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.