ALTC 2017 – Highlights and Inspirations

A week has already flown by since the ALT Conference and I’ve still barely managed to gather my thoughts, so instead of a more considered blog post, here’s a quick summary of some of my highlights of the conference.

Bonnie Stewart, CC BY Chris Bull Photography

Live tweeting the conference keynotes is always an enjoyable challenge and this year was no exception. I was thrilled to hear Bonnie Stewart as I’ve followed her work on twitter for many years but had never had the pleasure of hearing her speak before.  It’s hard to pick a single message from Bonnie’s thought provoking keynote, which explored concepts of openness and the construction of norms in higher education, but if I had to pick just one, it would be that open can help us to break down boundaries and binaries and challenge the prestige economy of Higher Education.  Open may not be the solution, but it is the right trajectory, and somewhere along that trajectory are the results we will reap in ten years time.

Sian Bayne also presented a fascinating keynote that explored critical issues of digital identity sanctuary and anonymity through a study of use of the now defunct anonymous social media platform Yik Yak by students at the University of Edinburgh.  Sian has written an article based on her keynote for WonkHE which I can highly recommend.

Sian Bayne, CC BY, Chris Bull Photography

“With growing social awareness of what’s at stake in losing our anonymity online, perhaps this is the moment to look again at institutional policies and resources regarding student wellbeing, mental health, counselling and pastoral support, and think about how these would benefit from a wide and open discussion around the value of anonymity, and of digital sanctuary for our students.”

Digital sanctuary and anonymity on campus
~ Sian Bayne

There were a significant number of talks about lecture recording at the conference this year and as we’re currently in the process of rolling out a new lecture recording system at the University of Edinburgh, Media Hopper Replay, I tried to catch as many of those as possible.  One that I found particularly interesting was Lecture Recording – Is more always better? by Alison Reid of the Univeristy of Liverpool who explored the impact of lecture recording on less able students who are already struggling with workload.  While recorded lectures are a valuable safety net for many students, for those who are already feeling overwhelmed they can be an additional source of stress and anxiety as they often don’t have time to watch the recording end to end. Furthermore, low achieving students can become even more isolated if they rely too heavily on lecture recording.  The solution is to provide more peer support and study skills workshops, and to increase aspects of teaching that encourage interactivity and which can’t be captured with recording.

I also managed to catch two really interesting talks on open education.  Gabi Witthaus presented and absolutely fascinating comparative textual analysis of the TEF Whitepaper and the EU Policy Report Opening up Education: A Support Framework for Higher Education Institutions.  The TEF paper is all about competition and is filled with sporting metaphors about winners and losers. It talks about service providers, customers, provision.  EU report on the other hand presents open education as a universal good, talking about removing barriers and widening access however it also employs a false binary between open and closed.  Oddly the TEF Whitepaper does not define “teaching excellence” and in 34,000 words only mentions the word “academics” three times!

Leo Havemann also facilitated a really engaging workshop exploring definitions of openness in education. Leo  encouraged us to think of open as more than an adjective; open is also a verb, a continual practice and he reminded us that openness and closedness are not a binary dichotomy, there is a continuum between them.

Maren Deepwell, Josie Fraser, Martin Weller, CC BY, Chris Bull Photography

Perhaps my personal highlight of the conference though was seeing former Learning Technologist of the Year and Chair of Wikimedia UK, Josie Fraser receive Honorary Life Membership of ALT in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the learning technology community.  Josie has been a good friend and an enduring inspiration to me for many years and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this prestigious award.

And of course is was an absolute delight to see Maren Deepwell, the rest of the ALT team and the ALT Social Media Supergroup.  If Rich Goodman and I were the Social side of the supergroup, the Media side, Martin Hawksey, Chris Bull and Scott Farrow were so discrete you barely noticed they were there, but of course they were the ones who did all the hard work of filming and photographing the conference and keeping the livestream up and running and as always they did an exemplary job.  Chris even managed to take a picture of me that doesn’t make me cringe :}

Lorna M Campbell, CC BY, Chris Bull Photography

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