‘Oh Come All Ye Techful’

Exploring the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Online Winter Conference.

2020 has undoubtedly a dynamic year for the learning technology community. The Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Online Winter Conference is the “…longest established online conference” (Association of Learning Technologists, 2020). The event took place on Monday 16th-Wednesday 16th December 2020 on the Blackboard Collaborate platform. The conference sessions were divided into four main types: plenary, parallel, webinar and social and reflected both the opportunities and challenges facing Learning Technologists.  

Speakers at the ALT Online Winter Conference (ALT, 2020)

I am grateful to Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey), the Chief Innovation, Community and Technology Officer for the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) who provided pre-conference support sessions in Blackboard Collaborate to ensure presenters could make use of break out rooms, use the chat function, and share screen or content. He set up a sandbox session for us to practice using the features.

On Monday 16th December, the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Radio Show took place on The Thursday Night Show internet radio station. The first ALT Radio show took place Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Online Summer Summit in August 2020 here.  I blogged about my experience of being a Learning Technologist DJ here. Learning Technologists produced their own radio shows with music for 30 minutes. The first set was from Alex Spiers, Senior Learning Technologist at London School of Economics Eden Centre for Education Enhancement (@alexgspiers). Alex played some tracks from Scottish artists. Sarah Honeychurch, Teaching Fellow at University of Glasgow, (@NomadWarMachine) & Niall Bar, Software Developer at University of Glasgow (@niall_barr) were up next and played an eclectic mix of songs including tracks from Belle & Sebastian and the classic ‘Jump’ by Van Halen. Richard Price, EdTech Advisor to the NHS (@RichardPriceUK) and Lyshi Rodrigo, Training Manager at Nord Anglia Education (@lyshendri) co-hosted their show and interviewed each other about their journey into learning technology. A recording of their show is available here. Dominic Pates (@dompates), Senior Learning Technologist (Relationship Lead) from City, University of London organised all the Learning Technology DJs in terms of the support technical setup and checking connection. He also played two sets. His first set was a track from each of the cities in which the annual conference was held in the past from Liverpool to Edinburgh which was a really good idea. Keynotes from previous conferences are available here. His second set was entitled ‘Jungle Bells’ which involved a mash up between jungle beats and traditional Christmas songs.It was truly inspired!

The ALT Radio Show on The Thursday Night Show

After Dominic, in the capacity of Notorious P.I.P as a DJ name, I played a set of technology themed songs including ‘Home Computer’ from Kraftwerk. My aim was to include an aspect on learning technology with each song. For example, ‘More Data’ by Negativland and ‘Computer Says No’ by DJ-Kicks (Mount Kimbie) [DJ Mix]. One of the highlights could be argued to be ‘Error Chord (Intro)’ by Windows95Man. I am sure we can all relate to ‘Computer Says No’. Hardy Milts, who supported me with technical set up using Mixxx, free DJ software, and is Thursday Night Show star, played the last set of the night. Check out his previous sets here. I am grateful to Hardy, Dom and The Thursday Night Show or ‘TTNS’ radio family.

Be Techy, Merry & Bright

I have presented at the Online Winter Conference three times. In 2016, I presented ‘It’s Beginning to look a lot like learning. Using Sanako technology to support the language learning process’. In 2019, I co-presented, ‘Live Participatory Collaborative Fiction. In 2020, . I was lucky to have an opportunity to present at the conference having successfully submitted a proposal. I adapted, created and presented Cards Against Learning Technology game for a 50 minute session on Tuesday 15th December. Gamification has been a popular approach to enhance pedagogy. I developed a professional interest in games-based approaches and presented at the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) East England group event at University of East Anglia (UEA) entitled Now I’ve Seen Everything: Opening & Closing the Pedagogical Eye to Gamification & VR-enhanced Language Learning‘.

Exploring gamification at the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) East England group event at University of East Anglia (UEA)

All I Want for Christmas is a Game

Learning Technologists create a range learning experiences to engage students including escape rooms. Perhaps it could be argued that it is time Learning Technologist to have the opportunity to play a game themselves? A playful, creative and safe space to explore what we do, our evolving professional identities, to have fun, laugh, and play in a collaborative capacity is important for our community. The original Cards Against Humanity game was designed to be played in a face-to-face capacity with physical cards. It is also possible to play the game in an online capacity (TechRadar, 2020).

