ALT C 17, Building #CMALT Community – Empowerment in Learning Technology

A photo of my ALT C delegate badgeLast month I was privileged to attend the 24th Annual Conference of the Association for Learning Technology (#ALTC) from the 5 – 7 September 2017 at the University of Liverpool. The conference title was “Beyond islands of innovation – how Learning Technology became the new norm(al)” and I was particularly keen to go when I realised there was a theme on:

“Empowerment in Learning Technology: supporting students through staff/student partnerships, students as influencers, developing skills and supporting staff at all levels.”

As I’m currently running a scheme at the University of Edinburgh to support staff through their Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology (CMALT) I was particularly excited about this theme and was keen to connect with others involved in professional development for staff involved with learning technology.

I’m a slow burner when it comes to reflection, it takes me a while to assimilate an experience and make connections with my existing practice – (I’ve not yet mastered pithy live tweeting) – instead producing an essay a month after the event! But in my defense, ALT C does takes some time to process, it is a very large conference, with 450 participants and multiple streams of activity and it takes place over three packed days. Last year I attended the conference virtually, and blogged about this afterwards. This year I feel lucky that I can compare this to the experience of attending in person.

Planning – a peak behind the scenes

In hindsight my ALT C 17 had actually begun back in Nov 16, as I volunteered to be part of the conference committee. I’d highly recommend volunteering for this role, it didn’t take up too much time and I really enjoyed watching the conference come together through the online planning meetings, promoting the conference, reviewing submissions and chairing a session at the conference. It’s a great way to meet people, and knowing a few more people (even virtually) before you arrive, does make 450 sound a little less daunting! Maren Deepwell wrote a great post recently about putting together the conference, which is the largest event that ALT run each year, and about how she and her team works with the ALT community to make it happen.

Collaborating

In March 2017, I submitted a proposal, with my co-presenter Sarah Sherman, for a talk entitled The CMALT “Zumba Class”: managing a cohort scheme for CMALT applicants to build institutional capacity for learning technology. Sarah had advised me when I was planning the University of Edinburgh CMALT scheme that I run, which is now in its second year. She kindly answered all my questions about how her scheme was set up and shared her planning documents with me. I asked if she had already presented about the scheme anywhere and when Sarah said she hadn’t, we decided to present together when a suitable opportunity came up. When we saw the themes for ALT 17, we both emailed each other saying this looked like the right place. We made good use of google tools to collaborate – meeting in hangouts using docs to write the proposal together (and were very pleased when this was accepted) and later putting a presentation together in Slides.

Presenting the CMALT “Zumba Class”

I was really excited to be presenting at ALT C for the first time, not least because my institution looks much more favourably on applications to attend conferences that you are presenting at, and I was really pleased that I was approved to attend. It altered my experience attending the conference as a presenter, I found it much less abstract watching other people present when you know you’ll be up there doing the same thing at some point during the conference! Regardless of my nerves, I really enjoyed giving the presentation and I think despite having not met until the day before, that Sarah & I did a great double act. It was valuable to devote time to really thinking about a piece of work that I was very close to, drawing out the key things I had learned and working with Sarah to distil them into an engaging 20 minute presentation. Sarah was also very organised and wrote this great blog about our presentation before we gave it. The audience was great, most of them were already involved in supporting CMALT or planning similar schemes and they asked excellent questions. Sarah and I started lots of interesting conversations which I am still following up. How often do you get the chance to tell a room full of people about a piece of work you are really excited about and that they are also really excited about too?

Sarah Sherman presenting at ALT C 2017Susan Greig presenting at ALT C

Beyond islands – meeting my people

Attending the conference in person was really valuable, I finally got to meet people whose work I had read and several people I’d worked with on the CMALT project, but never met in person, such as the wonderfully efficient Thomas Palmer of ALT who I have so many correspondences with over email. After so much online communication, it was a pleasure to finally meet my co-presenter Sarah Sherman and Julie Voce who runs a CMALT scheme at City University of London and who also advised me when I was getting started.

A surprising extra insight for me was the experience of staying in student halls, these were clean with good facilities and not unlike a hotel, though I found navigating round the various parts of the building (and the University Campus) somewhat disorienting. The conference took place the week before the start of semester so I found myself wondering what the next year would be like for the students soon to be resident in these rooms, many from the other side of the world as Liverpool like the University of Edinburgh has a high number of International students. As a member of professional services staff, I am somewhat removed from our students, and anything that gives me a little more insight into ‘the student experience’ can only be a good thing!

