistakes.

On Thursday, that Amazon Photos once more gave me a blast from the past and reminded me that thirteen years ago in 2006 I had presented at the EU e-Learning Conference in Espoo in Finland. I was presenting on behalf of Norton Radstock College (now part of Bath College) about a joint European project they had been working on. At the time I was Director of the Western Colleges Consortium of which Norton Radstock was the lead college. I was on holiday when I got the call to see if I could attend, so it was a somewhat mad rush to sort out the travel. I started off in Bristol Airport and then there was a bit of a mad rush at Schiphol where I had to change to a flight to Helsinki. Schiphol is one huge airport…

Schiphol Airport

Having arrived at Helsinki, I needed to get to Espoo and travelled by shared taxi to the hotel. I spent part of the evening walking around the area, before ending up in the hotel restaurant.

Espoo

It was lovely and sunny, and as being so far north, the sun never really set. I also remember trying to access the BBC News website connected to the hotel wifi and being surprised by the advertising all across the BBC site. I then connected to the VPN in my office in Keynsham and all those adverts disappeared…

The conference was opened by a string quartet which I remember been something I hadn’t seen before at an e-learning conference. My presentation went down well, but the humour didn’t!

EU e-Learning Conference 2006

The conference meal was a little disappointing, I had been expecting a meal that would be full of Finnish delicacies and national dishes. What actually happened was we went to an Italian restaurant and had a buffet of Italian food.

It’s quite happenstance that I was reminded of that conference and trip, as in my new role I am now working with NREN colleagues across Europe on different projects,

Helsinki Tram

I had some time the following day before my flight to have a quick look around Helsinki. I caught a bus to the centre and back.

Helsinki

As I didn’t know any Finnish I thought I did quite well to not get lost.

Helsinki

Spent some time reviewing and planning the Data Matters 2020 conference. I presented on the Intelligent Campus at Data Matters 2019 and in my new role the responsibility for planning the next conference falls of my shoulders.

I also spent a fair amount of time working on the Learning and Research Technical Career Pathway I am working on at Jisc.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Getting ready for #altc or where do I buy the decent coffee?

coffee

Having probably spent time and effort securing the funding to go to a conference such as the ALT Conference in Manchester this September, it makes sense to spend some time preparing in advance of attending. Last minute rushing and chaotic flipping through the programme on the day of the conference, means you are probably not getting as much out of the conference as you could.

My first ALT conference was in 2003 in Sheffield, this was also one of the first “proper” conferences I had attended, I wasn’t well prepared and came away a little disappointed, but you can read about my ALT-C journey in an earlier big post.

I have attended many conferences here in the UK and abroad, but probably not as many as some people. I have attended as a delegate, a presenter, an invited speaker and have had the pleasure of delivering keynotes at various big conferences.

James Clay presenting at ALT-C 2012

Now when attending a conference I make some preparations that will ensure I have a productive, informative and interesting time.

Attend it all…

Going for just a day may be all that is possible in your current role and organisation, but I would recommend attending all the days of the conference if you can. This is so you can fully immerse yourself in the experience. It will also provide the time to do everything you would like to do at the conference. It gives you time to meet and get to know people. You can reflect on the earlier sessions as you attend later ones.

Try to arrive before the conference starts and don’t leave until the end, as in the very end. There is nothing more frustrating and stressful than arriving late for a conference and sneaking into the back of the opening keynote. Wondering what you missed and probably a little flustered having rushed from the station and needing a decent cup of coffee.

Likewise, plan your travel so you don’t need to leave early and miss the final sessions and keynotes. Nothing is more soul destroying when presenting a session at the end of the conference and to find three people attending.

ALT-C 2016

I do recognise that the realities of life or travel options can mean you need to leave early, but planning in advance to attend all of the conference means that usually these can be avoided. You may miss something really useful and relevant. Staying to the end helps complete the experience. This year I am planning to be there to the end, but unfortunately the realities of life means I will probably miss the start.

Don’t bring your work to the conference. You may be away from the office and you may have stuff to do, but a conference is not the most conducive environment for working. You have paid a fee to attend, it makes sense to use that time for the conference and not catching up with stuff. A conference is quite a tiring affair, so even if you decide not to partake in the social side of things and get work done in the evening you may find that this isn’t that productive. I once struggled to finish an urgent report at a conference, it was a horrible experience as I struggled with poor wifi connectivity, phone calls and focused writing. The report seemed to take twice as long and was half the quality of my usual writing.

