Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 2   Monday, October 24, 2005

ISSN 1748-3603

Cover Page »
Feature article
Reflections: ALT-C 2005
Case studies
Electronic Voting Systems
Developing tools for visual communication
Project updates
E-learning and accessibility
The FAIR Enough Project
Conference reviews
E-learning - making it work
Post-secondary e-learning conference in Canada
Software reviews
TalisList: web-based reading lists
ALT news
Director's report
Executive Secretary's Report
Supporting education in India and Thailand
News from members
Blackboard and WebCT to merge
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Privacy policy

ALT Website
Past Issues
Issue 1
August 5, 2005
Reflections: ALT-C 2005
Exploring the frontiers of e-learning - borders, outposts and migration
by Jacquie Kelly and Janette Hillicks, JISC infoNet

Back to sunny Manchester for the 2005 ALT conference. This year’s conference was the second largest for ALT; some new delegates were amazed at the number of delegates and available sessions. So, here are a few statistics:
  • 600 Participants
  • 27 Exhibitors
  • 16 Research Papers
  • 92 Short Papers
  • 13 Workshops
  • 8 Symposia
  • 30 Posters.
In the opening plenary Professor Alan Gilbert, President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester, set the scene for the conference. He showed that worldwide there is a massive demand for higher education, which traditional face-to-face delivery cannot meet. Such demand by learners should result in new modes of production, service and delivery. To accommodate this, a change in culture is required. Future students will not tolerate traditional pedagogies. He stated that learning and teaching is different when using technology: the emerging pedagogies are highly interactive, content rich (for example, simulations) and analytically sophisticated. These technologies will transform and reshape institutions and professional life and consequently guidance is needed in bringing them together. His phrase, ‘we are the new revolutionaries’ was frequently referred to during the conference.

Professor Alan Gilbert, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester

Professor Alan Gilbert, President and Vice-Chancellor, The University of Manchester

The conference programme was organised around the following themes:
  • design and development;
  • implementation;
  • collaboration;
  • architectures and infrastructures.
This proved to be an excellent approach. Invited theme chairs gave initial thoughts to set the scene and posed some questions to the conference. At the end of the conference the chairs summed up and participated in the general discussion. The only problem was deciding which theme summary to attend. A synopsis of the introductions to each theme has been provided - synopsis of conference themes.

The keynote address on Wednesday was given via videoconference by Carol Twigg, President and CEO, National Centre for Academic Transformation. Dr Twigg challenged us to rethink our current use of technology. Although the majority of our institutions are using technology in teaching, it is frequently bolted-on, for example, online seminars replicate face-to-face. The challenge is to use technology to achieve improvements in quality and lower the cost of provision. To meet the challenge we need to rethink our approaches, for example, redesigning the whole course not just one class. She gave an example of a ‘buffet’ model of redesign taken from the Program in Course Redesign: a mix and match design that was personalised to the student’s knowledge and learning style. These changes have been favourably received with institutions lowering costs whilst retaining quality.

Dr Carol Twigg and Jim Petch

Jim Petch introduces Carol Twigg

The final keynote address was given by Etienne Wenger, an independent thinker, researcher, consultant, author and speaker. Etienne’s session was entitled ‘Learning, technology and community: a journey of the self’; he spoke of communities of practice and how they emerge as people come together to share common experiences in a non-enforced way in order to build trust and develop a shared practice. The concept of community of practice can be successfully applied to many different situations. The communities tend to develop their own language that is unfamiliar to outsiders; Etienne drew parallels with experts in the wine trade using phrases such as ‘purple in the nose’, a phrase that means very little to those not in the wine business. With regard to learning, he believes that identity – a sense of the self – is vital. The transformation of a person improves aspects of learning. He spoke of the social theory of learning. The meaning at the centre of what learning is about – focussing on the experience of the world.

Etienne Wenger

Etienne Wenger

It was difficult to decide which of the theme summaries to attend but luckily, our colleagues also took notes. The summaries can be found by following the links below:

Given the number of presentations at the conference this year, we have decided not to single out a few for inclusion here since there were many in the excellent category. You can read the abstracts and some of the presentations on the ALT website at (select a theme to see a list of abstract titles under that theme, or use the search box).

A number of new publications were launched at the Conference including JISC’s "Innovative Practice with e-Learning" (, JISC infoNet’s and ALT’s "The Think Tank: Making Lifelong Learning a Reality" (, and "Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Educators and Trainers" by John Traxler (University of Wolverhampton) and Agnes Kukulsa-Hulme (Open University) (

Prizes awarded at the conference:

Inevitably, there were some complaints; for example, not everyone could attend their preferred sessions because the rooms were not always large enough and delegates had to stand outside straining to hear the presentation. The labs were also less than ideal with small numbers and sharing with noisy students. Finally, given that the themes were summarised in a very entertaining session by the Theme Chairs, it would have been useful if they could have summed up together even if this would be difficult with so much to share for each theme.

Sal Cooke, Head of TechDis.
Sal Cooke, Head of Techdis

Lessons we learned at ALT-C 2005

At the start of the conference, Sal Cooke asked us some questions. Here are some of our answers:

  • What has been learned? A lot is happening: new tools are being developed and applied but are we doing the same old thing just adding in some technology? Perhaps we need to start looking for alternative, innovative methods and techniques rather than adopting one solution. Staff need time for reflection and to beable to apply new technology in appropriate ways – this seems to have been forgotten in many institutional plans. What if we are barking up the wrong tree? Do we tend to look for problems to solve using technology?
  • What action will we take as a result of attending the conference? When we give advice and guidance to staff, continue to encourage them to take a reflective approach, advise them to look for alternatives rather than jump at the first solution and put the needs of the student as the top priority. For senior staff, emphasise the importance of costing-in staff development (and not just one-off) into institutional strategies and plans.

Related links

ALT conference:

Abstracts and presentations

Some session reports

Further information:

Overview of Stephen Downes’ summary -
Other blogs on Stephen Downes’ introduction and summary -

JISC projects

Link to Brian Kelly’s Web Focus Page which has the prize-winning research paper

Carol Twigg
Question and answer session:
Etienne Wenger
Etienne and his work:
A summary of Etienne’s talk by Stephen Downes:

Andrew Whitworth – Researching the cognitive cultures of e-learning

Stephen Downes

Stephen Downes at work at ALT-C 2005

Jacquie Kelly, JISC infoNet,
Janette Hillicks, JISC infoNet,

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