When attending a large conference, you need to be selective and decide in advance what areas of interest you are planning on following up. This was where being part of the conference committee was a good influence, because it encouraged me to read the programme in advance, so I could decide which session to volunteer to chair, and as the same time I also planned out my own days of activity. I had meant to be gentle with myself and plan in some down time, but found myself running from session to session as there were so many interesting and relevant sessions, and the three days suddenly felt too short. Across the conference I attended 18 sessions and one Special Interest Group (SIG) – ALT Scotland, co-presented one paper, chaired a session and attended the awards ceremony (always inspiring) and very enjoyable conference meal. I arrived back at work with a copious collection of notes, bundle of leaflets and fist full of business cards. A head buzzing with ideas for our CMALT cohort and a fresh burst of energy for my work.

Not going to #ALTC 2016

I was very excited about attending ALT C this year, I’d registered, booked accommodation and travel, but a last minute family emergency meant I was unable to go. I was disappointed but knew that some of the sessions would be live streamed – so as I’d already blocked out my diary I went online to see what was available from my desk. Fortunately, I found that ALTC caters well for those #virtuallyattending – the keynote sessions are live streamed, as are all sessions from the Main Theatre, the programme is available online and Twitter allows some insight into the rest of the conference activity.

The Live Streamed Keynotes

As I sat in my office waiting for the first keynote and wondering how my experience will compare to watching it live in the auditorium?

As soon as I started to see from the pictures popping up on Twitter I realised that I was getting a front row seat!

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The view from the back of the lecture theatre at ALTC during Josie Fraser’s Keynote Association for Learning Technology – Picture by Chris Bull CC BY-NC 2.0

I really enjoyed watching the five keynote from ALTC 16, all of which touch on many areas of interest and current concern for learning technologists (All of these sessions are now available on YouTube):

Keynote: Josie Fraser – In the Valley of the Trolls

sharedspaceahead

  • The importance of recognising what Trolling is and what it is not?
  • Commitment to open education is an ethical gesture.
  • Being yourself online may be a privilege.

Keynote: Ian Livingstone – Code Create Collaborate

  • Importance of nurturing creativity.
  • Computer Science is the new Latin
  • Gaming is a force for good.

Keynote: Lia Commissar – Education and Neuroscience: Issues and Opportunities

  • What has neuroscience got to do with education?
  • Are there insights from neuroscience for education?
  • Debunking myths, questioning and growing an evidence base.

Keynote: Jane Secker – Copyright and e-learning: understanding our privileges and freedoms

  • Copyright is not scary!
  • The world needs young people who can problem solve and invent things.

Keynote: Donna Lanclos and David White – Being Human is Your Problem

  • You can’t ‘solve’ teaching and learning.
  • Openness, privilege and risk.
  • You are the institution.

It turned out that not just the keynotes, but all sessions from the Main Theatre were live streamed throughout the conference.

Virtually Connecting

There were also three sessions organised by an organisation called “Virtually Connecting” who arranged three Google Hangouts to connect virtual participants with those at the conference. I watched the live stream of the first session they offered, and then joined one on the second day with Fiona Harvey, Lorna Campbell and Teresa MacKinnon. After the session I asked a bit more about how ‘virtually connecting’ worked – I’d originally assumed these were organised by ALT, but it turns out that that ‘virtually connecting’ are a team of volunteers who participate at a variety of academic conferences to broaden access to virtual participants.  I’m going to keep an eye on their Twitter account to see where else they turn up.

Twitter

Attending a conference is more than just the sessions you watch, there is a social element and the networking opportunities. I was able to connected with people on Twitter by following the #ALTC hashtag, this gave me an insight into the perspectives of others, and allowed me to connect with new people.

Final thoughts

It was great that so much of the conference is openly available, I just hadn’t been aware of this – and wondered how many other people are aware of it?  Next year I’ll make an effort to promote these opportunities more widely, through groups I’m involved in at the University of Edinburgh such as elearning@ed and through my support of the CMALT applicants group.

Even if you know you are not attending, it’s well worth blocking out some time during the conference to attend virtually – I’d never have been able to participate without this time.

I found that I particularly enjoyed the sessions that I watched with my colleague, as we could hear each other’s reactions to the talks and discuss them. Next year it might be fun to get together as a group and watch some of the keynote sessions together?

Next year’s conference, ALTC 2017 Beyond islands of innovation – how Learning Technology became the new norm(al) will take place from the 5th to 7th September 2017  at the University of Liverpool.

