Association for Learning Technology Online Newsletter
Issue 10 October 2007   Friday, October 19, 2007

ISSN 1748-3603

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Feature article
ALT-C 2007: the best so far...?
Binoculars and sandpits
Case studies
Education: a revolutionary process @ Djanogly City Academy
Introducing e-portfolios across a paper dominated university
Conference reviews
E-learning: making it work
Becta's Harnessing Technology Research Forum
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Director's report
Chief Executive's report
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Towards maturity in e-learning
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Applause during the Wednesday plenary
Applause during the Wednesday plenary
ALT-C 2007: the best so far...?
14th annual conference in Nottingham
by Julie Voce and Rhonda Riachi

Over 600 delegates joined us in Nottingham for ALT’s 14th international conference. We enjoyed a bumper programme of ten parallel sessions, seven international keynote and theme speakers, five pre- and post-conference workshops, and a lot of hectic socialising and networking in Nottingham’s leafy main campus. The conference theme of “Beyond control…” did not inspire any unruly behaviour (other than on the dance-floor at the ceilidh on Tuesday night). Delegates rated this year’s conference very highly, and one seasoned ALT-C delegate called it the “best, most interesting and useful ALT-C so far.”

Dylan Wiliam Professor Dylan Wiliam presented a wealth of research data in his keynote on Tuesday, showing how learners' attainment can be improved using appropriate assessment technologies.

The winning entries for the 2007 Learning Technologist of the Year Award, presented by Peter Norvig at the Conference Dinner on Wednesday, are included in the Chief Executive's column. Details of the winners of the Learning Object Competition, sponsored by Intrallect, can be found at

Prizes were also awarded on Wednesday for the best posters, based on votes cast by delegates. Anne Gambles (Open University) won first prize for her poster on How to support part-time tutors' professional development needs by using wiki and blogs (ID 1157). Joint second prize was shared by three posters: Helen Boardman and colleagues (University of Nottingham) - Scripware: a web-based package for teaching dispensing (ID 1198); Janice Gibbs and Sally Holden (Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry) - How many?! Reducing staff stress levels with an innovative approach to life science sessions (ID 1191); and David White and Deborah Goodbody (University of Oxford) - Cultural capital and community development in the pursuit of dragon slaying (ID 1152).

Below you can read the summaries of the closing presentations by the four theme speakers – Marion Miller, Hans-Peter Baumeister, Frank Rennie and Tim Rudd. All three keynote presentations – Michelle Selinger, Dylan Wiliam and PeterNorvig – can be viewed online using Elluminate from the web page at and audio versions will be made available to accompany their slides.

The following summaries highlight the main points discussed under each conference theme:

Designing Learning Spaces
by Lisa Carrier ( and Julie Voce (, UCL

Presentations addressed the design of learning spaces on the scale from physical to virtual:
  • Physical learning spaces and their redesign
  • Technologically augmented and mediated spaces and practice
  • Virtual learning spaces

The main question distilled from the theme was “can spaces be designed to shape learning experiences, or does the feeling of space arise from the use of space and learning experiences of people who inhabit it?”

Major issues emerging from these presentations were:

  1. Involving learners as co-designers: Do we ask learners about space design? Do we know what learners want and need? Are curricula relevant or are they inappropriate, abstract, archaic and elitist?
  2. Learners creating learning: evidence-centred assessment; knowledge construction and emerging curricula; distributed cognition; situated, informal, collaborative, networked learning.
  3. The 3 C’s: Creation, Communication, and Collaboration, using technologies such as computer games, VoIP, Flickr, MSM, feeds, media sharing, bookmarking, filmmaking, virtual reality, screen sharing, etc.
  4. Technologically mediated spaces and practice:
    • Communities of practice
    • Peer learning and blended learning
    • Using White Boards and videoconferencing
    • Handheld ‘brain-training’ devices (e.g. used for improving medical students’ numeracy skills)
    • Web 2.0 tools and games
    • WebSlam – a workshop demonstrating the power of the Web and distributed cognition and working
    • Accessibility issues
    • RLOs and flexibility for supporting customization (question remains: who own the object?)
    • PDAs (more shared learning; personal ownership and responsibility; bring more people into the curriculum; better creative approaches; technology creating better link between home and school) – see – mediascape authoring tool (free on GPS and PDA): audio, visual and text overlaid onto real world map. Can be used for digital tagging and as a repository.
  5. Virtual spaces: Convergence of virtual and social network environments to provide virtual, social and real technology augmented environment: Second Life and VLE = Sloodle.
  6. Cognitive foresight tool: Trying to predict what technologies and trends will reign in five year’s time to help HE understand what they need to be planning for to meet the needs of today’s schoolchildren.

