Navigating the marvellous and the monsters: personal reflections of ~#altc 2014

Editor’s note: this article is one of a series of personal reviews of the 2014 ALT Annual Conference which provide different perspectives on the conference.

Early last month I attended the 2014 ALT Annual Conference. Last year’s conference was a bit of a personal highlight for me, but this year the team at ALT and all the co-chairs pulled off another great event,including two of the best keynotes I have been to in a long time from Catherine Cronin and Audrey Watters.

Both Audrey and Catherine highlighted the need for engagement to ensure the authentic voices, stories and experiences (from all of the education sector, not just ed tech) voices are heard and ensure that new noisy narratives (particularly from certain commercial sectors) don’t become the defacto history and more worryingly, future of education.

Jeff Haywood
Visual notes from Jeff Haywood keynote – Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. CC_BY sheilmcn.

Audrey wove together an inspiring narrative (including references to Ada Lovelace, Roald Dahl, Luddites, Mary Shelly, Byron, F B Skinner to name but a few) about the creation of monsters, lost histories and control. She reminded us that we can control the development of technological monsters through our combined efforts to inspire love technology and education. Catherine reminded us of the inherent ethical and political nature of education and how openness, online spaces and new forms of identity can empower us to make our voices heard. However, within this marvellous new open world there are power struggles too.

Catherine Cronin
Visual notes from Catherine Cronin keynote – Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. CC_BY sheilmcn.

We may laugh at the idea of teaching machines, but in our drive for ever increasing personalised, mobile access to education, content vendors and governments are often (knowingly and/or unwittingly) all too willing to ignore the narrative from educators and buy into a behaviourist, watch video -> click through -> mcq-> (pay for) certificate = learning solution.

Helen Beetham made a very good point after Audrey’s talk that in the UK we do have a different narrative – particularly around the student engagement agenda within HE which is different from our North American cousins. But we are not immune, as the FELTAG discussions (particularly around % of online content) and stories illustrated.

Audrey Watters
Visual Notes from Audrey Watters keynote – Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. CC_BY sheilmcn.

There were many, many great stories shared over the three days of the conference. John Traxler reminded us of the danger of assuming our developed, western global ideologies, learning theories and learning designs don’t automagically meet the needs of many emerging cultures (in particular Africa). David Kernohan provided an entertaining yet mindful tale of how the heady days of open and social collaboration may well be at an end, as big business, governments and employers (included HEIs) start to close down, commercialie and control access and impose censorship.

Conferences like ALT are a great way for our community to strengthen and share our own “folklore” and build our collective narrative around the positive impact of technology within learning and teaching. We need to keep sharing our stories openly, and ensure our narrative, folklore, collective knowledge and wisdom is developed and shared as widely as possible. Roll on #altc 2015.

Republished with permission from

Sheila MacNeill
Glasgow Caledonian University

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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