ALT 2017-2020 Strategy Launch

Greater than the sum of our parts

Never mind the UK Government’s UK government digital strategy,  the most important strategy launch this week is the ALT  2017 – 2020 Strategy.

As Vice Chair of ALT I have been quite heavily involved in the development of the strategy. We have made a concerted effort to get input from our members through an extensive consultation process on their priorities . This has to form the basis of the work of the association.  Our Chair, Professor Martin Weller summarised this approach perfectly:

“As Chair, I’ve found the manner in which the strategy has been developed as significant as the strategy itself. ALT champions open practice, and the development of the strategy was an opportunity to ‘walk the talk’. The webinars, face to face session, and online form were all examples of how we seek to gather input from all members. The strategy itself provides a clear direction for the Association and positions it as a key voice in educational technology both nationally and internationally.”

The strategy itself is based around three key aims:

  • Aim 1: Increase the impact of Learning Technology for public benefit
  • Aim 2: Provide stronger recognition of and representation for Learning Technology professionals on a national level
  • Aim 3: Lead the professionalisation of research and practice in Learning Technology

and highlights our values around our members, participation, our independence and our commitment to openness.

What we value

This year we also worked with Mr Visual Thinkery, Bryan Mathers, who joined one of our Trustee meetings and produced a fabulous set of images which we have been able to incorporate into the strategy. The images, like the strategy document, are available to re-use through a CC licence. All are available here.

You can read more of my thoughts on the strategy and its developments on the official strategy launch blog post.  I am looking forward to continuing to work with and for the ALT membership in implementing the new strategy.

Reasons to be cheerful – #altc , and the rest

Let’s face it 2016 hasn’t had too much to be jolly about, but this week  during the #altc winter online conference I was reminded of the some of the good things in my  professional life so I thought I’d take five minutes and not rant.

During the open session on ALTs future strategy there was a quite a bit of discussion about the support ALT has, and continues to, offer around professional development. As I participated  (well, waffled might be more accurate) in the discussion, I was reflecting on my own career development and thinking about how I got started in the “crazy” world of learning technology. It was unplanned, unexpected but totally the right thing for me.

Like many of my contemporaries, I just sort of fell into a newly developing field. When I got a job as Learning Technologist, nobody (including me and my employer) really knew what a learning technologist was. However, I did have a very supportive boss who encouraged me to make the role my own. I will be forever thankful to Jackie Graham for giving me that opportunity.

Lots of my contemporaries have similar stories, or were working in disciplines where they saw the potential for technology to make a real difference to learning. Making that difference to learning was the key to all of us, where ever we came from.

We were all a bit different, experimental – long before edupunks were even thought of. I think most importantly we were willing  to fail  (partly because back in the day “stuff” just didn’t work very well) and laugh with and at ourselves. We often forget to acknowledge the role of fun in learning and career development.

That diversity of backgrounds is one of the things I still cherish. I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with so many clever people from such a wide range of academic disciplines, and they have all accepted me and valued my opinions, and my work and in turn influenced my own development.  Long may that continue.

So, I know it’s a bit schmaltzy , but  I just wanted to say thank you to everyone (especially you, dear reader) I have worked with, and continue to work with.  In these exceptionally unstable times, our communities, our networks will be need to be stronger than ever. In these physical and metaphorical dark days it’s good to remember that there are still some reasons to be cheerful.

Circles, triangles, trolls, games, neuro-myth busting, empathy and respect #altc16

It’s always hard to condense 3 days’ worth of conference ideas and discussions. The title of this post is my attempt to reduce last week’s #altc conference to under 10 words.  However almost a week after the start of the conference my mind is still trying to synthesise the myriad of ideas I gained from all the sessions I attended.

For me there were a few key themes which resonated throughout the conference. Pretty high on the list was developing (digital) capabilities around online learning at both personal and institutional levels. This is something the sector is really grappling with just now.  Fully online delivery is far from mainstream activity (say hello and wave goodbye MOOCs).

Sharing findings from research as part of  the Jisc scaling up online learning project, Helen Beetham described the challenges their desk research had uncovered as: lack of organisational structure and staff confidence, lack of linkages to mainstream activity, and lack of understanding of the online experience for both staff and students.  Something I can completely relate to. Helen also touched on the emotional side of online learning,  and how that is still under estimated, again for students and staff alike.

