Digifest 2020: Bears, Holograms and Gen Z

This year’s Digifest transformed the Birmingham ICC into a futuristic looking Blade runner set with Holograms and VR at every corner. I’m not sure we are quite there yet at the RAU but it was still interesting to see. I was there as a community champion but still had time to browse the programme. The opening video was amazing.

AI Hologram presenter

Hearing from Gen Z

Two of this year’s plenaries were delivered by representatives from the Gen Z generation.

Jonah Stillman (co-author of Gen Z Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace) shared some thoughts on the differences between Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2012) and Millenials (born between 1980 and 1994). While the talk didn’t go down too well with the audience (Generational talks rarely do, too much generalisation) I found many of Jonah’s observations rang true. Gen Z are realistic, driven, and exist in a state of survival mode (given the state of our environment and economy). They are also the first generation to grow up with digital, making it nearly impossible to dazzle them with technology. Some have begun to refer to them as the ‘phigital’ generation because they don’t differentiate between the physical and digital worlds and are comfortable in both. These traits have significant implications for how we deliver learning and teaching and the boomers in the audience should listen up!

Jonah Stillman presents

Jonah Stillman presents

In her talk entitled ‘The hidden filter’ Hayley Mulenda shared the inspiring story of her struggle with mental health issues: “I found my degree but I lost myself“. Hayley spoke honestly about her, and her friends’ difficulties in navigating the modern world and student life. Her advice was that we be aware of other peoples hidden filters and don’t aim for perfection, aim for progression. She also appealed to educators to be honest and open with their students: “We don’t need more role models we need more real models“. As institutions we need to be directing people to professional help and support and the sector needs to explore how we can ensure early intervention and engage parents and guardians (when possible).

Here’s one I made earlier

I’m always looking out for ideas I can take back to the RAU. This year my favourites were:

  • Catriona Matthews and the team at the University Warwick have been experimenting with delivering academic skills (those important skills you need students to learn that don’t relate directly to their discipline) in innovative ways. They’ve begun to refer to an ongoing induction and have found 20 minute lecture interventions to work really well, especially when the interventions are practical and contextualised. Also the students attend the session because it is tagged on to a core lecture.
  • Worcestershire council shared their SCULPT framework to help staff create accessible resources. An incredibly useful resource and I’ve already linked to it from our VLE.
  • In his talk on Climate Control on the journey to zero waste Jamie E. Smith, executive chairman, C-Learning talked about how we should making sure the right procurement (and other) policies are in place to make sure we make the best environmental choices in our organisations. Jamie’s suggestions included a move to cloud technology, recruitment processes that included assessment of digital skills, strategic workforce development and flexible working. I enjoyed his story on how he removed all the printers from a previous place of employment! Sometimes radical is the only way!
  • The main coffee break conversation topic was (unsurprisingly) Coronavirus. We compared business continuity plans and shared tales of internal Covid-19 committees. The Microsoft stand was busy with people asking how they could rollout Teams in under a week. The Teams webinar series and the Enable Remote Learning Community could prove useful.
  • The AbilityNet session on accessibility came up with some useful tools including Call Scotlandmy computer my way and my study my way. I also love the idea of microkindness (the opposite of microaggression), it’s really just another name for inclusive design
The accessibility panel

The accessibility panel

The closing plenary on day one was delivered by Lindsay Herbert, Author of Digital Transformation. Lindsay introduced us to the idea of the bear in the room – those problem that drain all your time and will rip your organisation apart. This is contrast to the elephant in the room which of course people chose to ignore. You need to get to the heart of these problems and progress and the rub is that you can’t adapt to major change without technology.

