So it was off to London on Monday for a couple of meetings. The weather on Sunday had been lovely, Monday it was raining.
I don’t think I would like to commute to London on a regular basis, as in every day, but don’t mind the fact that I am there three to five times a month in my role. I nearly said new role, I have been doing this job now for just over six months (Weeknote #28 is a bit of a giveaway), when does a new role, become just my role? Other parts of the country differ in their accessibility with public transport, so sometimes I drive.
These two quotes are what I really took from the article.
We are unconsciously drawn to people who think like ourselves, but rarely notice the danger because we are unaware of our own blind spots.
This applies to groups as well as organisations. We employ people that are like ourselves rather than think about the whole. You can measure diversity within an organisation, but that only tells you what you already know that your organisation isn’t diverse. Sometimes your organisation needs to be more diverse than the population, but how do you know that?
You may feel you have fair employment recruitment practices, but who decides what is “fair”, sometimes you will want to recruit people that wouldn’t be recruited if you were to be fair.
I am also reminded of unconscious bias, and the fact that this is easier to say then sometimes to actually do something about. This was echoed in the second quote from the article.
There is a science to putting together the right minds, with perspectives that challenge, augment, diverge and cross-pollinate rather than parrot, corroborate and restrict. This is how wholes become more than the sum of their parts.
There isn’t an easy solution to this, you could think outside the box and put together teams that are not like ourselves, but that is not as easy as it sounds. The rewards though, as the article says mean wholes become more than the sum of their parts.
Wednesday I caught the train to Manchester, to attend an internal product meeting where I was presenting on the drivers within the draft Jisc HE strategy.
It was quite along train journey there and back in a day, and though I did manage to get a fair bit of work done, the lack of connectivity did annoy me as it has before.
I wrote a blog post on making digital a choice, in response to a BBC news article about a branch of Sainsbury’s in Holborn in London where the only choice to pay was via an app.
Friday I was in Leeds to deliver a keynote on Education 4.0 for the Leeds Business School, I had travelled up the day before.
I showed a presentation, which is all photos. In the presentation I talked about who is Jisc, what do we mean by the Education 4.0 and some of the challenges we face in moving down the road to Education 4.0.
I also showed the Jisc Education 4.0 video we showed at UUK last year and at Digifest.
Can you believe it has been ten years since we had The VLE is Dead session at ALT-C.
It was Tuesday 8th September 2009 at 13:40 at Manchester University that The VLE is Dead symposium was kicked off by Josie Frasier.
2009 was also 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 though 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.
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.
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.
The abstract for the Death of the VLE Symposium was about the future of e-learning.
The future success of e-learning depends on appropriate selection of tools and services. This symposium will propose that the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) as an institutional tool is dead, no more, defunct, expired.
The session was chaired by Josie Fraser and as well as myself, we had three panellists.
There respective viewpoints were described as follows
The first panel member, Graham Attwell, will argue that many VLEs are not fit for purpose, and masquerade as solutions for the management of online learning. Some are little more than glorified e-mail systems. They will argue that VLEs provide a negative experience for learners.
The second member of the panel, Steve Wheeler, believes that the VLE is dead and that the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is the solution to the needs of diverse learners. PLEs provide opportunities for learners, offering users the ability to develop their own spaces in which to reflect on their learning.
The third panel member, James Clay, however, believes that the VLE is not yet dead as a concept, but can be the starting point of a journey for many learners. Creating an online environment involving multiple tools that provides for an enhanced experience for learners can involve a VLE as a hub or centre.
The fourth panel member, Nick Sharratt, argues for the concept of the institutional VLE as essentially sound. VLEs provide a stable, reliable, self-contained and safe environment in which all teaching and learning activities can be conducted. It provides the best environment for the variety of learners within institutions.
The symposium began with an opportunity for attendees to voice their opinions on the future of the VLE. Each member of the panel then presented their case. The panel, with contributions from the audience, then debated the key issues that arose from the presentations.
So where did the whole concept of the debate come from?
Well it was an idea that had been around for a while
The VLE has become almost ubiquitous in both higher and further education, with the market becoming increasingly ‘mature’. E-learning is a major plank in both national and institutional strategies. But, is the VLE delivering what is needed in a world where flexibility of learning is para- mount, and the lifelong learner is becoming a reality? There are indications that rather than resulting in innovation, the use of VLEs has become fixed in an orthodoxy based on traditional educational approaches. The emergence of new services and tools on the web, developments in interoperability, and changing demands pose significant issues for institutions’ e-learning strategy and policy. Whether the VLE can remain the core of e-learning activity needs to be considered.