Fear is one emotion that I think anyone who has undertaken online learning has experienced at some point. Fear of the unknown, fear of “being online”, fear of where and how to communicate fear of sharing. I know I’ve experienced all of the above.  Fear and the dangerous side of being online were addressed squarely by Josie Fraser in her opening keynote “In the valley of the trolls”.

The keynotes were, as ever, inspiring and this year I think really captured the concerns and aspirations of the UK edtech/ed dev community. Josie opened the conference with a challenging and timely look at trolling. If online spaces such as twitter provide a “filter free amplifier”, in which AI so far can only emulate every kind of abusive behaviour we have invented, it is more important than ever to ensure that we are all developing the digital capabilities to know where, when and how to interact online.

But fear can also lead to closing down online spaces and online interaction. Josie questioned our use of shared spaces, the role of open education, about our ethical commitments and most importantly she raised the challenge and control paradox. We need to challenge the trolls, but can we/should we control them? What about our ethical assumptions around privacy? Sometimes anonymity is valid. We need to develop respect and our ethical commitment to developing respectful shared spaces where we don’t all necessarily agree, but we don’t have to degrade others with casual racism and sexism in process.

Respect, responsibility, and the power of education to change society was a central part of Jane Secker’s keynote “copyright and e-learning: our privileges and freedoms”.  Again Jane highlighted the tension between the fear of copyright (hello, copyright police,yes I have no illegal music downloads)  and the freedom appropriately copyrighted material (hello, Creative Commons) gives us all.

Jane reminded us of the power and necessity of information literacy and IPR as a human right. We need to respect and acknowledge other’s work. However in our increasingly digital age, sharing has changed. We need to ensure that we aren’t just fostering copying skills but that we also encourage reuse and creation, with proper attribution.  There are many myths around copyright and licensing that once again digital literacy development and sharing through communities of practice can help to alleviate.  All this with cake, cats, star wars and a great history lesson.

More myths were explored in Lia Commissar’s keynote “education and neuroscience”. There are many myths and legends around how our brains work.  A little knowledge can be dangerous and it is amazing how much acceptance of there is in our society of “stuff” that has no scientific research basis. A case in point is learning styles.  I can see why people have empathy for that idea, we all have preferences but  . . . and before I go into fully rant mode, I would urge you to watch Lia’s keynote and join the neuromyth-busters and find out more about some fascinating neuroscience research projects in formal education settings.

One area Lia pointed to where there is a research focus on is games and gaming was the focus of Ian Livingstone’s keynote “code:connect:collaborate”.  Ian’s career has spanned the development of the current gaming age and culture, and for a non gamer and non adventure book reader he gave a very entertaining overview of his career and that sector.

He also emphasised the “real world” skills and learning environment that gaming can naturally foster including collaboration, safe social spaces, problem solving, continuous assessment, a safe place to fail. However games and coding aren’t a panacea for education.

Ian did mention the gender imbalance in the gaming industry but not the  very unpleasant side of – in particular Gamergate,   which Josie highlighted in her opening keynote. There is a lot more work that needs to be done to redress that kind of behaviour and to ensure online spaces are safe, collaborative and respectful to all.

Supporting coding in schools and in the curriculum is great, but it is only part of “the digital”, ensuring digital capabilities are recognised and supported in the curriculum is just as important.

“The digital”,whatever that actually means,  is something that our final keynote double act of Donna Lanclos and David White have been talking and writing about for a number of years.

Their more discursive keynote “being human is your problem” looked at some of the realities of trying to exist in our education systems and the messiness of not only being human but being a human interacting increasingly in digital spaces.

Technology is not the answer, it’s part of the answer and part of the problem. Culture change, or perhaps evolution, is what we really need to address.  But that is hard, so often it’s easier to buy something shiny rather than support (neuro) mythbusting culture change (hello and goodbye digital natives).

Donna and Dave were both adamant that we should move away from thinking about “them” and “us” in institutions, arguing that we are “them”, they are “us”.  I’m not sure sure about that, there are always tribes of them and us – staff/students/managers/senior managers/  the list goes on. Again maybe that takes us back to where Josie started the week around respect and empathy between all our academic related tribes.