Lindsay presents

Lindsay Herbert presents

Lindsay’s key thoughts and examples were:

  • Real transformation starts with a problem worth solving (that aligns to a mission)
    • Danish oil and natural gas applied their experience to wind energy after asking themselves what was their core mission? Selling oil or providing energy for Denmark?
    • Rijksmuseum decided to go down the no tech in galleries route, but images of all their collections are released as highres on their website, copyright free.
  • Real transformation needs lots of people from lots of sources – it will be too big to solve alone
    • Netflix’s mission is entertaining the world, hence original content. They work with independents, they don’t decide on next big thing by analysing past behaviour, they need expertise from a lot of sources.
    • The Guardian don’t put their content behind a paywall, online is their priority and they have a two tier sponsorship model
    • The United nations refugee agency website wouldn’t display on a mobile phone despite most of their clients using a mobile.
  • Real transformation is learned and earned and not purchased – We tend to outsource when there could be a better way.
    • Ecolab made water purification systems but ended up merging the company rather contracting out work.
    • Harvard had a new tool but university policy dictated a minimum of 5 years experience and it might have been easier to hire freelancers. Instead they c changed the hiring policy.

There was a lot of valuable stuff in Lindsay’s talk and I’ve actually ordered her book. My plan is to get the highlighter out, mark it up and leave it on random senior leaders’ desks! She left us inspired by encouraging us to build wide support for the change want:  “You might not have the seniority to go right up the ladder, but you definitely have the influence to go right across.”

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Bett 2020 – Day 3

On Friday the 24th of January, I attended the Bett Show conference. Bett is one of the largest education technology conferences in the world, with over 800 leading companies, 103 EdTech startups and 34,000 attendees [1]. Not only is there a large exhibition of many eLearning technology providers, you can also attend useful seminars hosted by leaders in the field.

Marieke had attended the Bett show as well on Wednesday the 22nd of January; have a read of her blog post here.

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Welcome to the Bett show

Upon arrival to the Bett show, I had a quick orientation walk around of the conference, where I came upon Clevertouch (the provider of the touchscreens RAU is currently rolling out) hosting a session on how to use their touchscreens in creative ways in the classroom and how to use the connectivity options to get students to play an active role in learning.

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Clevertouch’s session on using their screens in the classroom

After the Clevertouch session, I made my way to the HE/FE theatre for a talk by Simon Kay from South Gloucestershire and Stroud Colleges, who spoke about how they have successfully rolled out MS Teams across their campuses and the creative ways in which they are using MS Teams for teaching & learning, as well as communication.

As RAU is currently in the process of rolling out MS Office (which Teams is a part of), it was very useful to see how they went about designing their platform and providing support and training for their students and staff.

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Simon Kay explaining how they launched their MS Teams platform amongst the students and staff

Straight after the session by Simon Kay, I remained in the HE/FE theatre for a talk on Smart campuses and how Universities in the USA are using technology to improve:

  • student learning, for example being able to check from anywhere on the campus which study spaces have computers available
  • student on campus living, for example being able to check on your phone whether there’s equipment available in the gym or what’s available for lunch
  • sustainability and cost reduction, for example lighting that turns on and off automatically
  • security, for example unlocking doors with your badge, CCTV and even an AI system that can identify the sound and location of gunfire and trigger a response plan accordingly
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Richard Nedwich explaining the different elements of a Smart campus and how they link together via cloud technologies

The next seminar I attended was by Abi James of AbilityNet, who explained what accessibility means and what public bodies (including Universities) need to do to adhere to new accessibility regulations. Part of this is ensuring that your websites and VLE’s are easy to use by people with a range of SEND (Special Education Needs and Disabilities). Abi went on to explain how you can test and improve your webpages for this purpose and spoke about what writing a mandatory accessibility statement entails.

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Abi James explaining the principles of Accessibility

After a little break, I had a walk around the exhibition. It was very interesting to see the diverse range of eLearning tools that are available and what they are used for. Some of the tools on display included:

  • Software, such as VLE’s, e-learning tools, apps, communication platforms, student registration tools, learning management solutions etc.
  • Learning materials, such as e-books, publishers and learning programmes
  • Hardware, such as learning robots, virtual reality kits, touch screens, interactive projectors and other devices
  • Furniture for creating smart classrooms and huddle spaces, as well as laptop/tablet safes

There was also a large section of the exhibition dedicated to a “Global Showcase” where people from different countries such as Norway, Korea, Saudi Arabia and France showed how they use technology for teaching and learning. In addition, there was a strong focus on SEND and student wellbeing, with Friday being dubbed “SEND Friday”.