My approach is to block the time out in the diary, ensure and deadlines are either before (or well after) the conference. Ensure everything is done before I go and I have achieved Inbox Zero. I also avoid taking things on just before the conference. I also ensure everyone knows I will be away and will say “no” to things that I know I won’t be able to complete successfully because I am at the conference. I also put an “out of the office” notification on my e-mail account, so people will realise they won’t get a response from me.

There is a flip side to this as well, when you’re in the office and a colleague is at a conference, let them get the most out of the conference, don’t send them e-mails, requests, etc…. Wait until they are back! Actually wait until they’ve been back for a few days. You will get a much more coherent response from then as well.

Josie Fraser at ALT-C 2017

Plan your days

Do try and review the programme in advance and find stuff you want to attend, make a note of it and write it down (or use the conference app, add to your calendar). There is almost a separate blog post discussing what sessions to choose, so will focus on the planning side of things. Having reviewed the programme I make a note of not just the title of the session, but also which room it is in. If you want to move between parallel sessions, it is useful to check the distance between them, nothing worse when wanting to see two interesting sessions, but missing one of them as you hiked across to the other room.

Some sessions will be very popular, so make sure you arrive on time (or before). I have delivered some sessions where there was standing room only.

Prepare for the sessions

At the very least read the abstract, but take the time to find out more than just the title. I sometimes find titles can be misleading. I also note down the things I want to find out, and what I hope to take away from the session.

If you are going to take notes using a laptop or live tweeting during the session, then ensure you are fully charged, and if you need a power socket then get to the session early.

In the sessions

I like to be engaged with sessions, this can be simply by using a notebook and pen and make notes.

I sometimes use the Twitter and sometimes I don’t. If I use the Twitter then I use it to post questions and thoughts, I try not to tweet what is happening, unless I think it’s something that others (who are not in the session) will find interesting and useful.

You could live-tweet the session, but I feel if you are doing this, you need to do it properly and live-tweet the whole thing, ensuring you link to the biographical details, the session link on the ALT-C website and if available the abstract and the paper.

Whatever you do with the Twitter, use the hashtag #altc so that others can find your tweets even if you have only a few followers. I never apologies if I am at a conference and fill my stream with #altc tweets, if you don’t like it, then unfollow me, or mute me.

If you have questions about the session, write them down, otherwise you may forget them. You probably won’t get picked to ask your question in a popular session, so why not post them on the Twitter or on the relevant session page on the conference website.

workshop

After the session

So that was a good session. What do you remember? What do you want to take away from it?

I sometimes forget to do this, what did I learn from that session? What actions am I going to do next? Who am I going to tell about this session? What do I want to read as a result of attending the session?

Prepare to chat

If you are shy and retiring like me, (seriously I am) it can be challenging to engage people in conversations. I think it’s worth coming up with strategies to do deal with this. In sessions I always try and make the effort to introduce myself to the other people on the table, ask them where they are from and what they have enjoyed about the conference so far. Also come along to the ALT stand in the exhibition area where there will be ALT Trustees and valued members, who are more than willing to talk and chat (and make introductions if necessary).

ALT-C 2009

Also engaging on Twitter before and during the conference can also make connections for good conversations and chats. Don’t forget the hashtag #altc to, so people who don’t follow you, but do follow the hashtag can pick up your tweets, especially useful if you don’t have a huge following on the Twitter.

CB_ALT_WED_38 https://flic.kr/p/XRVcwY CC BY-NC 2.0
CB_ALT_WED_38 https://flic.kr/p/XRVcwY CC BY-NC 2.0

Decent coffee

If you like decent coffee then for most conferences be prepared to be disappointed. Most conference coffee has been made in advance of time and left to stew for a while. It may have been made from instant coffee, or possibly filtered. Whatever way it was made it will taste like mud!

Rather than try and guess where I can get a decent coffee from, I now do a quick search around to find somewhere I can go either before the start of the conference day, during a break or afterwards. These coffee places can also be great locations for ad hoc conversations and chats. You also don’t need to stand in that everlasting queue for coffee.

coffee

At the venue in Manchester there are quite a few good choices close by, there is the wonderful Christie’s Bistro, but the Museum is pretty nice too.

So how are you preparing for the ALT Conference.