One thing that Dave said towards the end of the session was that we need “less triangles and more circles”.  He was referring to an early model of digital literacy from Beethham and Sharpe, but I think it summed up my impression from all of the conference, not just the keynotes. We aren’t all working towards a pinnacle or peak, our work is far more iterative and circular, perhaps more spiral like to give some sense of movement (not a spiral of despair I hasten to add).

So thanks again to the conference chairs, committee and ALT for providing the space for all our triangles and circles it was a great conference this year. I haven’t even mentioned all the great sessions I went to and chaired, the annual awards, #altplay.  I’m looking forward to doing it all again in Liverpool next year.


An election worth your vote #altc Trustees 

I know we all probably have a bit of election fatigue just now. However outside the crazy world of politics,  in the slightly less crazy world of learning technology,  there is one election that is worth your consideration and vote – the ALT Trustee elections.  

There are three fantastic nominees this year –  Bella Abrams, Lorna Campbell and Chris Rowell. You can read their statements here,  they all bring a tremendous range of experience and expertise.  But they need your votes.  Being a membership organisation, ALT relies on members to support and guide its direction. In these afore mentioned crazy times, the need for a strong, non commercial, voice for supporting the effective use of technology for learning and teaching is more important than ever.  So if you are a member of ALT make sure you vote, this year for the first time we’re using an electronic voting system.  And if you’re not a member, why not think about joining? I know from experience that receiving peer support and validation from being  voted in as a Trustee of ALT makes the role even more special.   The results of the election will be announced at this year’s ALT conference.  

picture of  ALT member badges

Where Sheila’s been this week: Strategy, surveys and (open) licences

We’re moving offices this week but in between packing boxes and recycling I’ve been having a bit of an ALT shaped week.

This week ALT launched its annual survey (if you haven’t already please do fill it in, it’s a great barometer for what’s actually happening in the UK education sector).  Concurrently it has also published a strategy update highlighting the progress the organisation is making in terms of its strategic goals.  I wrote a blog post to help the launch of both, and I just want to highlight again the great work that the ALT full time staff and all its members do.

On Wednesday I represented ALT at a CLA FE Copyright Masterclass at the Lowry  in Salford (not Manchester).  I opened the session with a talk about OER and open education.  This was followed by some very informative talks by the BUFVC, The Intellectual Property Office, CLA, and ERA. All of these agencies have a wealth of material that can be accessed by the education sector, and it was great to see the support that they are all giving the currently quite battered FE sector.  I was particularly impressed by the Cracking Ideas site from the IPO – I think most of us could use those resources to help our students and ourselves become confident about IP.

A couple of other things have caught my eye and hopefully I’ll have time to have a proper look at them over the weekend.  Audrey Waters has begun her annual top trends in ed tech review. Audrey is always worth reading and the first in this years series is no exception, I look forward to the rest of the posts. Remember you can subscribe to HackEducation and help support Audrey’s work. A great gift idea for all ed-techie’s out there.

The Open University has also just published its 2015 Innovating Pedagogy Report.   I’m haven’t read it yet, but I am intrigued by stealth assessment and embodied learning.  Hopefully I’ll have time to do a more considered post on it in the next couple of weeks, once everything has been unpacked in my new office.



The angst of time, technology and VLE sediment #altc

As an additional #hashtag activities at this year’s #alt conference, participants were asked to use the hashtags #my #altc to highlight their “best bits” of the conference.

I had high hopes for the “are learning technologies fit for purpose?”  session, however despite Lawrie saying he didn’t want this to be a re-hash of “is the VLE debate” of a few years ago, it did seem to turn into a bit of VLE bashing, with the underlying inferences that learning technologies = VLEs and they weren’t fit for purpose.  I did have to have a bit of a rant at the direction of the discussion leading to #my #altc moment

screen shot of twitter message

(which did seem to go down quite well with the rest of the people at the session


To VLE or not to VLE, that seems to always be THE question.  It is, imho, actually the elephant in the room. We have them, so can we just move on please.  It’s how we use them that’s important.  Martin Weller has a good post on the session too, and blame him for the VLE sediment phrase!

