Today is my last day of work before I switch on my out of office notification and take a complete break from work for the next fortnight. It’s been a long, hard year for many or us, and for some more so than most, so its been wonderful to see the year out on a high with the ALT Winter Conference. Over two days this week, ALT welcomed 300 delegates for their annual online conference. This year’s theme was “Celebrating Learning Technology practice, research and policy” and it really was a celebration. A celebration of all the hard work learning technologists have done to keep the systems running and support staff and students throughout the unprecedented challenges this year has brought. A celebration of innovation and creativity. A celebration that we made it this far. I like to think it was also a celebration of how we all supported each other along the way. The conference also brought together the community’s key thinking and experiences of some of the important themes that have emerged this year, most notably privacy, ethics, assessment, surveillance, and openness.
Always committed to sharing our experience and practice, colleagues from Edinburgh contributed to a number of sessions over the course of the two days. Vicki Madden spoke about the work she’s being leading to develop Digital Safety and Citizenship support and guidance for staff and students, and why adopting an intersectional approach to online safety and citizenship is so critically important for digital wellbeing. As Vicki noted, digital safety and wellbeing really depend on everyone in the community playing their part. It’s more important than ever that we all support each other online.
Jen Ross and Anna Wilson (University of Stirling) gave a presentation about the wonderfully creative Telling Data Stories project, which has created a tool, crafted by pgogy of PressEDConf fame, that enables users to write fiction to explore different aspects of interacting with technology, and to tell stories that cannot be told in other ways.
Colleagues from across EDE came together on Thursday for a bumper panel exploring how the University of Edinburgh moved beyond emergency provision by focusing on people, policy and practice to support reusable practices in the implementation of learning technology. Stuart Nicol opened the panel with an overview of the university’s Edinburgh Model for Teaching Online, ELDeR and Learn Foundations initiatives. With the boundaries between on campus and online increasingly fading, Stuart noted that all these initiatives share a post-digital approach, focusing on teaching regardless of whether it’s on campus or mediated by digital tools. Martin Lewis, one of our undergraduate student interns gave a brilliant talk about his experience of working with the Learn Foundations project, reminding me yet again, how privileged we are to be able to work with such thoughtful motivated students. And my colleague Neil wrapped up by telling the story of how we developed our new Virtual Classroom Policy, which is available under open licence along with our existing open policies for learning and teaching.
I also participated in the Open COVID Pledge for Education plenary panel, another blog post coming up about that soon. Hopefully!
I enjoyed hearing Leo Havemann and Javiera Atenas talking about the new guidelines for co-creating open education policy in a really interactive and participatory session. Practicing what they preach, Javiera and Leo adopted a co-creation approach to developing these guidelines by seeking input from a diverse group of policy experts.
Catherine Cronin’s session, New Windows on Open Educational Practices, was also participatory and interactive but in a more unexpected way. Catherine had a complete laptop failure right before she was about to present, and ended up phoning her talk in to Javiera who relayed it via her laptop! Some of the rest of us in the session also stepped in to discuss the themes that Catherine had highlighted on her slides. It all turned out to be a brilliant example of spontaneous community engagement, open practice and co-creation in action.
The real highlight of the conference for me though was the Learning Technologist of the Year Awards. These awards are always inspiring and the calibre of this years winners was exemplary. Congratulations to all. The trophies this year were also particularly appropriate; beautiful forged steel pieces made by student blacksmith Jonjoe Preston, from Hereford College of Arts. This year’s Community Award was a little different however. Rather than inviting ALT members to vote for the recipient, ALT presented the award to all learning technologists in recognition of their outstanding contribution and commitment to education this year. It was a really touching gesture, and I’m not sure an award has ever been so well deserved and hard earned. I posted a tweet about the award shortly after Maren and Dave announced it, and it’s been really heartwarming seeing learning technologists all over the world retweeting it and tagging in their teams and colleagues. That tweet has now had over 18,000 impressions and I hope its brought a smile to each and every learning technologist who’s seen it.
It just remains for me to say a huge thank you to Maren Deepwell and the ALT team for running another brilliant conference, and for stepping up to support the learning technology community, while we were all busy supporting our students, colleagues, families and friends through the unprecedented challenges of this year.