Like teaching and learning in institutions all over the world, the Cards Against Humanity game has had to make the ‘pivot’ to an online game reflecting the impact of the pandemic. How was it possible to adapt the card game for Learning Technologists? I created multimodal cards with animations with different rounds. Given that the game itself and the company who created the game can be argued to be controversial, it was fundamental to create relating to learning technology in a non-offensive capacity reflecting the professional interests of the community (Brooks, 2016). I wanted to concentrate on the positive aspects of the game and how the structure could be used to engage players. There are numerous expansion packs for the game. The cards I created were like a Learning Technology expansion pack. The game provided a simple ‘fill in the blank’ structure to help engage conference participants with specific frames and prompts. Using a simple structure was really helpful – “The biggest enemy of thinking is complexity” (De Bono, 2009: p176).

Having observed the range of new features that emerged such as using video waiting rooms in Zoom creative and engaging ways, I was keen to set the tone of the ‘playful’ and almost ‘un-conference’ session by playing music such as Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps by Enoch Light to set the tone of the session (Zoom, 2020). This was consciious curatorial effort to create a fun, free, participatory and exploratory game space to create the right online environment for a post digital online game experience. Having previously carried out research on the use of multimodal learning, I attended the talk by Dr. Carl Hayden-Smith hosted by the UCL Centre for Multimodal Research entitled ‘The Multimodality of Contextology, Double Consciousness and Holotechnica‘ on on 17th December. Carl talked about the importance of building in agency to experiences. I felt hat in the game I created, I was also designing it to to actively encourage the agency of the players.

One of the Cards Against Learning Technology

In the original game, the white card set provide prompts to fill in the blanks on the back cards. In the adapted Cards Against Learning Technology game, the white cards were contributions encouraged from players either in the chat or by speaking on the microphone, almost like activating the ‘cards in our minds’. The white card round encouraged players to create and share a longer and more challenging yet fun narrative.

Cards adapted to be ‘frames’ from the white deck in the orginal game

In terms of preparing for the session. I carried out research into the genealogy of the game. I discovered that creating your own game is actively encouraged and it is possible to download a template for free . It is also possible to ‘suggest a card’. The company who makes the game also offer scholarships in science and support women in STEM (Cards Against Humanity, 2020) It felt like a card game could actually teach us a lot about post digital pedagogical possibilities particularly in relation to an open approach.

What can a card game tell us about pedagogy?

Post Digital Comfort & Joy

It has been argued that “postdigital living” can be “unsettling” (Selwyn & Jandrić, 2020: p989). Playing a game during the pandemic could be argued to be a ‘rebellious post digital act’ in a collaborative way and can help our learning technology community support each other.  The session was not an academic presentation so it did not feel important to explore what post digital pedagogy might mean. “The definitions used do not hold “…critical value but…[they have] utility in exposing issues within the contemporary digital landscape” (Taffel, 2016 in Fawns, 2018: p142). Whilst the pursuit of academic definitions is not as crucial as the context, the use of ‘post digital’ is used to highlight the human element of being a Learning Technologist. As a ‘post digital player’ or ‘post digital actor’, Learning Technologists are provided with an opportunity to articulate their ideas in real time as a response to the prompts on the black cards, sharing stories, challenges, identities, and success. Games can be argued to activate ‘post digital agency’.

“Last Christmas, I gave you a game. The very next day, we played it again…with the new Expansion Deck”

In addition to the cards, I also created different rounds for example a picture round where popular memes from 2020 were used as a visual prompt relating to Learning Technology. What advice would Baby Yoda from The Mandalorian give to a Learning Technologist?

(Screenrant, 2020)

Having been involved with the @FemEdTech shared Twitter account in 2019, it felt important to include a #FemEdTech card. I was inspired by Dr. Sue Black’s (@Dr_Black) journey into technology and contribution to Bletchley Park where I visited in 2017.

(@Dr_Black, Dr. Sue Black, 2020)

I used Presenter Media ­to create the animated videos and create the different rounds in the game. For example, a virtual fruit machine.

After responses to the stimulus card were shared, in some cases, this promoted a further discussion on the ideas such as a response about auto captioning raised a further comment on digital accessibility. One of the cards explored the theme of surveillance capitalism which prompted a post-card comment about issues around proctoring that the Learning Technology community have been concerned about (Chin, 2020). Another card invited players to reflect on what makes Learning Technologists’happy’ which prompted a further comment about the impact of screen time and the suggestion of glasses with BlueGuard technology as a wellbeing idea. Another card led to a commenr from the Chair, Carrie Ann Walton, a Learning Technologist from the NHS and educational researcher (@CarrieAWalton) about what she had been studing at the Open University. It was also possible to create alternative and creative scenario based cards such as a ‘bingo ball’ round where a machine selected a ball from a ball pool which revealed a card.

