ALT-C 2007 – moving from 'e' to 'p'?

Another year, another ALT-C . . . as usual this year’s conference was a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues, see and hear some new things, and some not quite so new things. There has been a lot of coverage of this year’s conference and ALT-C themselves have produced a RSS feed aggregating blogs of people who have commented on the conference – nice to see an another useful example of mash up technology.

One of the overriding messages I took away from the conference was the move from talking about ‘e’ learning initiatives to more discussions about the issues surrounding the process of learning – presence, persistence and play to name a few.

It was great to see so many projects from JISC’s Design for Learning programme presenting. I couldn’t get to see all the presentations but I did go to a couple of the more evaluation led projects (DeSila and eLidaCamel). Both projects are focusing on the practitioner experience of designing for learning and both highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the current tools and the need for more support mechanisms to allow ‘ordinary’ teachers to use them. However both projects (and other findings from the programme) illustrate how engaging in dialogue around designing for learning can have an impact on practitioners as it really does make them reflect on their practice.

The first keynote, Dr Michelle Selinger (CISCO), reminded us all of the chasms that exist within education systems, between education and industry and of course the wider social, cultural and economic chasms which exist in the world today. Technology can provide mechanisms to start to bridge these gaps but it can’t do everything. We need to consider seriously how we take the relevant incremental steps towards achieving shared goals. Our education system(s) is key to providing opportunities for learners to gain the relevant global citizenship skills which industry is now looking for. If we really want lifelong learners then we need to ensure that the relevant systems (such as eportfolios) are interoperating. Michelle also highlighted the need to move from the 3 ‘r’s to the 3 ‘p’s which she described as – persistence, power tools and play. The challenge to all involved in education is how to allow this shift to occur. The final chasm Michelle broached was assessment and the increasing chasm between what types of learners we ideally want (technology literate, lifelong learners, team workers) and the assessment systems that our political leaders impose onto us which really don’t promote any of these aspirations.

This led nicely onto the second key note from Professor Dylan Wiliam from the Institute of Education who gave a really engaging talk around issues of ‘pedagogies of engagement and of contingency classroom aggregation technologies’. Dylan gave an insightful overview of the challenges creating effective schools and creating quality control of learning – a huge challenge when we consider how chaotic a classroom really is. He then went on to describe some innovative ways where technology enhanced formative assessment techniques could help teachers to engage learners and creative effective learning environments – well worth a listen if you have the time.

The final key note came from Peter Norvig, Director of Research, Google. I have to say I was slightly disappointed that Peter didn’t give us some inside information on Google developments however he did give an entertaining talk around ‘learning in an an open world’. Taking us through a well illustrated history of education systems he highlighted the need for projects based on engaging real world scenarios which are explored through group tasks. Copies of all the keynotes (including audio) are available from the conference website.

This year also marked the first ALT-C Learning Object Competition (sponsored by Intrallect). The prize winners were announced at the conference dinner and full details are available on the Intrallect website.

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