Karen Cator presents to ALT-C remotely
Karen Cator presents to ALT-C remotely

ALT-C 2011 – Thriving in a colder and more challenging climate

Over 500 delegates attended this year’s ALT conference held at the University of Leeds from 6-8 September. The theme of the conference was ‘Thriving in a colder and more challenging climate’. This year’s report draws on the thoughts of conference attendees made via Twitter or through their blogs.

Keynote presentations

In his blog, Experimental Blog, Joe Wilson from the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) shares his thoughts on the first two keynotes:

“The highlight of conference for me was hearing Miguel Brechner and about the progress of the one lap-top per child programme and educational and social impacts of Plan Ceibal – a new approach to the use of technology in education Uruguay has deployed more than 450,000 computers to every pupil in state education from the 1st year of primary to the 3rd year of secondary school. 99% of these students now have Internet connectivity in their school. All wireless and we’re talking schools some of which had no power before programme started. It is totally transformational.”  (#altc2011 review part one, Joe Wilson

Photo of Miguel Brechner
Figure 1: Miguel Brechner

For the second keynote Karen Cator was unable to attend in person, but as you would expect from a technology-focused conference she was able to present to us remotely and still provided an engaging session.

Karen Cator presented an interesting paper by video-cast to the assembly. Karen’s focus in on mending a very fragmented school system – I’d argue a broken system – but others might argue a system with a strong independent and democratic tradition with a deep suspicion of anything led at national level.  They now have a national educational technology plan and they have just set up an organisation ( a bit like BECTA) to drive and support roll out of educational technology in schools across America.  Called the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies (Digital Promise. They are starting off by looking at special software and systems to develop learning through games in first instance.” (#altc2011 part two, Joe Wilson)

Karen Cator presents to ALT-C remotely
FIgure 2: Karen Cator presents to ALT-C remotely

The final keynote was delivered by John Naughton in a more traditional ‘lecture style’ and certainly divided the audience with some preferring this more relaxed style and others less keen on being read to. Steve Wheeler, Plymouth University, reflects on the keynote in his blog posting ‘From atoms to bits’:

“The key theme in his ‘the elusive technological future’ speech, was that the future has already overtaken the music, advertising and publishing worlds, because they were completely unprepared for what was coming. He summoned up the words of author William Gibson, who famously said ‘the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed’ to drive his argument.

In a taciturn style, Naughton cited Napster and other music sharing sites as disruptive innovations that changed our world and the way we do business. He harnessed the ‘atoms and bits’ argument (first offered by Nic Negroponte in his book Being Digital) as an illustration of the rapid progress of web based delivery of content, direct from the originator to the consumer. He gave evidence that the digital future has supplanted the analogue quickly, remorselessly and unexpectedly. For Naughton, Craigslist had caused a dramatic and irreversible downturn in newspaper advertising revenue, and Wikipedia was hammering the nails into the proverbial coffin of the encyclopedia industry. Whilst this was perhaps a little sweeping and dramatic, Naughton’s message still resonated with his audience. The almost unspoken question was whether the digital future would soon overtake the world of education. Are teachers and lecturers prepared for the brave new world of the digital? Are we still wasting time and energy shipping atoms when we should be dealing in bits?” 

Photo of John Naughton
Figure 3: John Naughton

Parallel sessions

As in previous years, ALT-C provided over 100 parallel sessions on a variety of topics, including the hot topic of Open Educational Resources , a series of invited speaker sessions, sessions from the sponsors and meetings of the various ALT special interest groups.

Christine Davies, University of Glamorgan (currently Associate HE Coordinator at JISC RSC Wales), reflects on some of the parallel sessions she attended in her blog posting ‘Talking Technology at ALT-C’:

“As you might imagine, there was also a fair amount of talk about actual technologies. Firstly, an example of Second Life used in the context of a virtual laboratory: the SWIFT project at Leicester University, which has a lot of potential to help students understand the complex procedures and theory often associated with practical classes. Secondly, ‘digital posters’ as outlined by Malone et al from Aston: these are basically a meld of video (often screen-casts) and other resources that students produce to summarise projects, lectures etc. Using ‘digital posters’ as a form of assignment/assessment can be very helpful for students with poor language skills, and can help develop digital skills in both students and tutors.