Whether I’m able to attend physically or virtually – I’m already looking forward to it.

ALT Scotland: Sharing Stories: enablers and drivers for Learning Technology in Scottish Education 7th June 2016 #ALTC

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking at ALT Scotland SIG about our plans at U of E to support a group of staff through Certified Membership of the Association of Learning Technologists (CMALT). This was hosted by Dundee and Angus College – which has recently opened the ‘Learning Lab’ – more about this later. The programme and videos of the event are now online.

It was a friendly meeting, small enough for some group-wide discussion and including opportunities to meet and talk to other participants. The programme offered an interesting range of presentations and it was great to hear about the projects going on in other institutions in Scotland. Here are a few of my highlights.

Scott Connor and Keith Smyth talking about becoming an etextbook publisher

I was interested to hear Scott Connor and Keith Smyth from University of the Highlands and Islands talking about the eTIPS project – sharing their experiences of becoming an etextbook publisher. The first publication is How to write a Research Dissertation by Keith Smyth and Frank Rennie (a Kindle book priced at a very reasonable £1.99). They are now working on a second Book titled “Undertaking your Research” – these are practical books aimed at getting students started, they chose to look for subjects with a broad reach rather than being discipline specific. Both books will also have companion websites.

They chose to distribute the book with Kindle which is free to use as a publisher but there were problems with integrating with Library System and this locked them in to Amazon as the only delivery route.

Scott and Keith are enthusiastic about the possibilities of this publishing route. They suggested it as a way of disseminating student research outputs as it’s quicker than traditional publishing routes. They also mentioned the implications for the academic as author – institutions less dependent on traditional forms of publishing. They saw possibilities of students as digital scholars – publishing the ‘best’ student work, they noted that the ‘best’ may not simply relate to high marks, but instead mean most relevant work in terms of impact beyond the University.

Gavin Boyd – App-Smashing – and mobile learning

Gavin Boyd from Edinburgh College showcased his inspiring use of mobile blended learning. He began by producing short teaching videos but found these were not being watched on Moodle. So he started using QR codes within learning materials so students could link from their smart phone at key moments in learning.

For example: Percentage increase (Singapore bar) Q & A By Gavin Boyd

These he created by “App-Smashing” – using multiple Apps to create one video. The tools used were:

  • Tellagami – to animate a video Avatar
  • Explain Everything – whiteboard on iPad – save to camera roll
  • YouTube – Splice two streams together

These have received a very good response and Gavin recently received a student nominated teaching award.

Visiting the Learning Lab

For our mid-afternoon break we were invited by Joy Howat to visit the Learning Lab in Dundee and Angus College.

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Touch me….I’m interactive. The Learning Lab at Dundee and Angus College photo by Susan Greig CC BY

This space opened last November and is stocked with new technology so staff can explore the possibilities of the up and coming technologies. The staff are not developers – so the focus is on looking at what is already available. The room is a flexible space, it contains all movable furniture so easy to reconfigure. The technology provided includes:

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The Learning Lab at Dundee and Angus College photo by Susan Greig CC BY
  • Virtual Reality headsets –  to explore existing apps such as Learn to cook or Public Speaking Simulator
  • 3D capture – which links to iPad for hand held scanning
  • 3D printing – from the 3D capture or from sources such as thingyverse
  • Drones – sports interested in Arial views also building surveying students – easy to access roofs
  • Pro-Bots – basic programming, Problem solving, Team building, Numeracy
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3D printed objects at the Learning Lab at Dundee and Angus College photo by Susan Greig CC BY

So far they have delivered 60 hours of introductory sessions. The Learning Lab can be booked to use as a learning space by staff and students. On the strength of trying the technology, some departments have gone on to purchase the technology they tried.

Learning Lab - 3D printing in progress photo by Susan Greig CC BY
Learning Lab – 3D printing in progress photo by Susan Greig CC BY

I was really lucky to get the opportunity to be 3D scanned during the session and to leave 15 minutes later with a perfect (tiny) 3D model of my head. I also tried the VR headsets, enjoying a vertiginous ride on a tiny roller coaster. I then tried my hand at programming the robot cars, and was pleased to see I had not forgotten basic geometry.

There was a real buzz after the hands on session and it gave everyone a boost of energy before we moved on to the final presentations of the afternoon.

The ALT Scotland SIG was an inspiring day out in Dundee, it was great to connect with colleagues from across Scotland, to explore technology and see how other Institutions are using and supporting it.