Getting ready to pack for #altc

six way gang

Back in the midst of time, well 2009, I wrote this blog post about packing stuff for the ALT Conference. Nearly ten years later, it’s probably time for an update, things and stuff change.

Six-Way Gang – I still think a six way gang is an useful thing, instead of fighting people for the power sockets, you can immediately make five friends! Having such an adapter is also useful in the hotel room when you want to charge everything up for the following day and you have limited plug sockets. When I mentioned the previous article on the Twitter someone told me about the USB charging stations you can now buy. With so many devices reliant on USB charging then these could be useful, but then I have a laptop that needs a proper plug socket. The other thing that someone recommended was an external high powered battery pack for charging devices. If you are coming from outside the UK, then a trick I do (going the other way) is to bring a extension gang and then you only need one UK plug adapter.

Coffee and Snacks – I don’t drink instant coffee and usually that it is what is only available in hotel rooms. I use to take coffee bags or Rombout Coffee filters. Today I take a small cafetière and some ground coffee. I also bring my own mug, I want a mug of coffee and not a cup of coffee. I also have one of those cafetière mugs when space is a premium. Of course if you drink a specific brand of tea, then take some of those, you can’t always rely on Twinings being in the hotel room. Having arrived at the hotel, I usually pop out and get some fresh milk. It’s also useful to take the time to see what independent and local coffee places are near to the venue, which can be used instead of queuing for that awful conference coffee. I also bring a few snacks with me as well, as that solitary small pack of biscuits you usually get.

coffee

Chargers – Don’t forget your chargers, expensive to replace, difficult to borrow, make sure you pack yours. The other thing about power is investing in a higher powered adapter (or borrowing one from a friend). As Apple says here

Using an Apple 12W or 10W USB power adapter charges some Apple devices and accessories faster than a 5W power adapter.

I find that when charging my iPhone using the adapter that came with my iPad Pro and it charges the phone so much faster, which is an useful thing to know for a conference. This means you can do a quick “supercharge” of your iPhone ready for the next keynote. Also useful to know that the 5W power adapter potentially can charge your iPad Pro, but only if you aren’t using it for eight hours or more….

Photography and Video – I use to take a camera to conferences, today I use my phone. If you take a lot of photographs then check you have a lot of storage space on your phone, or at least one way to take the pictures off. I try and remember to empty my camera roll before I go to the conference. However if you like to take a lot of video then I personally would take a separate additional video camera.

Connectivity – I am sure that the WiFi at the conference venue will be fine, however what about at the hotel, the dinner, the train… Technological changes means that connectivity is more important that in the last few years. Yes there is a plethora of places to get free wifi, but there are some security considerations to take into account. I normally use tethering on my iPhone and make sure I have enough bandwidth to do that. Other options could include some kind of MiFi device. I use to have one of those which acted as a wireless access point for up to five clients, which worked great in the time. I think one of the challenges with some venues is that 3G/4G connectivity can be very patchy.

Display cables – If you are presenting, then ensure your laptop can be connected somehow to the projector, you can’t always rely that the VGA adapter you have will be good enough. I now take an HDMI cable with my too. I also take my Lightning to HDMI adapter so in theory I can present from your iPhone or iPad. It also means I can connect to the hotel TV and watch what I want on the big screen.

USB Stick – In a world of cloud storage, you might think why would you need an USB stick. I have been caught out and needed to quickly move my presentation to a presenter machine. Despite the proliferation of the cloud or potential sharing solutions, I find sharing via an USB stick is quick and easy.

SD Card – If using a device with an SD Card I usually carry a couple of spare SD Cards, just in case I lose one, or fill one of the others up.

USB Cables – Due to the differing sizes of USB, normal, micro and mini, I now carry three of them! I also carry a couple of Apple lightning cables too.

Paracetamol – some of those presentations do give you headaches…

What are you going to pack?

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!

Continue reading Going down the #altc road again

Making another game #disrupticon

 Making another game #disrupticon

At the Rethinking Research: Disrupting and Challenging Research Practices conference where I was presenting a mapping session, one of the sessions I attended as a delegate was “Hacking the University Game” led by Luca Morin from Coventry University.

I hadn’t intended to attend this session, however as the presenter of the session I was in hadn’t turned up, I had to make another choice so came in late to this one.

In a previous blog post I talked about the design process for a vice-chancellors game we created as a group.