As my last seminar of the day, I attended “Unified communication via the Cloud”, where Scott Somenthal spoke about how Universities can use “the Cloud” to connect different communication tools, after which it was time to make the trek back to Cirencester.

During the Bett show, I have gained many new insights and ideas, which are now to be digested and used in the RAU LT team’s work.

Digifest 2019: Are you ready for Education 4.0?

Last week’s annual Jisc Digifest was aesthetic and high-tech from the get-go. The opening ‘folded space‘ session brought together artists from across Europe to participate in an impressive synchronised performance of dance and music, all made possible by the Janet Network. Even the conference’s byline ‘shaping education for a hyper-connected world‘ sounds more sci-fi than HE. As opening Key note speaker Anne-Marie Imafidon, CEO of the Stemettes, pointed out – the web is 30 years old  now and it’s time for us to get more creative in our thinking!

The opening 'folded space' session

The opening ‘folded space’ session

So what were the core themes?
Creativity

Creativity and the changing skills requirement of our students and staff was prevalent in many presentations and discussions. From the A for Art appearing in STEM (STEAM),  to multidisciplinary learning and rethinking the way we do things. Dave Coplin, CEO of the Envisioners, offered some great observations on this in his day one closing keynote entitled the rise of humans. Dave suggested that we focus on creativity, empathy and accountability. This will allow us to get rid of processes that don’t make sense (ditch the elephant powder), disconnect unless it adds value and use Artificial Intelligence (AI) wisely (see project InnerEye).

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Experiencing life as Natalie, a student in 2029, through the power of VR

Dave reminded us of the wise words of Pablo Picasso: “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” We need to be asking the right questions – and that’s where our creative minds come in. He concluded by pointing out that culture is the single most important attribute for an organisation to get creativity and innovation right. You can have all the technology in the world and it isn’t going to change any outcomes.

Joysy John, director of Education at Nesta also discussed the skills gap in her opening keynote for day two. Nesta want to create a broader, fairer and smarter education system that focuses on how can all learners thrive in the future. They have identified the current skills gap that sits alongside recent narrowing of the curriculum. Joysy spent time looking at the new(ish) skills most needed (see the picture below) and asked is our education system teaching these skills?

Joysy John talks about the skills required for future work

Joysy John talks about the skills required for future work

Nesta Education has developed some very useful tools including My kinda future, Get my first job, and the UK skills taxonomy which looks at the digital intensity of jobs. Joysy reiterated the message about removing the distinction between arts/humanities and the more technical and scientific subjects.

Education 4.0

Many of the plenaries and sessions covered the new technologies that make up Education 4.0.

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These range from exciting use of Virtual Reality (see the VR Education work) to data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI)  and Machine Learning. However ethics is a big issues and while AI (and other Education 4.0 tools) offers us a multitude of opportunities it still needs to be kept in check. Anne-Marie Imafidon’s point that if “If you don’t intentionally include you accidentally exclude” highlights the need for diversity in testing. And Nesta’s recent blog entitled AI is changing the world, who is changing AI? is really thought provoking. As Dave Coplin put it “the best defence against algorithmic bias is diversity.

The 4.0 technologies were explored in more detail in the over the horizons panel session on the Jisc Horizons report – emerging technologies and the mental health challenge. The session was chaired by Andy McGregor, deputy chief innovation officer, Jisc. The speakers were Sarah Davies, director of education innovation, University of Bristol; Nick Brazil, deputy principal, Gower College; Rachel Hall, university editor, The Guardian and Gwyneth Sweatman, president, NUS Wales. The report looks at “the fourth industrial revolution in which emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres and the impact and change it brings for education“. Audience questions covered areas including the need for National digital vision, costs and funding, and issues around Mental health.

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Over the horizons panel session

One interesting concept covered in the report is ‘streamlining’ – or technology enabling us to get to the information we need much quicker. There is a quote in the report from Phil Richards, chief innovation officer, Jisc that explains:

I see the technology as a human optimisation system, so the meaningful support people get … comes from human beings. It’s that initial referral, realising that the people who need help are those who’re least likely to ask for it when they’re in a dark place, which the technology helps with.