What is the role of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in the modern university? How are students using them? And are they as important as we once thought they would be? These are questions that a lot of people are now asking, given the rapid developments that can be characterised as the read/write web or Web 2.0.
So this wasn’t a new idea, it built on the shoulders of those who went before us.
One aspect of the debate was the publication of blog posts before the conference, the use of Twitter and even trailers…
Using an institutional VLE does not preclude using other Web 2.0 services and tools, on the contrary, a VLE and web tools can be used together. For example this blog has an RSS feed which feeds directly into my institutional VLE.
It was certainly hyped up in a way that I hadn’t seen before at ALT conferences, and to be honest not since either.
Today though I see many people using their blogs and the Twitter to promote their sessions at conferences, so maybe we did start something.
I was planning to run a session at this year’s conference, but alas circumstances were against me, so a follow-up session never materialised.
So ten years later is the VLE dead?
It’s still here and still being used and people are still trying to get people to use it.
So the week started with a 9am start at the University of Hertfordshire. This meant travelling up the day before on Sunday. This was the second day of the University of Hertfordshire Value Study following the first day on Friday.
I was asked to facilitate various sessions, on Friday I did a session relating to that old chestnut of mine, the Intelligent Campus. Monday saw me supporting sessions on Learning and Teaching and Next Generation Learning Environments.
Whilst preparing for this session a few weeks back, I was reminded of the reports that have been published in this space by Lawrie Phipps.
The first was the report on the Next generation [digital] learning environments: present and future challenge.
The report was a response to the challenge of the following questions
What would an environment do for staff and students?
What kind of learning experiences would an environment need to support?
What learning and teaching practices aren’t currently supported in environments?
The report makes for interesting reading
The second report which was researched as a result of the earlier work, with the aim to gain a detailed understanding of current teaching practices in universities and colleges.
Listening to teachers: a qualitative exploration of teaching practices in HE and FE and the implications for digital
I would recommend you read the whole report. One comment from an academic in the room was that they preferred to base their practice on academic papers rather than reports. So it nice to be able to say “and here is the link to the full paper.
Overall the day was extremely useful for both Jisc and I think Hertfordshire as well.
Tuesday was another travelling day, this time to Manchester, though I left it till the early evening to travel up.
Before I left I hosted a knowledge call on Digital Ecosystems, delivered by my colleague Lawrie Phipps.
On Wednesday I was in Manchester, I was staying in a hotel close to MediaCity, so caught the Metrolinktram into the centre of the city. I arrived in St Peter’s Square and decided to take a few photographs, including this one of a council building.
I have recently been using Amazon Photos as an online backup service for my photographs. One of the nice features is that in the app it shows you photos from the same date in previous years So I was amused to find that two years ago to the day, not only had I being in Manchester, but I had also taken some photographs including this one the same council building I had taken on Wednesday.
Mentioning this on the Twitter resulted in some amusing comments from people.
Steady. That's a lot of Manchestering you're doing. At this rate, you will achieve Level 3 in Manchestership.
My main reason for coming to Manchester was to discuss with colleagues possible ideas about , what would probably be described as career analytics. Using a wider range of data sources and datasets to help careers staff be informed and better understand how to support students in what they want to do in the future, or even planning what degree to take.
I had a couple of other meetings in Manchester before heading home.
After a fair few days travelling it was nice to not have to do this and work from home, however it was an earlier start than normal as I had a meeting with some European colleagues about a workshop we’re running at TNC in June in Tallinn in Estonia.
This was followed by a meeting about Technical Career Pathways and the progress we are making with these within Jisc. In my new role I am leading on the Learning and Research career pathway and the best way to describe what these are is a mechanism for people to progress their careers from a technical and skills perspective rather than through managing people.
Over the week I have been working on our HE Learning and Teaching strategy which emcompasses the student experience.
Friday I was in our Bristol office with a day packed full of calls and meetings. Some of these were about future events and conferences. The office was busy for a Friday, with a flexible working culture, sometimes the office can feel somewhat quieter than other days of the week.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
This is an updated version of this blog post from 2016. It now includes details of the 2016 and 2017 conferences.
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!
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!
This was an article I started to write on the train home, then I left it for a while, wrote a little more, and then a few weeks later, thought, I really ought to get this finished, so I did…
The Association of Learning Technology Conference in Manchester is the biggest conference of its kind in the UK. Over the course of three days, hundreds of delegates (in the main from HE and FE) descended onto the University of Manchester to listen, discuss, network and discover what was happening in the world of educational technology and learning technologists.