In another part of the session we were asked to reflect on a different kind of game, choosing a different subject to focus on. This time though we were asked not to think about the mechanics of the game, but focus on what the game was trying to enabler the players to learn. After chatting with the other person on my table we decided to do a game for students that demonstrated to them the difference between employability and education.

Many students sometimes focus on the skills they need for a job and think “education” isn’t as important as gaining employability skills.

The student's game

What we wanted the game to demonstrate to students was that undertaking a degree wasn’t (just) about gaining the skills for a future job, but that by undertaking the degree you would learn stuff in the subject, but by doing so would also gain the skills that would be transferable and useful in a future job. In addition that focusing on employability would be a false economy and learning those skills discretely independently from the degree subject takes longer than gaining those skills by learning in the subject area.

We used a simple example to explain this, learning how to use Excel is an useful employability skills. It takes time to learn how to use Excel effectively and gain skills that are transferable to the workplace. Without context though, the transfer and application of these skills can be challenging, especially if you’ve not done it before.

However using Excel to understand a series of data from the subject area and learning how to manipulate it within Excel not only means using Excel, but also learning how to use Excel in context. This makes it easier to understand how to use Excel, but you can apply it to different situations. As a result, using Excel within a subject context can make it quicker and easier to gain Excel skills, than learning to use Excel outside the context.

The game was about engaging learners in the process that though employability skills are important for a future job or career, these skills will be more transferable and enhanced by gaining them through learning in the subject context, then trying to do the bare minimum.

There were less steps using the employability route, but each step would take longer. The education route had more steps, but they could be completed more quickly. There were also connections between both routes.

Of course spending ten minutes thinking and designing a game that covers this doesn’t mean that this is a finished game and there are major flaws with the concept and design. However the exercise of creating a game does make you think about the problem and the core issues, that in itself is an useful exercise.

Making a game #disrupticon

dice

At the Rethinking Research: Disrupting and Challenging Research Practices conference where I was presenting a mapping session, one of the sessions I attended as a delegate was “Hacking the University Game” led by Luca Morin from Coventry University.

I hadn’t intended to attend this session, however as the presenter of the session I was in hadn’t turned up, I had to make another choice so came in late to this one.

When I arrived Luca was taking about the Landlord Game and Monopoly and on the table was a selection of dice, playing cards, blocks, pen, blank cards, pieces and other stuff.

creating games

A bit unsure of the aim of the session I listened carefully and tried to get up to speed.

The first activity (for me) in the workshop was for our table to design a “Vice-Chancellor’s Game”.

When it comes to game design you need to reflect on the aim of the game, what do the players need to do to “win”, is this a competitive or a collaborative game.

My thinking was that there were two approaches to this game, one was to focus on a single university or to go for a UK wide game where universities compete against each other.

In the UK wide game, players would be vice-chancellors competing against each other to make their university the best and win the game.

In a single university game you could have a competitive game where the players play characters who are senior managers competing with each others to become Vice-Chancellor. Another game could have the players collaborating together to make their university the most successful.

On our table we took the choice of a single university competitive game with the vice-chancellor “competing” with the academic staff, students and professional services.

The Vice Chancellor's Game

Each player has a unique table with attributes that reflect their role’s objectives. We used blocks to RAG (red, amber green) rate each attribute. Then using some kind of process, players play cards against each other or themselves. These would then improve or deprecate their RAG ratings. These cards can be offset by dice rolls (and or money).The aim of the game is for the players to ensure all their attributes green.

It was an interesting exercise in thinking about the game idea and start to reflect on the mechanics about how this game would work. As with any game the mechanics and algorithms would reflect the bias of the game designer, so that would need to be taken into account.

For me the process of designing a game is probably more useful than playing the game itself for participants. I enjoyed this aspect of the session.

ALT Online Winter Conference #altc

ALT’s Online Winter Conference, now in its fourth year, is back to showcase some of the best Learning Technology from ALT Members from across sectors.

The conference will take place online from 12 to 13 December 2017, giving ALT Members an opportunity to highlight the work they and their community have been involved with and to gain feedback from peers. This is a fantastic platform for you to hear about innovative ideas as new initiatives are shared in this creative environment.

To see the variety of topics covered in 2016, see last year’s programme.

For more information and to submit a proposal go here.

Deadline: 19 November 2017 for consideration.

To register complete this short form.

Opening and Closing at #altc

Bonnie Stewart

The opening keynote at the ALT Conference this year was by Bonnie Stewart.