It’s about a partnership between technology and humans. That’s where Chatbots come in. In the future is conversational the University of Bolton demonstrated their bot Ada (named after Ada Lovelace) who is acting as a virtual assistant for staff and students. Bolton began by connecting the chatbot to all key data sets on campus (student records data (tribal), email, curriculum resources, timetabling, qualification, attendance, opening times, finance/bursaries etc.). They are using around 12000 variations of questions and have even tied Ada in to Wolfram alpha.

The end result helps students with general inquiries, curriculum specific queries, employability; and staff with questions like who is on work placement? Which learners have passed? Which learners have falling attendance? All responses are contextualised.  Ada also nudges students with welcome back message, attendance message etc. The system is voice activated (Alexa), and works on app (ios, android) and desktop. There are Central APIs that route info to IBM watson, Wolfram Alpha , campus data.

Bolton are not the only institution delivering on chatbots. In his talk on How you are embracing the change of technological capability, and the needs of the students of the future, not the past? Andrew Proctor, Director of digital services at the University of Staffordshire talked about their own experience of  AI becoming the new UI. Staffordshire have developed Beacon as a way to curate information, offer recommendations, nudge students etc.  To do this they used an Azure bot framework and natural language processing. A partner was brought in to help them deliver Beacon and Azure stack accelerated the process.

Andrew Proctor talks about Beacon

Andrew Proctor talks about Beacon

Digital strategy

With so much going on many institutions have taken to creating and implementing digital strategies. Ross Parry presented the University of Leicester experience to a packed room. Ross has a split role of Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Digital) and professor in the School of museum studies, demonstrating the commitment Leicester has made to digital. Leicester have taken their magic word (‘discovery’) and combined it with a beginners mindset to build their digital strategy. It stands as an cornerstone with other enabling strategies underneath. Ross explained that Digital is about people and value and culture, and a strategy is aspirational, a thing that you create and use. He recommended that institutions worry about digital thinking as much as they worry about the infrastructure to support it.

Ross Parry on Digital capability as a strategic priority

Ross Parry on Digital capability as a strategic priority

The Leicester #digitalcampus strategy is underpinned by 20-30 live projects, it has a supporting model – an animated picture of buildings. This could even be seen as cute and gimicky mnemonic. To deliver the strategy Ross has worked in partnership with the Leicester director of IT – Liz Bailey, the duo have worked together on the three cores areas: new  integration, new interface, new interaction. The new interaction refers to work to make their student records system talk to their VLE, something that has involved rebuilding things from the ground up (they have made good use of Top hat to do this). Migration of data and information was carried out by students as part of the ‘big build’ and everything has been supported by great visuals and infograms and a steer from senior management.

In his talk Andrew Proctor also shared many of their Education 4.0  approaches to strategy: more learner centric, more choice (hyper-personalisation), diverse consumption models, traditional byte sized degrees, subscription based, outcome based. He talked of “building things to change” – recognising the fast moving world we are in and being agile at all times.

And finally MS Office 365 and a little bit of Google

In the University of Central Lancashire session ‘DigiReady: preparing learners for a digital workplace‘ we heard from Andrew Sprake, lecturer in physical education; Neesha Ridley, senior lecturer in midwifery; and Chris Melia , senior learning technologist.

Chris Melia talking about Jisc digital insights survey and why they've started using Microsoft teams

Chris Melia talking about Jisc digital insights survey and why they’ve started using Microsoft teams

The team have brought in a Digital skills programme that relies heavily on Microsoft Teams and Microsoft educator community training and Microsoft office certification. Their Digital transformation at scale event 17 April UCLAN would definitely be good to attend and I’d like to hear more about Use One note for digital portfolio. Lots of institutions are turning to Microsoft for training , accreditation and certification.