You get a real mix of attendees at the conference, as well as a large smattering of delegates from overseas, there are people employed across HE, FE and Skills. They are in a variety of departments, from dedicated IT staff, staff development as well as technology enhanced learning. They are also in a variety of roles, from learning technologists, managers, leaders.
This is the first time since 2012 (which was in the same venue) that I have attended the whole conference, I missed it in 2013 and only managed one day in 2014. It was great to meet up with old friends and meet new ones. Back in 2012 there was only a few people from FE at the conference, it was refreshing this year to see many more FE people at the event. The people I spoke to certainly seemed to be enjoying the conference.
As has happened before there was a lot of talk about how there was still too much focus on small scale initiatives with little big picture thinking taking place. I heard discussions about how we had heard many of these things before, but with a slightly different gloss or skin.
To be honest I am not surprised, as the ALT Conference is very much about showcasing the work of learning technologists in institutions, their small scale pilots and projects. They are on the same journey that we made years before in discovering how they and their small cohorts can take advantage of new technologies, tools and services. If you think about it, the conference process isn’t totally conducive to showcasing large scale holistic change,
The paper submission process, geared to attending the conference, will push the focus to those projects that are research based, small scale, small cohorts, the work of individuals or small teams. This is not to say you won’t find gems in the conference on large scale implementations, but they will be rare and limited. Can you really for example talk about whole institutional change in 15 minutes?
This isn’t a criticism of that process and I think it is a valuable way for learning technologists to focus and present on their work in front of an expert critical audience. However if you attend the conference with the aim of finding out how to approach the embedding of learning technologies holistically across an entire organisation, you may find yourself disappointed, and you may need to think about scaling up the projects and outcomes you do get to hear about.
So why do I attend this conference:
Inspiration: Across the conference you can find out about amazing work going on, really innovative practice that inspires you in your own work.
Reflection: I find many of the discussion sessions enable me to reflect on my own practice and really think hard about what I do and how I do it.
Benchmarking: Something I use to do when working within an institution, was to use presentations and papers to benchmark our progress and work against that of other institutions.
Meeting and networking with old friends and making new ones: Though I spend a lot of time networking through social media, such as the Twitter and Google+, it is still nice to meet people face to face. I took the time to print off my Twitter avatar, which I have used since 2007 and stuck it to my badge so that people could link me to my Twitter account. As a result it was nice to meet many of the friends I have on Twitter for real.
Connections: As well as meeting old friends and making new ones, conferences also allow me to make connections, other helping connect people together, who both know me, but may not necessarily know each other.
The Exhibition area: This is interesting to see what new technologies are been pushed by suppliers. At this year’s conference I noticed that Portal were there pushing the IBM Student Experience, whilst Instructure were talking about Canvas, the “next generation” VLE. Usually in the exhibition areas, the exhibitors focus on pushing one aspect of their product portfolio. I find these areas quite interesting as you will often find a gem or nugget of news about how one institution (or another) is using these new products.
It’s the second day of the annual Association of Learning Technology conference here in Manchester. Yesterday was an exciting and exhausting day with some great sessions.
Disappointed that the Museum Café is closed for three weeks, so no real coffee for me.
Really looking forward to the keynote this morning from Jonathan Worth, who will be talking about photography and his journey.
After that I am presenting a FELTAG session in 4.206. In this session we will be talking about ideas and strategies in regard to implementing the FELTAG recommendations.
After the coffee break, straight into digital capabilities with Helen Beetham and Lou McGill, Here Comes Everybody: digital capabilities across roles and boundaries .
After lunch, I am going to 4.204 to see CMALT: recent trends in learning technology specialisms and CPD opportunities as I am working with the team to get our CMALTs.
The ALT AGM is at 4:05pm where the business of ALT will be confirmed.
At 4.45pm in the Main Theatre I will be leading the FELTAG SIG and open FE forum. Find our how working together and collaboratively we can support each other to support the implementation of the FELTAG recommendations.
It’s the first day of the annual Association of Learning Technology conference here in Manchester. Everything kicks off, after the introductions and welcome, at 10:50 with the first keynote from Steve Wheeler, the marmite of keynote speakers.
The abstract doesn’t give very much away about what Steve is going to talk about so we will have to wait and see what it will all be about. Looking forward to a heated discussion on the Twitter.
After the usual coffee break, popping over to the Museum Café for a decent coffee methinks, it’s a series of parallel sessions. One of the challenges of ALT-C is finding the right session to go to. This isn’t an issue of signage and location, but finding a session, that will inspire, challenge and make you think. There is nothing wrong with going to a session that you know you will enjoy, but sometimes you need to find a session that will challenge your approaches and make you rethinking about how you work.
