This guest post contains a brief reflection on the ALT community from the perspective of a non-UK participant. This year I celebrate 10 years of involvement with the Association for Learning Technology, which seems a good time to look back and reflect.
In 2010, I participated in my first annual ALT Conference in Nottingham. It was a very positive experience, and a number of things determined the outcome of that first participation:
- Firstly, everyone I met was friendly and very welcoming to first-time participants, especially the ALT trustees responsible for member services (Haydn Blackey @haydnblackey, amongst others), but also former ALT CEO Seb Schmoller @sebschmoller was very welcoming.
- Secondly, I had been involved in a number of EU projects with British universities, so I was somewhat familiar with the Learning Technology situation at those institutions.
- Thirdly, I had been active on Twitter for some years, and knew that a number of my tweeps would attend, such as Steve Wheeler @SteveWheeler. This also meant that I could immediately participate in the very active backchannel on Twitter.
- Finally, it helped tremendously that my good friend Sally Reynolds @SallyReynolds was there to introduce me – a naturally introverted person – to a number of people in her inexhaustible Rolodex.
Since that first participation, I have been a member of the conference programme committee, as well as co-editor of the Conference Proceedings and co-editor and member of the Editorial Board of Research in Learning Technology. This active role within the association has allowed me to get to know some of the active members and trustees really well, and to feel part of the community. If I had not taken such an active role, I guess the ALT community would have remained a largely foreign entity targeted at researchers and practitioners in the UK, much as my colleagues at the Open University in the Netherlands perceive it. There were a number of years in which ALT actively tried to attract European members, but somehow that did not result in a high percentage of non-UK members. At the conference, there were some years when there was a somewhat size-able Dutch or Scandinavian contingent, but the large majority of participants have always come from Britain or the English-speaking world. Quite a different experience from the few times that I visited the EDEN conference, which has a much more pan-European membership with participants for whom English was the lingua franca, and not the native language.
The advantage of having a clear focus on the UK is that most ALT members share a common frame of reference when discussing the context of higher or further education, and the problems and issues are very similar across institutions, which leads to faster and more in-depth understanding. In a pan-European setting such as EDEN or EADTU, a presenter first needs to spend 5 minutes describing the local educational context at macro, meso and micro levels, before coming to the problem definition.
The disadvantage is of course that non-UK participants don’t always share this common frame of reference, and need additional context and background to fully understand the issues discussed. Moreover, in recent years, ALT has started a number of local and regional SIGs, which has clear advantages for the people involved, in the sense that these SIGs are turning into really active Communities-of-Practice, but these local initiatives risk becoming fairly exclusive groups with their own dynamic.
But these are minor inconveniences in my perception. All-in-all, my 10-year involvement in ALT has provided me with an opportunity to meet and interact with leading researchers and practitioners in the field, but also to build long distance professional friendships with other members, within the UK and on the other side of the world, such as Thom Cochrane @ThomCochrane and his colleagues in New Zealand. I am very grateful for having been part of this community for the last decade, and I am looking forward to meeting many of you in Edinburgh. And I keep my fingers crossed hoping that Brexit will not negatively impact the links between ALT and its members outside of the UK.