One of the ‘player participants’, Robert Falmer, responded in the chat with this response – “Technology is an agnostic pedagogy”. At the end of the session, the Chair, Carrie Anne Walton and I discussed who we felt the winner of the Cards Against Learning Technology could be and we felt his response was incredible and in virtue of this he was our winner. The winner receives a Cards Against Learning Technology mask.

(@PipMac6, McDonald 2020)

When I completed teacher training, I came across the head, heart, bin & bag tool (Hunter, 2020). This tool was used in the previous presentation at the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Online WInter Conference in 2019. It felt like an appropriate tool to provide the structure for a collaborative reflection task about the game at the end of the session. Head corresponds to something you will remember from the session, heart refers to how you felt during the sessions,  bin means something to forget and finally bag provides an opportunity to identify a ‘takeaway’ for example into your own context.

Feedback & Feedforward

Cards Against Learning Technology received some positive feedback on Twitter.

(@not_compston, Compton, 2020)

In future, I would like to improve the game for example by using a tabletop simulator to make the game experience more authentic. Cards Against Learning Technology was played in a synchronous capacity during the live conferecne session. Therefore, a future potential development could include an asynchronous component. I had been reflecting on the fundamental sociomaterial shift of how we carry out daily activities and wondered to about the extent to which the game will “…continue what is emerging as a productive speculation on future relationships between technology and the project of education” (Knox, 2019: pp357-358). Digital can be understood as capital (Knox, 2019: p361). Pehaps online games could be argued to have ‘post digital capital’.

Carrie Ann Walton, a Learning Technologist from the NHS and educational researcher (@CarrieAWalton) chaired the session. She contacted me prior to the presentation and supported me with monitoring the chat and shouting out responses. I really would not have been able to run the session without her support. She hopes to use a game in her own context ‘Cards Against Learning & Development’. I was grateful that she got involved in the discussion around the topics and themes emering from the cards which really helped to engage with players such as when we discussed Second Life and her recent work at the Open University.

Carrie Ann Walton, Session Chair, Learning Technologist from the NHS and educational researcher (@CarrieAWalton)

One of the conference highlights was the idea of “hauntology” and the “spectral presence” to understand the ontology of online presence with a “haunted subject” (Henriksen, 2016: p37) in the session delivered on Wednesday 16th December entitled ‘To Be And Not To Be: Physical Absence and Virtual Presence in Online Learning’ delivered by Dr. Stuart Taylor, University Tutor at University of Glasgow (@SJamesTaylor), and Dr. Ingeborg van Knippenberg, Lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University (@icvk).

(@louisedrumm, Drumm, 2020)

Other significant highlights of the conference include the Opening Plenary exploring a new ethical framework for Learning Technology with Sharon Flynn, Project Manager of the Enhancing Digital Capacity in Teaching and Learning project at the Irish Universities Association (@sharonlflynn), Natalie Lafferty, Head of the Centre for Technology and Innovation in Learning at the University of Dundee (@nlafferty), John Traxler, Professor of Digital Learning in the Education Observatory at the University of Wolverhampton, Bella Adams, Director of Information Technology at University of Sheffield (@bellaabramsIT), and Lyshi Rodrigo, Training Manager at Nord Anglia Education (@lyshendri).  Another significant highlight was the ‘Telling Data Stories: a tool for thinking about higher education, surveillance & ethics’ session delivered by Jen Ross, Senior Lecturer and co-director of the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh (@jar)  and Anna Wilson, Lecturer in Lifelong Learning at the University of Stirling (@anwstirling) exploring co-designing with Speculative Data Stories The can be accessed here .

God Rest Ye Merry Learning Technologists – A ‘Joyful & TriumphantCommunity

The Learning Technologist of the Year Awards Ceremony and presentation of the Community Awards took place at the end of the last day of the conference on Wednesday 16th December. A wonderful moment was when the #altc community won the Community Award:

#altc Community Award

The recording of the Cards Against Learning Technology session is available here.

Follow the #altc hashtag on Twitter to explore tweets about the conference.


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