Useful links
InQbate (the CETL in Creativity is a company designing spaces to reflect:

  • Constructivist principles
  • Political and technological changes
  • Socio-cultural approaches to learning
  • Learner-led demand for change

JISC Planning and Designing Technology-Rich Spaces InfoKit offers tools to help think about learning spaces redesign.

Abstracts, papers and presentations in this theme can be found on the conference timetable at

Large-scale Implementation
by Frank Rennie (
Head of Research and Post-Graduate Development, Lews Castle College

There was a tremendous variety in the contributions to this theme, some excellent discussions, and clear evidence of a wonderful range of rich experience from among the participants. Although there were no real surprises in the topics presented, there was a remarkable coming-together of some specific ideas to illustrate some general trends and emerging issues. The topics covered:
  • Perceptions of e-learning (staff and student)
  • Evaluating and benchmarking (and making horizontal links across the institutions)
  • Shifting forms of learning
  • Designing models and usability
  • Collaborative tools and methods

A general point from these discussions was the growing tendency for institutions to collaborate more openly on new research topics and emerging issues, at the same time as individual institutions reacting negatively to calls for greater openness and flexibility in IT services. This led to the question: are institutions willing to release power sufficiently to facilitate Web 2.0 innovations?

There was some interesting dialogue on multiple-learning styles and the contrast between the use of metaphor versus the presentation of stark information. General agreement was expressed about the importance of learners engaging activity with learning resources, the value of formative assessments, and peer-to-peer learning, but a feeling that the ‘personalisation’ of learning paths through educational technology should be considered more as a ‘customisation’ from a menu of resources rather than the ‘individualisation’ of learning which came with some negative connotations. Mention was made on several occasions of the lengthy time-scale required to test novel solutions versus the fast speed of technological change, and a demand was expressed for more examples of case studies of good practice (and known misconceptions) in order to spread good ideas faster among the great mass of willing but confused potential online teaching staff.

There were several presentations relating to staff development and the need for students to take more responsibility in their own learning process, and the question “Are we ready for learners in control?” produced a number of high-level follow-on discussions that highlighted, among other things, the need for staff to develop ourselves, change mindsets, and reclaim the language of education (The point was made that the claim of being a ‘student-centred’ institution is often a mere label for old-style business as usual). The problems of institutional readiness and institutional inertia in overcoming the problems of adopting the great mass of ‘late-adopters’ to the use of educational technology featured frequently, as did the dilemma of institutions ‘blocking’ staff access to Web 2.0 technology such as social networking software, skype etc at the same time as learners (and staff) are engaging with these technologies ever more actively in their non-work life. The blur between formal and non-formal learning was mentioned, but glossed over, but a strong point, reinforced, was the need for institutional strategic change across the sector if we really wish to engage with learners and not see them voting with their feet (and time, and wallets) by going to the institutions elsewhere that do seek to facilitate great student-staff engagement with educational technology.

All presentations in the large-scale theme can be found on the conference timetable at

Learning and Internationalism
by Athina Chatzigavriil ( and Julie Voce (, UCL  

The theme emerging from the discussion was about e-learning and the multicultural society, with particular reference to the global society. There were concerns about e-learning becoming the domain of the “global elite”, whereby only those with the technology and skills gain access to e-learning.

How can we ensure that all users have the same level of access and opportunities? We need to look at the infrastructure available, such as internet connections, electricity, hardware, as well as literacy levels and IT skills. With these things to consider, is the use of e-learning truly an international use?

