Attending ALT-C 2016 on a librarianly day!

Colleagues from Warwick’s Library team, Tracy Dix and Kate Courage, attended the ALT conference for the first time this year. Here are their reflections.

“The day started with Jane Secker’s keynote on copyright and elearning, a topic she’s been presenting at conferences on since 2011. By asking what terrorism has got to do with learning technology and copyright, Jane drew a comparison between the fear and apprehension that terrorism incites to people’s attitudes to copyright law as something oppressive. In contrast, learning technology enables knowledge to become more accessible, so that people can participate in learning from anywhere, build upon it and collaborate to find solutions to global problems such as poverty and discrimination.

So, Jane’s stand is that copyright laws shouldn’t be limiting, and she’s out to change people’s perspectives of it. However, it is important. She cites the cases of Aaron Schwartz, the internet freedom fighter who downloaded large numbers of articles from JSTOR and Alexandra Elbakyan, the founder of Sci Hub – both believers that knowledge should be free – to illustrate its far-reaching consequences.

Speaking from experience, she refers to organisations managing copyright the ‘old way’ by recruiting a copyright or compliance officer and argues that this merely makes one individual in charge of copyright and encourages indifference amongst others, rather than fostering curiosity and empowerment through developing an understanding of the subject (which is surely the purpose of education). So the Creative Commons is the solution to all this, and Jane’s presentation very interestingly covered how this idea evolved from the Cultural Commons, to enable technology users to share content. After all, it’s when content owners refuse to share their materials, that technology users come unstuck – but sharing files is not like sharing cake, all parties can have copies of a file in its entirety – so there’s a tension between how easy it is to copy digitally and why this is prohibited by law, which is not to say that what is legal is right, either.

Jane advocates that children should be taught information literacy from an early age, as we all need to become expert at copying in ways that embrace the following ethos:

  • attribution and credit
  • value and empathy
  • collaboration and communities of practice

This means adding open licences to content wherever possible, and to keep speaking out against injustice. She asserts that shifting the focus from plagiarism (and its avoidance) to building on other people’s research will make copyright education more positive and promotes the usefulness of games for learning about complex subjects such as this.

Kate and I then joined Teresa MacKinnon in her presentation, Working together to face an uncertain future on a WIHEA student engagement programme that ran last summer. The project was based on heutagogic principles, and involved a small group of students and staff working together to see how digital technology could be effectively applied to language learning. Students’ reflections on some of their investigations were fascinating, and I’ve seen really good student engagement with applying some of Teresa’s activities in a separate course on digital literacy.


The timing of our session means I snuck in late to the Games & Learning Special Interest Group (GLSIG) meeting to find that it had become the Playful Learning Special Interest Group (PLSIG) meeting. I joined a group to brainstorm ALT games, formed The Jammy Dodgers to play ALT Actionbound and clambered for the best version of Table Trivia afterwards when we shared our spoils from winning the most creative entry. Hooray!


Other highlights of the day include Sonia Grussendorf’s Innovating from the outside in: a creative hub to change eLearning practice. Sonja gave an interesting account of a project to set up a creative hub, to work with academics to redesign course areas on Moodle, to make them more visually appealing. She noted that students will engage much more fully with content when clutter is removed and the text is clearer. She observed that students lack visual literacy and need support developing critical engagement with images, in the same way as they do with texts. Sonja also focussed on the philosophy of aesthetics, concluding that we have a duty of care to our students to make their learning spaces clear, uncluttered and visually appealing.

Marni Wedin’s Tips and tricks for peer marking discussed an innovative move to introduce peer marking to a module, to empower learners to be partners in assessment and foster their leadership skills. Marni nicely illustrated the benefits of reviewing and revisiting this new approach to assessment to get a model that really worked. Interestingly, she found that using a formative assignment, with a simplified marking scheme created much less engagement than a later iteration which used a summative assignment and used a marking rubric which was closer to that used by academics.

Several interesting thoughts about student feedback and group dynamics were triggered by Adam Warren’s Formative peer feedback and the development of team skills, particularly when he recounted how students reported a peer’s lack of engagement and effort in the group project using TEAMMATES. Although the feedback was anonymous, it was clear to facilitators that the students concerned had discussed their entries in advance and so only provided one point of view into the working dynamics of the group. Was the allegedly disengaged student really indifferent, or might he or she have been cowed by the dominance of the others?

The final keynote was a teaching and learning, tree-hugging double-act by David White and Donna Lanclos with Being Human is Your Problem. I guess the tree-hugging emerges through their arguments that the use of digital technologies is a work in progress – an organic process of humanness that is messy, imperfect, accessible, not knowing all the things, as Donna eloquently puts it, and problematic. They talked about Technology Replicated Admin instead of Technology Enhanced Learning, and the need to avoid using tech to replicate what institutions already do. Students might want technology to be intuitive, but does this necessarily support learning? Both are, they assert, in a process of becoming. Ed tech is not about being professional, like Google stereotypes of white male professors teaching with blackboards and chalk, or solving teaching and learning. Neither is higher education about young girls with notebooks and pens. David proffers that technology should make lives harder, but more interesting and more distinctive. People are part of the institution, and no matter what their roles are, they need to foster a culture of openness so that students can get involved in and find their way round the messy process of learning and being human too.”

Tracy Dix, University of Warwick,

Kate Courage, University of Warwick,

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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