Last week, courtesy of a UCISA bursary, I travelled up to Manchester (the city of 100,000 students) for the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) Conference 2018. While it was my first ALTC it was actually the 25th in the series and there was considerable reflection on changes to the learning technologist role and in learning technology itself.
In this post I want to share some of the noticeable themes and my favourite moments.
I am woman
This year saw three inspiring women providing the ALTC plenaries, unfortunately unusual enough an occurrence that it warrants comment. On day 1 Dr Tressie MacMillan Cottom, Assistant Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, gave a sociological unpacking of educational technology and explored the idea that context matters and learning technologies do not exist in a vacuum. Tessie suggested that the time is right for us to deconstruct learning technology and consider how we want to put the pieces back together. Learning technologies have (in the US) emerged as administrative units but would they benefit from being a unique academic discipline? She shared the example of the born digital programmes she has led on where “edtech is not just a set of tools but a philosophy about how we think about things” – offering opportunities to the non-traditional student.
On day 2 Amber Thomas, Head of Academic Technology, University of Warwick, gave a wonderful talk considering ‘Twenty years on the edge’. You can read a summary on her blog: Fragments of Amber. Way too much good stuff to write about here but the main take away was a pat on the back for those of us working with learning technology in HE. Things aren’t easy – not only do we suffer from impostor syndrome when we do well but there is also a misapprehension that innovation is isolated to the commercial sector and that governments and agencies are blockers of change. Amber pointed out some of our collective work, from 3.5 million spent on MOOCs, to great collaborative projects and organisations including Ferl, Jisc and EU projects. However change in universities requires patience and it is important that we listen to the mainstream, after all digital is really about people. We need to be ethical, respectful and useful, for we are “really important to the future of education”.
Maren Deepwell, Chief Executive of ALT gave the last plenary of the conference. She brought together the conference themes, a good dose of ethics (“equality is everyone’s responsibility”) and empowerment pants. She considered the difficulties learning technologists face in being both advocate and critic in a “risky business” where things often go wrong. Perhaps we need to get better at sharing our failings. Maren concluded with a personal reflection that “EdTech is a field of practice, not a discipline”. You can read Maren’s recent post on the state of Education Technology in HE on WonkHE.
Beyond lecture capture
At RAU we are a little behind with lecture capture (we don’t do it very often), but it now turns out that it isn’t such an issue as other institutions seem to be moving beyond lecture capture and focusing more on other uses of multimedia. I attended a number of sessions on how we can take things forward and make multimedia use a more everyday part of our learning tech activities. I enjoyed a talk by Karl Luke from Cardiff University on Studying learning journeys with lecture capture through Staff-Student partnerships. His research has looked at how we can educate students in making the most of the tools available. So for example if it’s not in YouTube why would students know that it’s in Panopto? Interesting to hear that students are increasingly watching lecture capture at home on their TVs in a self created study space with physical materials at hand. Much more “screen real estate” than on mobile phone.
A talk from Stuart Phillipson of University of Manchester (available on video) looked at how they have used the Equality act to enable them to record content (regardless of the opt in options) and share with disabled students using a 24 hour grace period for the academics. 85% of lectures are now recorded and shared with disabled students – these students are not allowed to share more widely, that would be a case of academic misconduct! At the University of Northumbria they have been successfully using Panopto used to give video feedback to students – keeping their audience interested by releasing the grade at the end of the session.
In a more practical workshop the University of Wolverhampton team looking alternative uses of lecture capture we played lecture capture bingo and shared our experiences. There were also some useful discussions on how we measure success? It is viewing ratio: how many hours viewed versus how many hours recorded? Or are there other ways that we should be doing this? Also worth a look is Duncan MacIver’s pebble pad potfolio on the impact of digital learning capture on student study habits and the University of Wolverhampton article on Flipping the learning experience for science students.
As Doug Belshaw put it in his moodle.net session – “We don’t have a problem with a lack of resources. We have a problem with the curation of those resources.” ALT shines a light on the best, some of the most useful resources I came across include:
- Create – Learn how to easily create something new with media from the University of Derby
- Open SPLOT (smallest possible learning online tool) for student self reflection and formative feedback from Coventry University
- GRASP Framework – A gamified, card based framework that aims to simplify the process of selecting tools and incorporating them in to effective teaching and learning
- Digital Capabilities toolkit – from the University of Plymouth
- Learning recipes – from the University of Lincoln
- Supporting student employability through enhanced social media profiles – also from the University of Lincoln
- Accessible VLEs – guidance on the new accessibility regulations
- Get Interactive: Practice Teaching with Technology – Bloomsbury Learning Environment MOOC
- BYOD4Learning community
- Digital capabilities and learning strategies – Sessions from Debbie Holey Bournemouth University
- EdTech factorum – the blog of Clint Lalonde from BC Campus. I enjoyed his lightening talk full of wise words: “Learning technology has become simpler…no more complex…simplex” and how he needed to persuade his team that “Skype is not a secret back door for Eastern European hackers“
TEL Family Fortunes
Tools are always a big part of any tech event and hearing what is actually being used at the coal face is always a huge help. The UCISA TEL family fortunes session was a fun look at the UCISA Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) – did you know that a quarter of institutions have a distance learning unit and over half of them now run a hosted VLE. UCISA digital education is currently producing a VLE review toolkit.
Other interesting tools I came across while at ALT include meetoo (responsible for all polling in the main lecture theatre), Google Keep note taking software, RM Results and Articulate story line. Trends in tools is something picked up in the Jisc Digital tracker and new insights project.
I also really enjoyed the exciting Gasta session which combined Irish counting, personal experiences and huge amounts of enthusiasm.
Any conference attendee will know that the real value lies in networking. The ALT community are are a very friendly bunch and I met some great people. Special mention goes to my UCISA bursary buddy Karl Luke from the Cardiff University. We definitely bonded through our free meal ticket!
In the lightening talk session I presented my From little acorns poster on my experience of being a one-person Learning Tech team at the RAU institution. I had lots of positive feedback on the work we are doing and requests to link up when back in the South West.
— Deb Baff (@debbaff) September 12, 2018
I’m not alone though. I took inspiration from an earlier talk by Michael Egan from the Northern School of Art who offered some great tips in his talk Witchcraft to Wonder on how you can win hearts and minds: Learn the academic calendar, show don’t tell, be the person people want to see rather than the one they run away from, consider ‘nudge strategies.
Here’s hoping we get lots more Learning Technologists visiting us at RAU before next year’s event.
I had a great conference and want to say a big thanks to UCISA for allowing me to attend!