Blogs, buddies, wikis and wine: reviews of ALT-C 2006
by Cathy Ellis and Frances Bell
Web 2.0 and learning spaces
The first thing to say about ALT-C 2006 is that this was a big conference with a record number of delegates. With the four themes: ‘next generation learning, learners, technology and providers’ all competing for our attention, ALT-C confidently delivered a nicely blended cocktail of presentations, networking opportunities and exhibitor discussions: the hallmark of a good conference.
There were no major announcements made (‘no surprises here’, as Philip Candy said in his summing up of the ‘next generation learners’ strand) but rather, a roll call of insights – both confirming and challenging current theory and practice in learning technology.
Keynotes complemented and contradicted each other in equal measure. Thus, we had Diana Oblinger emphasise connectivity over content and then, some time later, Tim O'Shea said just about the opposite. Between such contradictory positions there was much to reflect on in the tension between content and process mediated by emerging Web 2.0 technologies.
What, then, were some of the key messages from ALT-C 2006? Stephen Heppell, and Gilly Salmon all articulated the impact ICT is having on physical learning spaces. Questions about the demarcation of physical and virtual learning spaces emerged in discussions about podcasting. So, whilst John Fothergill demonstrated the lecture as an ongoing conversation between academic and student and Andy Ramsden considered what podcasting has to offer as a learning technology, there were warnings that students wanted to remain in control of their personal digital world and did not welcome having their iPods invaded by their lecturers!
Chris Yapp challenged us to consider providers as global entities consisting of new partnerships and new entrants, all made possible by an ubiquitous infrastructure. Stephen Heppell asked us to question the role of traditional universities in such a world. All of the expected issues were here - benchmarking, evaluation, measuring impact – but, personally, I would have liked to have seen more time spent on the question of next generation leadership.
Wikis, blogs and other social networking systems featured prominently in ‘next generation learning’. It was interesting here to learn how students at one university are posting their course announcements on a MySpace site rather than relying on the university’s VLE: students choosing the medium.
Terry Anderson summarised the ‘next generation technology’ strand and posited the likely dismantling of the restrictive architecture of today’s VLEs in favour of personal learning environments assembled by users: the learner as the architect of his/her virtual learning space.
The ‘next generation learner’ concentrated on the learner voice and much was made of empowering students and enhancing learning: all heady stuff!
Speaker after speaker referred to students as “pragmatic learners”, in search of quick wins and shortcuts to learning. We were urged to question how traditional institutions will react to new ways of learning which are beyond their traditional borders, beyond their control. But that’s for another day, another conference - and ALT-C 2007, whose theme is just that: Beyond control. See you there!
Cathy Ellis, Centre for Excellence in Leadership, and Vice-Chair of ALT
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Social networking – buddies, blogs and beer
ALT-C 2006 was heralded via contacts with blogs before I even arrived in Edinburgh, Christopher Sessums
, Josie Fraser
, and Catherine Howell
. The ‘real’ event started well for me when I met the Palestinian delegates who had come from the British Council Pre-conference workshop to the Monday evening reception in the James Watt Centre. It was great to meet Elayan Abugharbyeh, Mohammad Hamarsheh, Osama Mimi and Raed Al Qadi, and touch base with them throughout the rest of the conference.
Diana Oblinger’s keynote on Tuesday morning raised issues such as immediacy, social and multi-modal communication, informal learning, choice amongst learners (of all ages) in the digital age. She stressed the importance of physical spaces in learning, and finished by speaking of formal and informal environments - "harmonize space with learning theory" (discussed in Diana’s recent book
). Diana’s ideas confirmed my intention to blog the conference and check out who else was blogging it too. Later that morning, in an interesting session at 11.30 on Tuesday, Caroline Walker from the University of Sunderland spoke of her use of blogs with education students in two modules to promote academic and digital literacies, and criticality. You can find more about this here on my blog
but I was fascinated with Caroline’s remark that students’ blogs were more immediate and less sanitised than the retospectively written paper journals (also easier to share with other students).
On Tuesday afternoon Drew Whitworth spoke about mapping elearning, reporting on a study of elearning (as organised human activity in a workplace context) by regarding environmental change – where technologies are shaped, built from available resources. Tuesday finished off in style with the Edubloggers Meet, organised by Josie Fraser, where we had a beer and heard what experienced bloggers were up to, and met new friends and old. After that, I was just in time to take a few photos of the Ceilidh
Wednesday afternoon was busy: the first session included a report from a Salford colleague, Helen Keegan on the ESMOS project, offering online support for overseas placement students - before, during and after their placement. Although the focus was on academic support, students were actually motivated to participate by their own need for emotional support. I then attended the ALT Research Committee followed by a very interesting workshop, by Brian Kelly
, Adrian Stevenson and Scott Wilson, called “Enough Talking - Let's Use The Next Generation Technologies!”. Brian, Scott and Adrian had set up activities (see here
) that we could try online in the workshop. I learned a lot, and was amused to observe the race by those with laptops to get control of the Wiki in our group. I am pleased to report that the winner did a good job of reporting our group’s Six Thinking Hats exercise using the Wetpaint Wiki
On Thursday, my attention was grabbed by Terry Anderson’s presentation of statistics on open access vs. print publication of books and journal articles, providing compelling evidence of the role played in dissemination by this ‘new’ publishing paradigm. This can be seen as another manifestation of social networking, a phenomenon illuminated for me by ALT-C 2006, and ripe for critique at ALT-C 2007
- Beyond control: learning technology for the social network generation.
I can’t wait!
Frances Bell, Salford Business School
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