Often I go to a session that is been delivered by someone I know, whom I have heard before, and I will know deliver an interesting and thought provoking session, but often it just reinforces my thinking and thoughts. This doesn’t mean I won’t go, but you take it for what it is.
I was going to attend Using CMALT as a vehicle for team-building and professional development  as I am working with my colleagues at Jisc in helping them (and me) to complete their CMALT. This is less a session that will challenge and inspire, but more of a session to help and support my practice. Alas I found out yesterday it has been cancelled, so time to choose something else.
I quite like the sound of To BYOD or not to BYOD: Factors affecting tutor acceptance of faculty and student mobile devices in their classroom practice  as I am currently reflecting on the different models around learners bringing their own devices.
There are generally two reasons behind BYOD, the first is a financial saving, if learners are bringing their own devices then the institution won’t need institutional devices, this reduces capital outlay when refreshing equipment and reduced support costs. The second reason is to create a paradigm shift in the way that learning takes place by taking advantage of the devices learners are bringing to college or university.
In terms of the first reason, the potential savings that can be made need to be offset with the improvements in infrastructure that need to take place to ensure a seamless experience for learners.
The second reason also requires investment, but more investment in ideas how to design a curriculum that takes advantage of BYOD, how to deliver sessions when learners are using their own devices and also designing their assessments.
Similarly I also quite like the thought of attending Sharing stories around the microphone: digital storytelling as a collaborative learning experience  as digital story telling is something I am aware of, but actually know very little about.
Over lunch I will be on the Jisc stand, available to discuss digital capabilities with interested parties.
I am trying to choose between a few sessions, most of which will aid my thoughts in the project I am currently managing for Jisc. This session, Learning technology from the middle out: Breaking down functional tensions and resistances between stakeholders to lead institutional change  sounds like it might well be of interest in how they overcame the barriers that institutions face when building digital capability.
Don’t tell Lawrie, but I am also interested in attending Badging the Open  as I do feel I need to know more about the practical aspects related to open badges and the impact they can (or may not) have.
At 3:05pm I am going to attend Lawie’s and Donna’s session, Are learning technologies fit for purpose . This is going to be a fun sessions, one that I am sure I am going to enjoy.
This presentation and paper will open up the debate, reporting on discussions and engagement after the original debate and eliciting more viewpoints to further the discussion and encourage delegates to think critically about their existing use of technology. It will also propose a continuum of practice with technology, seeking to not identify a right or wrong answer, but instead provide a series of questions, checks and balances that institutions should consider in their deployment of technology.
At 4:45pm it’s a pity that Bex Ferriday’s session, Mighty Oaks from Little Acorns Grow  has been cancelled as Bex’s sessions are bright, loud and fun. So a slightly more serious option will be Harmonious Developments in Learning Technologies; how to align IT and LT cultures. . This session reminds me of my presentation on the dark side I delivered at FOTE 14 in London.
After a long day it doesn’t stop and I will be off to the Palace Hotel for the Gala Dinner.
As I write I am sitting a slightly cramped seat on a CrossCountry Voyager train to Manchester, heading towards the annual Association of Learning Technology conference. This is the first time since 2012 that I have attended the full conference. I missed it in 2013, having just finished one job and starting another, and could only attend one day in 2014.
I will be presenting in two sessions and also supporting in a third. In addition I will be on the Jisc stand talking and discussing digital capabilities.
What I like about the ALT conference is a combination of the sessions, the people, the networking and the sharing of ideas and solutions.
I have attended ALT-C before in Manchester and the venue is quite nice, however the coffee leaves a lot to be desired. As a result at previous conferences I would pop over the road to the Museum café where the coffee is pretty good.
I think I have packed everything, nowhere near as bad in some years demonstrating mobile learning or other technologies, as I would often have a complete suitcase full of laptops and devices. A few years ago I would bring a portable TV studio with me… two jobs later that’s one “gadget” I no longer have.
I think I have remembered all my cables and chargers (along with a four way gang). I am also intending to take more photographs this year, but instead of using an iPhone, it’s a 16GB model with limited storage space, I am going to use my Canon DSLR. The fact I also have multiple lenses means I am intending to capture the essence of ALT-C on film (well digital images and upload to Flickr).
Looking over the programme, there looks to be some great sessions and keynotes, looking forward to it all.
news and views on e-learning, TEL and learning stuff in general…