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Jez Cope's blog on becoming a research technologist

#altc2011 Day 2

Home on the range Continuing with the task I began yesterday, here are my initial thoughts on today’s talks and workshops at ALT-C 2011.

Social media and professional identity

I began the day with Anne-Marie Cunningham’s talk on professional identity in the context of medical education. Anne-Marie herself has a complex identity, as practitioner, educator, researcher and student, and when she began blogging and tweeting in order to combat the isolation she sometimes felt as a GP she found that identity challenged in some interesting ways.

Following Anne-Marie’s talk was a poorly disguised sales pitch from some guy who works for Blackboard — the least said about that the better, I think.

Led by the “Knows”

Next up, Doug Belshaw and John Traxler gave me a refreshing change: a workshop which was actually a workshop. They’d chosen a couple of collections of elearning-related case-studies, and split us into groups to critically analyse the case-studies therein. We got a really good debate going, trying to decide what the purpose of a case study should be and what it should contain to be valid/useful.

For my part, I think that a lot of the weaknesses we identified could be mitigated by the inclusion of references to the sources of the data quoted, so that if you choose you can verify the conclusions for yourself.

I did like John Traxler’s comment that we need to be wary of policy-based evidence replacing evidence-based policy.

Are we in Open Country?

The last session before lunch was a bit of fun, but with a serious message too. Amber Thomas, David White, David Kernohan and Helen Beetham got dressed up as characters from the Wild West to talk about issues related to OER. There was even bonus banjo music from Dave Kernohan!

Some of the most interesting points for me came up in the extended discussion that followed their introductory presentation. In particular, it’s very important when thinking about OER to not get sidetracked by the content. Making content open has some value, but it does not democratise access to education per se; in some ways it can have the opposite effect. It’s important to be able to associate the pedagogical context with a given open resource. Similar arguments seem to apply to other forms of openness as well.

Transforming American Education

After lunch we had a keynote speech from Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. She told us a bit about the Obama government’s plans for educational technology, which does indeed sound quite impressive!

She described technology as a “force multiplier” — not a replacement for teachers but a way of making teachers more effective, which I think is the only attitude that can work in the long term. As part of that, they’re making an effort to make educational research more transparent and accessible to educators so that they have more opportunities to learn about evidence-supported good practice.

She also talked about making learning more like a game, something which I’m currently a bit sceptical about. I can see the advantages, but there’s always the danger that as you incentivise one group you end up disincentivising or even alienating another. It has to be implemented in a sufficiently fool-proof way to avoid that situation occurring.

Effective web conferencing

My final session of the day was a workshop on web conferencing with a guy from collaborATE, who provide support for Adobe Connect in the UK. I’ll admit, I was a bit wary of this after the earlier Blackboard sales pitch, but actually the presenter did a great job of providing us with some useful tips for running a successful webcast.

I took a lot of notes from this session, so I’ll probably save them for another post, perhaps when I’ve had chance to try them out. The key message, though, was this: preparation, preparation, preparation. Like all forms of communication, webcasting works best when you’re confident, well practiced and in control of your environment.

In a little bit it will be time to relax a bit and have a good old chinwag with some old and new friends at the gala buffet, so I’ll wrap it up for now.

PS. If you’re wondering where all my tweets about the conference have gone, I’m experimenting with a separate conference account, @jezconf to avoid spamming my regular followers with lots of ALT-C tweets. If you’re interested, please follow that account, or you can just follow the conference hashtag, #altc2011.