Mobile phones were also mentioned several times,for example in the context of  texting to support trainee teachers at Anglia Ruskin University. But if we are to advocate the use of mobile devices, particularly for online activities, it’s important to gauge the extent of mobile phone usage amongst students. Claire Bradley at London Metropolitan University carried out a survey indicating that 87% of students sampled possessed smartphones (ie. Internet-enabled) – however, I estimated the figure for Glamorgan to be around 60% (however, survey methodology was not necessarily the same). This is a reminder that not all institutions are the same, and that learners are not always digitally skilled or equipped – something we definitely need to bear in mind when talking about technology for learning and teaching.”

Linda Creanor, Glasgow Caledonian University, introduced an interesting professional development programme for learning and teaching called the Caledonian Scholars and Associates Initiative. The scheme encourages people take a scholarly approach to a project where they act as the ‘change agent’. This is a competitive process that is peer reviewed by external reviewers and so becoming a Scholar or Associate enhances the status of the participants and participation is linked to promotion criteria. Over 90% of projects involve technology, but it wasn’t promoted specifically as a technology scheme. There have been 48 scholars and associates in 3 years with a total of 36 projects, some of which are aligned to PG Cert and Doctoral studies. They are now implementing a new follow-on role of Caledonian Fellow.

Also of interest were the outcomes of a survey by the Heads of e-Learning Forum (HeLF) on e‑submission policies and practice which reported that the majority of institutions do not have an institution-wide e-submission policy. The full results will be reported to HeLF in the first instance for comment, and then circulated to a wider audience.

For me there didn’t seem to be enough interactivity in some of the parallel sessions with the opportunity to talk to others, so I really enjoyed Adam Cooper’s workshop ‘Preparing for a Thaw – Seven Questions to Make Sense of the Future’ where participants were asked to interview their neighbour using the “Seven Questions” technique. We were asked to look forward to 2025 and consider in relation to learning technology what would be a good/bad outcome, what we need to do to prepare for the future and how we can learn from the past. Adam provides an overview of the session in his blog.

The debate surrounding the future of the VLE continued in a number of sessions and we’re still not sure whether the VLE is dead, has been reborn or is “metamorphosising from a caterpillar to a butterfly called VLE+”.

Finally this part of the conference report would not be complete without a mention of ALT-C’s trip to the Wild West (complete with costumes and banjo playing) courtesy of Helen Beetham, Amber Thomas, David White and David Kernohan in their symposium ‘Are we in Open Country?’ which pulled together a number of the discussions around open educational resources. The OER Synthesis blog provides Helen’s summary of the symposium and a photo of the presenters in their roles as the ‘gadabout’, the sheriff, the preacher and the settler.

Social and awards

As in previous years, the Gala Dinner was catered by students from a local college and this time it was students from Leeds City College who provided an excellent meal including a buffet style main course.

Diners enjoying the meal at the Gala Dinner
Figure 4: Diners enjoying the meal at the Gala Dinner

The awards for ALT Learning Technologist of the Year, Epigeum and JORUM were presented after the meal; congratulations go to all winners. Full details about the winners are available on the ALT website.


Joint Winners Individual Learning Technologist of the Year - Oliver Quinlan (Robin Hood Primary School) and John Rutherford (Marlborough School Science College)
Figure 5: Joint Winners Individual Learning Technologist of the Year, Left: Oliver Quinlan (Robin Hood Primary School), Right: John Rutherford (Marlborough School Science College)
Winners of Learning Technologist of the Year Team award - InFolio Implementation Team
Figure 6: Winners of Learning Technologist of the Year Team award – InFolio Implementation Team

A special mention goes to Malcolm Read who was presented with honorary life membership of ALT at the Annual General Meeting (AGM). The AGM also saw Claire Donlan from Middlesbrough College elected as Vice-Chair of ALT.

New to ALT-C

This year’s conference saw the introduction of two new items that proved to be a success and are expected to be continued for ALT-C 2012.

