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Thursday, September 8, 2011

So... about ALT-C 2011...

Not long now until ALT-C is done for another year. This year has involve schlepping up to the University of Leeds... a city which has fully delivered (in terms of the weather!) on the promise of it being grim up North. Three days of rain and gales but as ever some thought provoking stuff to take away... some slightly depressing stuff to take away... and some stuff which fell neatly into the 'well, that was odd category'. But all good in many ways.
 So... let's tootle through the good, the bad and the weird.

Hearing about the one laptop per child (OLPC) project in Uruguay from Miguel Brechner was a little dose of inspiration to start the conference. It was clear from the presentation that the impact of technology when it breaks free and into the community is powerful and exciting. It was also clear that the dogmatic insistence on 'traditional teaching and practice' which appears to be the current governmental message in this country would never have helped achieve the 100% laptops for state school children in Uruguay... or given them the freedom to try and take risks... and to invest where needed. I was taken aback when someone from the audience asked Miguel, 'what can we in the UK do to help with the project?' and the thought that they need to learn from us when it is they who are making such a dramatic change to communities and lives is odd to say the least. I get where the spirit of the question was coming from... but the opportunity to learn and grow together across boundaries didn't seem to be the message there.

Other good stuff? As ever... meeting up with old faces, new faces, even faces dressed like a cowgirl (waves at AmberThomas) and share practice, ideas and experiences. Things I've learned about learning technologists? They like wearing checked shirts. They drink *lots* of coffee. They're either implementing new VLEs or in the process of doing so*. They're regularly the subject of structural change wherever they're based. Okay, so I knew most of this stuff beforehand... but the checked shirts thing is good to have confirmed. :o)

Some really dreadful presentations. Again. I say this every year but... stop with all the bloomin' bullet points. Please!!! If I come to hear you talk... I come to hear *you* talk. Not read your boring, Arial font, bulletpointy, over-full slides whilst trying to keep up with what you're saying. I really wanted to go to some of the petcha kucha sessions with their visual, short, snappy brief - but couldn't due to clashing commitments but it's definitely a format I'm keen to try in the future.

Other bad stuff? Some, and I'm sorry to say it, not great workshops. Not all weren't great, but too many had no plenary... no sense of purpose... and weren't always related to their theme.

Also not good - sponsor sessions disguised as invited speaker sessions. I was seriously irritated by the Blackboard Collaborate session which showed glossy American promo vids and promoted the main benefits of online working with two thirds about cost savings / income generation. Talk to me about the pedagogy. Talk to me about the process. Talk to me about real things Don't flog me your system unless I want to hear about it.

Odd stuff
Several rooms which bordered on the sports hall school of surreal - now, this sounds petty but as someone with tinnitus I have a real problem with echoey venues and this echoed with the best of them. Especially on the morning where a high pitched squeal accompanied the space. Also, rooms which didn't fit the number of participants. There has to be a better room allocation system even though I'm aware that this is a lesson in complexity and then some! Also, vegetarian catering. One option for veggies which had 'had an accident' so we ended up with lettuce and coleslaw! Nice work people!

Ermm... That's it for now. Will write up more specific stuff later. Another talk beckons...

PS  It's always a gargantuan effort to get these events off the ground and that's always appreciated and firmly on the 'good' list!

* this one should be on the bad list.  When implementing a new technology prevents you from having the time to look at any other learning and teaching practice / innovation / technology then something's amiss.  VLEs are a huge time sink for learning technologists and I hope that this starts to change in the next few years...
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