As all the keynote speakers either explicitly stated, our digital footprints, data and access are all changing.  Even our so called “learners 2.0” spoke about the ubiquity of technology in their lives but the scary moment when you have to use in “in the real world” in your job, in their case as they were trainee teachers, in the classroom. Confidence levels can swing dramatically from using digital “stuff” for your own purposes to when you have to use it in learning and teaching.  I know in my institution we have many new teaching staff who come directly from professional practice and their knowledge of “learning technology” is very limited, and based on their own experiences. What’s new there, I hear you ask dear reader. We know that all teachers just do what their favourite teachers did.  Well yes, but just now not everyone has had experience of blended, and or fully online learning. They are often still trying to figure it all out as well as cope with a very different working environment.

In the discussion the issue of time came up. Some people think this is a non starter as if someone wants to to do something,then they will make the time. Which is true to an extent. But, if staff member isn’t confident in using whatever their institutional VLE is, then the chances of them being able to find the time with increasing teaching loads gets smaller. New technologies (learning or otherwise) alone won’t solve this. If we want to create digitally confident learners and teachers we need to give time for digital experimentation and failure. A closed, (relatively) safe space such as a VLE is good place to start that.

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a post called “Living with the VLE dictator”, a year on my thoughts are much the same. However, I do see an opportunity to reframe the debate around people digital capabilities and use of (learning) technologies not just the technologies themselves.

Equity, digital by default, data and robots – thoughts from #altc keynotes

The annual #altc conference has yet again left me reeling.  This year it seemed bigger and better than ever, with over 500 delegates meeting in Manchester, with many more joining via the live streams and twitter, over 180 presentations and the addition of robot wars in the #altcgame.

altcrobotsWhen I got home on Thursday night, I did feel a bit jet, or conferenced, lagged. It’s always great to catch up with old friends and make new ones at the conference, but with so much going my mind was spinning and I’m only just starting to make sense of it all.

As ever the keynotes gave contrasting but complimentary views on not just issues around the impact of technology in education, but the impact of new distribution models (often owned by the establishment) on global developments and society.  Whilst Steve Wheeler, very ably assisted by two students, discussed “learner 2.0”, Jonathan Worth added a set of very considered  challenges facing young people today.

Whilst we may have a generation of “digital by default” learners, who as Steve illustrated have their digital footprint created before they are even born, are we in education creating as state of “statutory vulnerability” for our learners? How can we take ownership and control of the right to forget? (see speakingopenly for more on this)  Whilst sharing and connecting are incredibly powerful for learning, the channels of control and ownership of data are increasingly important.

I know that I am in many ways far too ambivalent about my data. For ease of access and connectivity I all too readily tick those terms and conditions boxes.  I don’t think I’m alone in this digital paradox of knowing the dangers and big brother aspects of data ownership, but I go along with it anyway and console myself that the benefits outweigh the risks. Listening to Laura Czerniewcz’s quietly assured keynote on equality, I internally vowed to do more to be part of reclaiming the connected society. I hope that my sharing of thoughts and practice does in some small way add to that.

Again data was central to many of the issues around equity of access to education Laura highlighted. It is the cost of data not the device that is key, particularly in the global South, where increasingly people have mobile phones (and in fact mobile commerce in Africa is far more advanced than in Europe), but the cost of data can exclude many from participating in education. If you can’t afford to access data heavy educational resources then you are excluded. I don’t know if this requires a new type of pedagogy (tbh I think we have enough “gogies”) but it definitely requires more thought in our learning designs to ensure equity of access and experience.

Phil Long the final keynote brought another aspect of data use in education around  learning sciences, technology and learning activities. He questioned why so many existing learning and teaching practices don’t consider what we know about learner motivation and success, and the differences between learning and performance.  It could be that we are at a stage now where there digital tools can actually provide more personalised learning pathways. I’ll need to check out the  Cerego personalised learning tool/service he highlighted. In one of the best online exits ever, Phil’s video connection cut out as he was about to tell us what “the reality is . . .”

You can catch up with all the keynotes via the conference website, all worth another look and my visual notes of each are available on flickr And whilst we need to think about data ownership, sharing data can lead to great visualisations of our community like this one from Tony Hirst.

ALTC network diagram