ALT Live Beta

ALT Live Beta, run by James Clay (Gloucestershire College) and Darren Moon (LSE), aimed to provide a ‘back-stage’ view of ALT-C “in order to capture, create and engage in that “silent” online time” (ALT Live Beta, James Clay). ALT Live broadcast on all three days of the conference from 9am-6pm, received over 6,000 views and interviewed between 30-40 people who provided an insight into the thoughts of delegates and speakers at the conference. Interviewees included high profile delegates such as Diana Laurillard, Gilly Salmon, Steve Wheeler, Anne-Marie Cunningham, Tom Cochrane, ALT Chief Executive Seb Schmoller, ALT-C 2011 Co-chairs Sugata Mitra and John Cook, and two of the three co-chairs for ALT-C 2012, Julie Voce and Sarah Sherman. The recordings will be edited and added to the ALT YouTube channel in due course.

ALT Live Studio
Figure 7: ALT Live Studio

Steve Wheeler, Plymouth University, was one of many delegates who appreciated the added value of ALT Live with a comment in his blog posting, ‘Turning up the volume’:

ALT-C Live Beta was an experiment that I feel worked extremely well and one that I hope can be a feature at future events. The content from the interviews in particular is rich and varied, and worth a revisit, and I am sure it has already been instrumental in amplifying the conference.”

e-Posters and Pecha Kucha (by Matt Lingard)

Short pecha kucha style presentations were introduced this year to accompany the e-posters which debuted at ALT-C 2010. Pecha Kucha presentations follow a strict format: 20 slides progressing automatically at 20-second intervals. The format originated in Tokyo and roughly translates to chit chat. ALT-C 2011 used a variation on this standard format with 9 slides automatically timed at 45-seconds each. The short presentations were well attended and received positive feedback from conference delegates. ALT are looking at expanding this format for 2012.

The presentations were complemented by more traditional, albeit electronic, posters which can be viewed as a Flickr slideshow. The presentation and poster files for all short presentations and e-posters are available on Crowdvine.

Prizes were awarded at the Conference Gala Dinner for the best e-poster and the top 5 short presentations.  The winning e-poster was decided in an online vote open to delegates and non-delegates and was won by:

The prizes for best short presentations were awarded by the short session chairs based on the votes of those attending the sessions.  Each attending delegate was given 3-votes with each session containing 4 or 5 presentations.  The winning short presentations were:

Virtual attendance

Once again the keynotes and the invited speaker sessions were streamed for people unable to attend in person and recordings of these sessions are available on the ALT YouTube channel. Twitter was another key way for people to engage in the conference and this year there were over 7500 tweets from 874 people (ALT-C 2011 Twitter statistics courtesy of Martin Hawksey’s Twitteralytics).


Finally, the success of ALT-C is evident from feedback from the delegates:

“As last year, ALT-C was a brilliant battery loader for the rest of my year. Great opportunities to meet new people, reconnect to old acquaintances, re-instate my blogging intentions, and re-activate my use of Twitter and Delicious. Great new experiment by @jamesclay and colleague with ALT-C Live.”
Steven Verjans, Open Universiteit, The Netherlands

And from the Twitter stream:

@fieryred1: “#altc2011 great conference thks to all involved & the terrific/inspiring people I’ve met & heard generous in sharing their thoughts & ideas”

@alexoneill: “Back to reality today. Great fun at #altc2011 though – looking forward to #altc2012 already!!”

@TomFranklin #altc2011 A big thank you to all the organisers for a great conference that worked perfectly.  THANK YOU

Looking towards ALT-C 2012

Next year, ALT-C stays in the North of England with a journey across the Pennines to Manchester. The theme for ALT-C 2012 is ‘A confrontation with reality’ and will be chaired by Jonathan Drori, Sarah Sherman and Julie Voce. Martin Bean and Eric Mazur have been announced as keynotes for the conference. Further information is available from the ALTC 2012 website where a call for submissions will be made in November 2011.

We look forward to seeing you in Manchester!

Julie Voce, Co-Chair of ALT-C 2012
E-learning Services Manager
Imperial College London

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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