The presentations showed that there are more collaborative inter-cultural projects taking place, however issues relating to the cultures and languages involved have arisen. English is the ‘lingua-franca’ for e-based collaboration, however, the interpretation of the words used appear to be different by each party involved. Different interpretations thus affect the interactions. Socio-political differences were also found to affect interactions due to the differing perceptions of participants.

The issues of personalisation and collaboration were queried, especially when applied with a collectivist tradition – which is perhaps a western concept. So, what does the concept mean for students and tutors? What does it mean for control and assessment?

Social software was discussed as a medium for creating an intercultural atmosphere and the discussion looked at the effect social software will have on the curriculum. It was felt that the use of social software provides an excellent opportunity to bring in international expertise, to facilitate networking opportunities and avoid cultural relativism.

The discussion ended by asking: what is the most realistic next step for e-learning in a multicultural society?

Links to abstracts and presentations in this theme can be found at

Marion Miller Marion Miller introduces the social network generation theme in the opening plenary on Tuesday morning.

Learning Technology for the Social Network Generation
by Marion H Miller (
JISC Regional Support Centre Yorkshire and Humber Manager
University of Leeds

As members of informal social networks such as Facebook, many of our learners will be sharing, reviewing and collaborating within ‘communities’ they may even have instigated. Why are such sites so successful? And can we, as educators, make use of them? These and other challenging questions were addressed in various ways through the presentations, research papers, symposiums and workshops in this theme.

Strong learner ownership and control is associated with informal environments, whilst weak learner ownership and control is associated with institutional learning platforms. Learners perceive a strict boundary between formal and informal environments with no blurring between the two. Learners opting out of their institutional platform to collaborate with peers in Facebook and copying their completed work into a wiki provided by their course was one interesting example of their desire for personal ownership and control of their working environment.

Significant evidence suggested that learners are not using certain Web 2.0 tools to the extent assumed. Instead, learners appear to be constructing identities as confident, fluent, savvy, technology users; though this is not always demonstrated in their use of the technology as was illustrated in the inappropriate use of wikis where learners imposed forum structures. Furthermore, the use of blogging in one study showed learners to be inhibited by the openness of the blog and this, together with a lack of ownership, meant that the blog was not successful.

It was demonstrated that learners who are new to web 2.0 technologies would appreciate ‘light’ social time with the technologies to start them off before launching into learning uses. This would help reduce fears of the unknown.

As the technology develops and learners move quickly to develop independent styles of learning, traditional forms of course delivery may prove unable to meet the demands of the expectant learner. Learners are already developing a preference for active learning and 24/7 access. Communication patterns are changing and an incidental use of YouTube by one lecturer led to learners becoming the conduit for communication as they shared the link.

One project showed that through a well defined project the learner was still able have autonomy and so shape the end product. Learners, in a team, could set objectives and choose desired routes. Ensuring that the primary purpose of a project was to benefit other learners, allowing the creators to instigate and manage communities, held the key to success. The project encouraged collaborative e-learning and active learning construction. Traditional barriers were rendered invisible. The outcomes and responsibilities were shared across learners and teachers and the role of the teacher changed to one of coach and mentor. Most interestingly the project teams operated at many different but interconnected levels - school, class, subject, age, location.

Overall within the theme, there was less mention of barriers around the technology, such as reliability and access. The focus was on the learner and learning. Issues revolved not around the tool or platform but how learners use them. There appears to be a shift away from virtual learning environments. The focus is more on content and collaboration across institutions and how this collaboration can work effectively. Indeed, there was evidence to show that institutions are considering the needs of the learner which may lay the ground for giving the learner greater control.

In order to understand their potential in learning, lecturers should be encouraged to use Web 2.0 tools, maybe in small steps to help them engage with this technology.

We certainly need more studies to investigate how learners perceive Web 2.0 technologies and to learn more about their place within learning. Long term studies measuring the impact of using these tools is essential if we are to make the most of the potential they offer.

Links to abstracts, papers and presentations in this theme can be found at

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