The closing keynote was delivered Head of Google Education, Liz Sprout. After some audience App sharing (try it – share your favourite app with a random stranger) she spent time explaining the difference between Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (thank goodness – I was too embarrassed to ask). Machine learning comprises of supervised learning, unsupervised learning (discovering patterns) and reinforcement learning. It is now possible due to the amount of data, the speed of processing data, minaturisation, reduced power consumption and improved cooling systems. And ML powers most of what Google does: search, gmail, photos, translation, YouTube, chrome, maps…

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Liz introduced us to many of the great Google tools out there. Some of  the best for education are:

  • Google arts and culture allows you to take a 360 tour of many famous sites and landmarks. You can jump from the CERN hadron collider, to the Great barrier reef and round most famous galleries. Like Google maps but much more exciting. However if you want to get really out of this world try Google sky.
  • I’m sure you are familiar with Google Scholar but have you seen Google books – the world’s most comprehensive index of full-text books.
  • There are an increasing array of translation tools available from Google. Google translate is the obvious one but could try the Google translate app (for OS or android) and use your camera for instant text translation.
  • Interested in our changing times then Google trendsNgram viewerZeitgeist and Google Correlate will let you look at our changing search patterns. Google public dataalso helps you find interesting data sets to work with.
  • If you are feeling very adventurous there is Google Expeditions which allows you to use Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented reality (AR) in your lessons.
Liz Sprout from Google

Liz Sprout from Google

Naturally these themes are shaped by the sessions I attended and my own personal interests. There was a lot more on the digital campus, digital capability, data ethics, student wellbeing, accessibility and multimedia that I haven’t even touched on.

Luckily Jisc do a good job of videoing and collating their content – so here is everything I missed.

Once again Digifest is invaluable for those working in technology in Higher Education. It always inspired – now to find a way to create more hours in the day!

Trip report: Edtech Expo

Yesterday I attended the EdTech Expo event at Old Trafford Stadium. A great venue and a surprisingly useful conference. It was clearly targeted at those working in ed tech at schools, rather than in FE or HE, but there was some useful insights and inspirational talks.

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The opening panel was on ‘the future of digital learning’ and featured Dave Smith (Havering education services), Emma Owen-Davies (fellow, Chartered College), Abdul Chohan (CEO of Essa M.A.T. and co-founder of the Olive tree school, Bolton) and Steve Wheeler (Learning Innovations Consultant, formerly Plymouth Institute of Education). It covered broad topics including how we develop the skills in our students that businesses needs, how we build our staff digital capability and how schools can use digital technologies to retain their staff (they are leaving in droves unfortunately).

Steve Wheeler’s solo presentation on ‘digital literacies and capabilities: Learning in the 21st century’ followed. He offered some interesting insights and considerations: a blasting of the digital natives and digital immigrants idea – let’s think about digital residents (habitual users) and digital visitors (casual users) instead. Tales of his 80 year old father’s online life (some of his post have 1000+  likes!) and the slightly scary observation that this year every teacher was born in last century, every child born in this century. Steve ended by looking at the EU digital competence framework 2.0 highlighting our need for new skills like transliteracy, identity management and the 4 Cs: Connection, content, complexity, connotation.

Abdul Choan: “These are six of the most expensive words in education”

By far the most inspiring talk of the day was by Abdul Chohan. Growing up just outside Manchester Addul made a commitment to improving the area and after time spent working as a Chemistry teacher co-founded the Olive school in central Bolton. The school intake is predominantly from deprived areas but a commitment to the growth mindset and major tech project where all children have been provided with originally ipods and now ipads has led some incredible results. Abdul offered many words of wisdom but the ones that resonated with me were:

  • If you can master the art of changing a person’s belief, then you can change their actions.
  • Simple and reliable are the most important factors when it comes to digital technology – he illustrated this with a great story about the laptop trolley at his school. When staff don’t believe something will work then they just won’t use it.
  • If something works then you can get rid of something else and save money. Educators are terrible at moving on.

Abdul touched on many areas of pedagogy that warrant further investigation: Webb’s depth of knowledge, Dale’s cone of experience, Schlech’sty Levels, Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, Puentedura’s SAMR and shared some great case studies – too many to list here, see his Twitter feed for more details.

