Last week the ALT Conference took place in the magnificent McEwan Hall at the University of Edinburgh. Chaired by Melissa Highton, Keith Smyth and Louise Jones, the conference was a huge success, thanks in no small part to the ALT Team, and a large number of volunteers from across the ALT community. As Martin Weller pointed out in his blog post, The Meticulous Informality of ALTC, it takes a lot of hard work and expertise to make running such a big conference appear so effortless. And as always, it was a real pleasure to be able to contribute to the conference as part of the ALTC Social Media Dream Team. I even got a badge this year!
I’ve written before about my experience of livetweeting the ALTC keynotes, and how it differs from tweeting from my own personal account. When I’m providing formal social media coverage I also have a different experience of actually participating in the conference, and listening to the keynotes in particular. I tend to be so focused on listening, summarising and typing, that I often get to the end of the keynote and realise that I can barely remember even half of what the speaker has said! So it’s really useful to me to be able to look back over the livestreams and the tweets and to read all the post-conference blog posts to fill in the gaps.
One of the things that really struck me this year was how closely all three keynotes focused on the key conference themes of Data, Dialogue and Doing.
Revisiting the affordances and implications of interconnectedness and socially mediated publicness
– Sue Beckingham, Sheffield Hallam University
Sue set the scene with a wide ranging opening keynote covering the long history of the myriad technologies that collect and process our data in various ways, shapes and forms; from the panopticon to the Echo Dot, via keystroke tracking, store cards, VLEs, facebook and the invisible algorithms of the web. Sue asked how many of us read the terms of service of the websites and apps we sign up to? How many of us know how our data is being used?
Sue also highlighted the pros and cons of engaging with social media. Twitter can be toxic, filled with disinformation, misinformation and fake news, but it can also be invaluable for promoting research, disseminating crisis communications, highlighting achievements, and building community. Sue stressed that it’s no good banning social media, we need to have meaningful conversations with students about how their data is being used. And we also need to ensure that those who are marginalised from our education communities are accepted, wanted and drawn in. Sue quoted Fosslien and West Duffy who define “diversity as having a seat at the table, inclusion as having a voice, and belonging as having that voice be heard”. Social media can enable diverse voices to be included and heard but we need to be cognisant of how our data is being used by these platforms.
Watch Sue’s keynote https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2019/sessions/altc-keynote-sue-beckingham/
Critcal Pedagaogy, Civil Disobedience and Edtech
– Jessie Stommel, University of Mary Washington
Jessie picked up on many of the themes Sue introduced. Within a framework of critical pedagogy and digital agency he explored the interfaces between agency, data and technology, and how the tools we use as educators influence our relationship with our students. Jessie urged us to ask hard questions of vendors and to engage students in this critical evaluation. What assumptions about learning and teaching does a tool make? What data does it collect? Who has access to it? Is it accessible? To visually impaired, to introverts, to extroverts?
Jessie argued that while some tools can be hacked to good use, others have bad pedagogy baked in and are problematic to the core. It was no surprise that the tool he chose to shine the spotlight of critical evaluation on was Turnitin. It’s easy to critique Turnitin from many different perspectives, not least of which is that it effectively has a monopoly on student writing, with a staggering 98% of UK HE institutions subscribing to its services. Jessie highlighted Turnitin’s problematic Terms of Reference but, perhaps more importantly, he also argued that Turnitin has suspicion of students baked into it and entrenches the belief that students are not to be trusted.
“We are opting in to a culture of suspicion of our students and Turnitin enables this.”
Jessie reminded us that our students are human beings not data assets. We need to trust our students, to learn from and with them, and we need to believe what they tell us about how they learn. Throughout his keynote Jessie returned again and again to Paulo Friere and bell hooks with their focus on learning as a space of wonder and marvel and the importance of generating excitement, joy and pleasure in education. Quoting bell hooks Jessie reminded us that
“If we’re not talking about joy we’re doing something wrong.”
Watch Jessie’s keynote: https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2019/sessions/altc-keynote-jesse-stommel/
Learning, Teaching and Technology
– Ollie Bray, The Lego Foundation
Ollie certainly brought excitement and joy to his keynote when he handed out packets of Lego to the entire audience and challenged everyone to make a duck in 40 seconds! We ended up with as many different ducks as delegates, but Ollie pointed out that every duck was meaningful to the person who made it. Furthermore, the activity itself was meaningful because it was actively engaging, socially interactive, iterative and joyful. These are typical characteristics of a playful experience and they are also characteristics of an excellent learning experience.
Ollie challenged us to think about how we could reimagine learning as it could be, while still working within the distinct boundaries of our education systems and social contexts. Creative skills are highly contextual and it’s important to develop personalised skills that suit specific needs.
Picking up on another of Jessie’s themes, Ollie noted that we hear a lot about learning from our students, but less about learning with them. If we want young learners to be creative, we need children and adults working together in co-creative learning teams. Despite the rhetoric that AI will “solve” education, solving complex problems comes down to people, pedagogy and leadership.
Watch Ollie’s keynote: https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2019/sessions/altc-keynote-ollie-bray/
One of the things I loved about Ollie’s keynote was that it rippled out beyond the bounds of the conference. Lots of delegates took the Lego duck challenge home and posted pictures of ducks made by their families. These are the ducks my family made. I’m sure they’re meaningful to them somehow :}