Bonnie Stewart is an educator and social media researcher fascinated by who we are when we’re online. An instructor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada, and Founder/Director of the media literacy initiative Antigonish 2.0, Bonnie explores the intersections of knowledge, technology, and identity in her work.

Bonnie’s presentation was entitled, The new norm(al): Confronting what open means for higher education.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the keynote, as I do like to be surprised, so hadn’t read the abstract. For those that do want to read it, here it is.

This talk opens up the intersection of learning technologies, open practice, and the idea of “norms” in learning and education. An exploration of the tensions around gatekeeping in higher education, the keynote examines our histories of norms and gatekeeping and the current trajectory and possibilities that openness offers learners and scholars, via learning technologies and digital practice. It also examines some of the dark corners of society opened up by the digital, and considers what this “new norm(al)” means for higher education. The talk frames our current moment as one of constant confrontation, and offers ideas for navigating confrontation overload while still preserving the spirit of openness and learning.

For me there were some key messages that came out, one of the main ones was that just saying you work openly doesn’t necessarily mean you are open to everyone. That open can sometimes be a solution, but can also sometimes be a problem. Listening to Siân Bayne the following day, the importance of anonymity (by definition not open) is something we need to recognise.

I do share much of my work openly, my Flickr images are Creative Commons licensed CC BY-NC 2.0 for example. However I also recognise as a white middle class, middle aged male that I have privileges and opportunities to be open that may not be available to others.

Bonnie recounted her early career up in the Arctic Circle and she said one thing struck her when she started was that she was white!

The new norm(al): Confronting what open means for higher education

This resonated with me and reminded me of my early teaching career. I was bought up in Cambridge (not a real place) and at the time in the 1970s and 1980s wasn’t a culturally or ethnically diverse place. I started teaching in Somerset, first in Weston-super-Mare and then Bridgwater, both these places (back in the early 1990s) were predominantly white working class cohorts. I then got a job at Brunel College (now City of Bristol College) which is based in Ashley Down, literally a stone throw from the inner city district of St Pauls in Bristol. I don’t know why I didn’t realise but I was surprised when 90% of my students were not white. Like Bonnie did, I suddenly realised I was white!

The keynote also reminded me that the “norm” isn’t necessarily the “norm” for some people. Normal may be familiar, but reflecting on my time working in Bristol, the norm there was not familiar to me. My teaching needed to change to reflect the diversity and background of my learners and not my own background, which would have been inaccessible and unknown to the people I was teaching. We don’t always fit under a bell curve.

The new norm(al): Confronting what open means for higher education

Another thing that came out of her keynote for me, was the essence of open working in a closed bubble. I know that my network, which is made up of lots of people who work openly, is very much a bubble and for many outside that bubble, despite the protestations of openness is as much closed to them as if the people were working in a closed manner. Even within the bubbles, open practice can be a barrier for many. Some people do not have the advantages or privileges that many have and can not afford to share and be open.

I also liked her slide on technical problems versus adaptive challenges and is something I recognise from working with academic staff in various colleges and embedding the use of learning technologies.

The new norm(al): Confronting what open means for higher education

It was never about the technology, it was always about the people. Interestingly I also found it was never about the pedagogy either, it was always about the people too.

As with other keynotes at the conference I also did a sketch note.

Keynote: Bonnie Stewart – The new norm(al): Confronting what open means for higher education

Her keynote was recorded and out on the YouTube.

What did you get from Bon’s keynote?

Drawing at #altc

CB_ALT_WED_38 https://flic.kr/p/XRVcwY CC BY-NC 2.0
CB_ALT_WED_38 https://flic.kr/p/XRVcwY CC BY-NC 2.0

I spent the last week at the ALT Conference in Liverpool where I listened and participated in a range of sessions on learning technologies. As I did the previous year I did manage to make some sketch notes of the keynotes and some of the sessions. I was using the iPad pro, Paper by 53 and an Apple Pencil.

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. Having said that I do share them online, through Twitter (and Flickr).

Quite a few people came up to me to ask what I was doing, what app I was using and if I was sharing them. I had similar questions on Twitter as well.

Continue reading Drawing at #altc

Making preparations for #altc or where do I buy the decent coffee?

I do think it is worthwhile taking the time to prepare for attending a conference, such as the ALT Conference in Liverpool in September

My first ALT conference was in 2003 in Sheffield, this was also one of the first “proper” conferences I had attended. After that conference I have attended many conferences here in the UK and abroad, but probably not as many as some people. I have attended as a delegate, a presenter, an invited speaker and have had the pleasure of delivering keynotes at various big conferences.