I enjoyed the interactive session on ‘marginal gains for big wins’ from Patrick McGrath from Texthelp. It was delivered using Pollev.com. Patrick’s suggestion that we move away from the idea of transformation (whoops…it’s the name of this blog!) and instead focus on these smaller, quick wins. He covered a number of useful tools including Kahoot, Padlet and of course Read&Write – Texthelp’s main accessibility tool. We have Read&Write at the RAU and it is definitely a tool we want to promote more to all our students as a great productivity tool. Patrick’s suggestion was that students use it to listen back to their reports allowing themselves to take a more critical look at what they’ve written.

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In the afternoon there was a session on ‘The future of Education: Artificial Intelligence’ delivered by Charles Wood from CENTURY tech. CENTURY tech uses artificial intelligence and big data to improve learning outcomes and reduce teacher workload. His overview of AI covered:

  1. Reasoning e.g. chess
  2. Knowledge representation e.g. identifying brain scans
  3. Planning (navigation) e.g. self driving-cars
  4. Natural language processing e.g. Siri
  5. Perception e.g. safe self-driving cars

[If you want an accessible and quick introduction to AI, or machine learning, listen to the  Miranda Mowbray interview onthe recent Jisc Podcast on ‘how AI and big data will transform research’ – about half way through] While CENTURY tech’s tool appears more appropriate for schools than HE (the learning activities it offers are predominantly multiple choice questions based on the national curriculum and there is currently no free text analysis opportunities) they are beginning to work with universities who have taken the front end and are developing their own content.

The most sobering talk of the day was by Andy Wood, online safety consultant, South West Grid for Learning. While the Internet is a tremendous resource it is a potential area of danger for young people. Andy made a compelling eSafety case for why we need to ensure children and young adults are digitally literate and taught to be resilient. His recommended model is that we fully understand the landscape (bullying, porn, so that we can mitigate risk. Some of the key organisations working in this space are Internet Watch Foundation, Childnet International, SWGFL and Professionals Online Safety Helpline.

While Ed Tech Expo wasn’t what I thought it was going to be it was actually refreshing to spend some time looking at digital through the eye’s of a teacher. And in true good conference style I’m itching to get back to my desk to look up the links I’ve jotted down.

Useful links

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UCISA Bursary and ALTC

Great news! I have been awarded a bursary as part of the UCISA 2018 bursary scheme to attend the Association of Learning Technologists conference that will take place later this year.

UCISA logoFunding from the UCISA bursary scheme gives IT and IT-related staff the opportunity to travel to conferences and keynote technology events they might otherwise be unable to attend. I, along with 19 other candidates, have been awarded funding and will be writing on this blog and the UCISA blog about my experience.

The funding is particularly pertinent as I have also just found out that I have been accepted to give a presentation at ALT on my recent work here at RAU. I submitted a proposal entitled ‘From little acorns…growing a learning technology culture’ unsure if it would be accepted or if I would win the bursary. So huge thanks to UCISA for their support and to my line manager Alun Dawes for backing my application.  I love it when a plan comes together 🙂

The ALT conference will take place from 11-13 September 2018 in Manchester. As I explained in my bursary application:alt_logo

While other events offer a useful perspective on a particular tool or system and a chance to engage with a user community the ALT conference is fundamentally different. ALT is not purely about tools or systems – though they will be mentioned aplenty. ALT is about strategic thinking, about learning from those who have already sat where I sit now, about knowing that I am asking the right questions. ALT is where practice is discussed and moves on to policy, and policy is where change moves from being incidental to being systemic. One of the biggest challenges I face is how do I support systemic change within my institution as oppose to piecemeal change. And how do I do that whilst also operating at a grass roots level working with practitioners.”

I’m really excited to be going to the ALT Conference. The ALT team have been a big help over the years. I regularly attend their webinars and avidly follow the organisational mailing list but have yet to attend one of their physical conferences. It’s going to be great to be in the same space as so much learning technology knowledge. Hopefully I’ll just be able to absorb it by being there!