White Rose Learning Technologists’ Forum

By Graham McElearney

Some time ago, in conversation with Matt Lingard (LSE), I got to hear about the M25 Learning Technology group: an informal network of learning technologists and academic developers in the London area. It immediately and instinctively struck me that it would be a fantastic idea to set one up for my own area: Yorkshire and Humberside. After some very positive discussion with Seb and Maren at the last ALT conference, we decided to take the idea further. An email to the ALT members list to canvass opinion and support for the idea very quickly resulted in over 40 responses from across the region – so it seemed like many others thought this would be a good idea too. After deciding we definitely wanted to go ahead, Bill Jones from the Sheffield City College very kindly volunteered to allow us to host the first meeting in their marvellous new building, to take place on April 6th 2011.

Over 25 members were able to attend our first meeting, and it was very refreshing to see delegates from across the whole of the Association’s constituents: old and new universities, further education colleges and corporate members alike. Being the first meeting, it was very important to set the agenda for what we wanted the group to achieve for its members, what sort of issues we wanted to address, and how we thought we could do this. After a warm welcome from Bill Jones, we had a short presentation which suggested some of the topics we could look at. Many of these are familiar to all of us, and included:

• Changes within our institutions.
• Changes in e-learning pedagogies and technologies.
• The dangers of being stuck in our silos, and losing sight of the bigger. picture across our institutions and across the sectors.
• Defining a vision and strategy for e-learning at our respective institutions.
• Demonstrating the importance and value of learning technologies in the current economic climate.

Following this, we had some very lively small group discussions, which surfaced a number of other issues, including but not confined to:

• The importance of good academic leadership and the reliance on others to take the pedagogical lead in initiatives.
• The problems of innovative technologies not integrating well with more established ones.
• Introducing technologies that disrupt traditional pedagogies.
• Ethical and legal issues e.g. the constraints of copyright.
• The problems of short-term project funding.

Having had the chance to report back on these, it was then a case of deciding how our group can support itself and the needs of our members. Face-to-face meetings were going to be essential, so it is now largely a question of deciding what sorts of meetings we want, and how we can make best use the available technologies between these. Fortunately as a body, we have no shortage of ideas for both, which were outlined in more group discussions, including the potential use of Ning, Elluminate, and in the first instance, a Jiscmail list that has now been set up. Discussions are now ongoing with Maren Deepwell as to how we can take things forward.

Not being the world’s best note taker, I decided to try using Echo360’s Personal Capture software to record the outcome of our discussions. These are available from the following:

Challenges we face: http://bit.ly/l864ab

Ways to proceed: http://bit.ly/lz3Gy9

The meeting ended with a fascinating tour round the College’s new building, including their world class catering kitchens, and their very own passenger jet simulator!

Our next meeting will be on June 29th at Leeds Metropolitan University. If anyone would like to know more about the group, please contact g.mcelearney@sheffield.ac.uk, or come and join the Jiscmail list, wrlt@jismail.ac.uk.

Graham McElearney
University of Sheffield

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

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