ALT 2019 – Time to take back control…

Written around the inside of the dome in the awe-inspiring McEwan hall is proverb 4:7 from the bible:

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.

However if we, the 471 delegates attending the Association of Learning Technologists conference 2019, were to feel concerned by the pressure that this pursuit of wisdom might put us under then we were not to worry. As co-chair Melissa Highton (Digital Learning, Teaching & Web and Assistant Principal, University of Edinburgh) explained it’s not just the big stuff that matters, it is the day to day too. She pointed to Susan Collins art for inspiration: a series of bronze circular drops entitled The Next Big Thing is a Series of Little Things (see the feature image for this post). And as Learning Technologists it is in the day to day that we can make a difference.

The McEwan Hall

The McEwan Hall

This year’s conference hosted by the University of Edinburgh offered up its usual incredibly large number of diverse parallel sessions, workshops, keynotes, sponsor slots, lightening talks and social events. Naturally I couldn’t attend everything – though the live streaming, photos and Twitter feed help – but have jotted down some of my key takeaways:-

We need to think about the tools we use – While Sue Beckingham’s keynote was incredibly content heavy I found it a fantastic reusable resource that looks back over our recent history and considers the affordances and sometimes negative consequences of digital interconnectedness and socially mediated publicness. Sue reminded us that the internet and social media are just tools and it is up to us to really own them.

Jesse Sommel suggests we play ed tech celebrity death match!!

Jesse Sommel suggests we play ed tech celebrity death match!!


We need to think about the tools we buy – Jesse Sommel’s  (Executive Director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at University of Mary Washington) keynote on Critical Pedagogy, Civil Disobedience and Edtech was really well received. He spent time looking at some fundamental questions on what learning should be (fluid? Student-led? Questioning? With agency?) and asked to think about how critical pedagogy translates into digital space and the tools we use. He pointed out that digital technologies have values coded into them in advance (“Some tools have bad pedagogy baked in”) and that these values may not align well with what is right for our students. The outgoing message is that we need to be considering these points in our procurement processes and ensure we invest in teachers (not just more tech). As Susanne Hardy (Newcastle University) explained in her Gasta talk, the feedback from the academics was “we don’t need more technology.” Frameworks like the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) – presented by Suzanne Stone (Dublin City University) could help here. See Teresa Mackinnon’s Wakelet for more on critical digital literacy


We need to understand how education is changing – I’m still not entirely sure what Blockchain is but the workshop by Alexander Mikroyannidis (the Open University) from the Qualichain project started to unveil the potential it could have for education through validation of qualifications, micro-credentials, transcripts (see the HEAR record) transparency and security of data, smart badges and personalised job offers. See for webinars and further information.  I also attended a workshop on Education 4.0  led by Gilly Salmon (Swinburne University of Technology) and John Brindle (University of Liverpool) in which we talked about future trends such as the symbiotic web leading to big changes in curricula, and applied the 6 thinking hats to them.

Ollie Bray had us building a lego duck during the plenary

Ollie Bray had us building a lego duck during the plenary

We need to redefine play and reimagine learning – at least that is what lego is doing. Ollie Bray, Global Director at the Lego foundation had us think about the spectrum of practice and remember that play is timeless, chaotic, risky, child-led,  while school is timetables, orderly, safe, adult-led (echoing Jesse Sommels earlier observations). Ollie made some interesting points about the need for creativity (note that it is not the same as imagination) and the benefits of children and adults working together in co-creative teams – working on something new together.

Digital literacy is still a biggie – There were a lot of great sessions on building student digital capability, for example by using the Digital Creative Attributes Framework (DCAF), a shared language around digital. I was also pleased to see quite a few sessions on Wikipedia and how we should be pushing it as a tool to support good quality scholarship – don’t just use Wikipedia, write it! I picked up a few new podcasts along the way (ALT mentions) and some tips on how to make them. And I think I will broadening the places I look for training and CPD to include OERu, e.g. their course on learning in a digital age and some autoethnocity (a great session by Daniel Clark from BPP on identity in relation to technology).

We are getting better at video – ALT had quite a few sessions on lecture capture, 360 video, immersive video and other related areas. I managed to get along to the Edinburgh University DIY film school which was fun, their guide book is really helpful. The team have used Office 365 to set up a kit booking process too – something we could possibly do at the RAU. I am a little jealous of how they store their media- in the Edinburgh Media Hopper portal.

Oh, and I gave a presentation about the work we have been doing at RAU on the myRAU app – Making our students ‘appy – how we successfully rolled out our student mobile app. There was also a very tasty Scottish gala dinner, a ceilidh, an awards ceremony, too many lunch-time food bowls (what’s wrong with plates??), holograms, a very unpleasant 2am fire alarm in the halls and some great networking,

So with the back drop of ministers in Westminster arguing (again) about how we should go about ‘taking back control of our country’ whilst concurrently spiraling out of control, it seemed fitting that ALT challenged us to take back control of the technology we use, the data we create and the career paths we choose.

Alt delegates, Picture by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology

ALT delegates, Picture by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology