Reflections on ALT-C 2018: Learning Technology through the lens of Critical Pedagogy

Post by Dr. Maria Toro-Troconis, Cambridge Education Group Digital

The ALT-C 2018 conference took place in September this year in Manchester, celebrating its 25th year anniversary.  The fact that ALT-C was 25 years old this year and it was hosted in Manchester, made me reflect on my own personal history.

Puerto Cabello in Venezuela
Puerto Cabello in Venezuela. Photo by Jesus Enrique Morao Blanco, CC BY-SA 3.0

I left my home country of Venezuela 24 years ago after completing my Bachelor degree in Computer Science, and I landed in Manchester to learn English. At the time, I was able to build computers and program in different computer languages but I wasn’t able to have a conversation and a dialogue in English.  I wasn’t able to reflect critically about the use of technology in the context of education in English nor Spanish (my mother tongue).

A few years have passed now and after 19 years in the Learning Technology sector, I feel privileged to have communities of enquiry such as ALT which foster dialogue and reflection in educational technology.

One of the main objectives of the conference this year was focused on advancing our practice as learning technologists in encouraging critical dialogue and reflection. I was particularly drawn by the presentations of Dr. Frances Bell and Dr. Catherine Cronin, with their critical retrospective of learning and technology: A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology, 1994-2018.  They looked at the history of ALT-C through the lens of feminist identities.

Inequalities and the social and political context of the use of learning technologies were also discussed by Dr Tressie McMillan Cottom and Amber Thomas in their keynotes.

Melissa Highton provided a great insight on ethical positions with regard to strike action, policy and practice in educational institutions, having a direct effect on learning technologists.

All these stimulating talks, contextualising the complexities of the role of learning technologists within social and political systems, motivated me to look back at the work of Paulo Freire; Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970).  The work of Freire has its roots in his own personal experience of hunger as a child of a middle-class family in Brazil. Freire, after losing financial stability and experiencing isolation within his new experience in the lower class, developed solidarity with children from poor communities. This led Freire to reject the inequalities of a class-based society.

Freire’s main work focused on the development of a methodology to teach illiterate children in Brazil not only to read and write but also to come to terms with themselves being critical of the social situation in which they find themselves.  Freire’s work emphasised the importance of:

moving students towards a critical perception of the world which implies a correct method of approaching reality (Freire, 1970. p.19)

The struggle described by Freire of becoming free subjects and being active members of the society, resembles the current situation of learning technologists as the unnamed class within the higher education class-based system, in which learning technologists are not classified as academics or researchers – although a large number of them do teach and engage in research and evaluation.

Maren Deepwell described in her keynote the challenges when classifying the role of learning technologists and how the growing body of CMALT portfolios can help us have a better insight on what learning technologists do.  Maren said:

Our practice is political, it’s personal and active participation in any of these initiatives makes a difference. It helps us articulate a narrative that isn’t dominated by advocacy alone and expands our personal learning networks beyond those we already know and feel comfortable with, help burst the filter bubbles that surround us.

Image used by Maren Deepwell
Image used by Maren Deepwell

We need to break the ‘culture of silence’, bringing critical awareness to our practice. We need to challenge our educational institutions, dealing critically and creatively with reality, and allowing us to participate in the transformation of the role of learning technologists within higher education institutions.


Freire, P. (1970)  Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th anniversary ed.). New York: Bloomsbury. ISBN 9780826412768.


Maria Toro-Troconis is Head of Academic Research and Quality at Cambridge Education Group Digital. Maria provides academic leadership to CEG Digital, embracing the range of partners and disciplines, by providing a coherent vision for research and scholarly activities. Maria contributes to the delivery of CEG Digital’s strategy, promoting pedagogic excellence in the delivery of existing and new programmes. Maria has almost 20 years’ experience working with Higher Education institutions across the UK. @mtorotro 

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