Now when attending a conference I make some preparations that will ensure I have a productive, informative and interesting time.

Attend it all…

Going for just a day may be all that is possible, but I would recommend attending all the days of the conference, so you can fully immerse yourself in the experience. It will also provide the time to do everything you would like to do at the conference.

ALT-C 2009

Try to arrive before the conference starts and don’t leave until the end. There is nothing more frustrating and stressful than arriving late for a conference and sneaking into the back of the opening keynote. Wondering what you missed and probably a little flustered having rushed from the station and needing a decent cup of coffee.

Likewise, plan your travel so you don’t need to leave early and miss the final sessions and keynotes. Nothing is more soul destroying when presenting a session at the end of the conference and to find three people attending. I do recognise that the realities of life can mean you need to leave early, but planning in advance to attend all of the conference means that usually these can be avoided. You may miss something really useful and relevant.

Dave White

Don’t bring work to the conference.

You may be away from the office and you may have stuff to do, but a conference is not the most conducive environment for working. You have paid a fee to attend, it makes sense to use that time for the conference and not catching up with stuff. A conference is quite a tiring affair, so even if you decide not to partake in the social side of things and get work done in the evening you may find that this isn’t that productive. I once struggled to finish an urgent report at a conference, it was a horrible experience as I struggled with poor wifi connectivity, phone calls and focused writing. The report seemed to take twice as long and was half the quality of my usual writing. My approach is to block the time out in the diary, ensure and deadlines are either before (or well after) the conference. Ensure everything is done before I go and avoid taking things on just before the conference. I also ensure everyone knows I will be away and will say “no” to things that I know I won’t be able to complete successfully because I am at the conference. I also put an “out of the office” notification on my e-mail account, so people will realise they won’t get a response from me.

There is a flip side to this, when you’re in the office and a colleague is at a conference, let them get the most out of the conference, don’t send them e-mails, requests, etc…. Wait until they are back!

Helen Beetham

Plan your day

Do review the programme and find stuff you want to attend, make a note of it and write it down (or use the conference app, add to your calendar). There is almost a separate blog post discussing what sessions to choose, so will focus on the planning side of things. Having reviewed the programme I make a note of not just the title of the session, but also which room it is in. If you want to move between parallel sessions, it is useful to check the distance between them, nothing worse when wanting to see two interesting sessions, but missing one of them as you hiked across to the other room.

Some sessions will be very popular, so make sure you arrive on time (or before). I have delivered some sessions where there was standing room only.

Prepare for sessions

I like to be engaged with sessions, this can be simply by using a notebook and pen and make notes. These days I generally do one of two things these days, I either tweet about the session, not just posting images and quotes, but also ask questions on the twitter which have come out of the session. I try and remember to always add the hashtag #altc. More recently I have been sketchnoting the session, which to be honest is more for me than for others, but I do publish my notes on Flickr (and on Twitter). See this post by me on sketchnoting.

If you have questions, write them down, otherwise you may forget them. You probably won’t get picked to ask your question in a popular session, so why not post them on the Twitter or on the relevant session page on the conference website.

If you are presenting then have a look at my presentation tips in this previous blog post.

Prepare to chat

If you are shy and retiring like me, it can be challenging to engage people in conversations. I think it’s worth coming up with strategies to do deal with this. In sessions I always try and make the effort to introduce myself to the other people on the table, ask them where they are from and what they have enjoyed about the conference so far. Also come along to the ALT stand in the exhibition area where there will be ALT Trustees and valued members, who are more than willing to talk and chat (and make introductions if necessary).

Also engaging on Twitter before and during the conference can also make connections for good conversations and chats.

Decent coffee

If you like decent coffee then for most conferences be prepared to be disappointed. Most conference coffee has been made in advance of time and left to stew for a while. It may have been made from instant coffee, or possibly filtered. Whatever way it was made it will taste like mud! Rather than try and guess where I can get a decent coffee from, I now do a quick search around to find somewhere I can go either before the start of the conference day, during a break or afterwards. These coffee places can also be great locations for ad hoc conversations and chats. You also don’t need to stand in that everlasting queue for coffee.

coffee

I can say I am looking forward to trying the coffee at this local roastery.

So how are you preparing for the ALT Conference.