Saturday, September 06, 2014

#altc 2014 University of Warwick

I've supported and/or attended the Association for Learning Technology conference since the last century when folks interested in technology and learning were really on the outer fringes of education or even  mainstream learning - at institutional level just starting to come out of cupboards where the audio-visual technicians lived or like me realising that as electronic typewriters vanished there was more we could do with computers in the classroom.

Without prejudice (I along with   Linda Creanor and Sarah Cornelius  was a conference chair )  I think the conference went really well this year. The venue , accommodation , food , wifi and technology on site all worked well . The keynotes , each in their own way pushed on the boundaries of learning and teaching while highlighting the opportunities and pitfalls that lie ahead. While the other sessions provided great insights into a broad range of current practice , highlighted useful changes in institutional and government policy or simply explored the challenges of big data , learner analytics , open badges and other new forms of delivery in the post MOOC - yet non apocalyptic world of learning.

They are worth tuning in to - I think they set the tone for learning for the next decade . Not the opening bit but skip to Jeff Haywood , Catherine Cronin and Audrey Watters keynotes

The three things that made me think most - beyond the excellent keynotes - were

1. The Big Red Balloon - offer on-line support for school pupils who have been marginalised by bullying and cannot attend mainstream schools .  Made me think about the support that is available for learners in schools in Scotland - it is a great example of how the world of on-line is transforming school education and supporting learners in new ways

2. The FE day focused on FELTAG - ( it could be  some new select perversion - ) but the feltaging debate was to a degree shaped by the non appearance of the new government minister in England . In corners around the conference there was a lot of private and public feltaging going on.

 The previous minister Matthew Hancock had laid out an ambitious vision for 10% of all further education in England being available on-line in the coming year with targets for 70% being available on-line by 2017.  The realities on ground from the sessions I attended are very different . The big institutions are making some headway but are not sharing learning materials . The private creators of content are touting their wares to fill the void and lots of policy,  not least changing regulations forcing folks to focus on more traditional methods of assessment make the ambitions hard  or expensive to achieve . What seemed lost in a lot of this debate was a sense of the learners . Too much discussion,  particularly those  by organisations with a commercial interest in these changes start off with revenue sharing models or cost cutting models or looking at other efficiencies none of which  benefit learners. It would be good to see more use of open educational resources and some sensible open on-line course activity in the English FE Sector . They could learn a lot from their colleagues in Higher Education.

3. I probably covered this in opening - but really just overall sense that in all sessions technology is now at the heart of all things learning related , not an adjunct , not a bolt-on but something that all institutions have strategic plans for and something that learners expect when they decide they wish to engage with learning.

There was a very active twitter stream and it is great to see all the other themes that caught folks attention.

My biggest disappointment was the poor turn out from Scottish FE. I think this is probably just a temporary blip given the scale of restructuring that is just coming to a conclusion in Scotland. I hope by next year and Manchester 2015 the regional colleges will not only have settled down but will already have a range of on-line offerings to offer both their region and beyond. There is a lot of great work happening in Scotland we could have used a few more voices shouting out about it.

If you missed this year's conference you can see the keynotes and much more on the conference website. An an individual or institutional membership of ALT is invaluable in providing an overview of learning technology both across the UK and internationally,  it  gives you a personal learning network who are active in solving practical problems,  pushing at the frontiers of learning , drafting policy at institutional or national level all to make learning better and more accessible to learners.Maren Deepwell  , Martin Hawksey and the ALT backroom team are a pleasure to work with too.

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