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ALT-C 2010
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ALT-C 2010
by Sarah Cornelius, Anna Campbell, Shirley Evans, Devampika Getkahn, Mary Jacob, Suki Kaur, Matt Lingard, Colin Loughlin and Mat Tinker

Edited by Sarah Sherman (Bloomsbury Colleges) and Julie Voce (Imperial College London)


 Nearly 600 delegates attended this year’s ALT-C in Nottingham, which had the title “Into Something Rich and Strange: making sense of the sea-change”. Whilst the majority of delegates were from Higher Education, there was representation from Further Education, Schools, Government bodies and the commercial sector. 75% of the delegates were UK-based with the remainder coming from Europe and places as far afield as Japan and New Zealand.

This year’s conference report is a collaboration that draws upon the experiences of 11 delegates.

Keynote presentations

Sarah Cornelius, University of Aberdeen

Professor Sugata Mitra’s presentation ‘The Hole in the Wall: Self Organising Systems in Education’ was one of the highlights of the conference for many. Comments such as ‘inspiring’, ‘fascinating’ and ‘worth the conference fee alone’ featured frequently in the feedback from delegates. Sugata’s media rich presentation was the engaging story of his research from the original ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments in which computers were simply left in a Delhi slum with the result that groups of children, driven by curiosity, taught themselves to use a computer; to current work in Gateshead and elsewhere, which is exploring the capacity of children to learn by themselves when allowed freedom to work in groups with a computer. His findings are leading towards a theory of education as a self-organising system in which learning is an emerging phenomenon. This has potentially profound implications for education and the role of teachers. If a computer can replace a teacher then it should, argued Sugata, but he also suggested that an important role for a teacher is in setting questions that arouse curiosity. As he put it “the Internet is full of answers, but the questions are not up there.”

Photo of Sugata Mitra
Figure 1: Sugata Mitra

It was fortunate for Donald Clark, one of the founders of Epic Group plc, that he had the opening slot at the conference. It would have been hard to follow Sugata’s engaging and inspiring presentation with a talk called ‘Don’t lecture me’. However the controversial blogger provided a challenging opening presentation which certainly generated controversy and fuelled coffee queue conversations. Drawing on materials as diverse as an extract from the film ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’; a journey through the history of lectures; and the teaching of a number of famous physics teachers, he offered a critique of the lecture format, using physics as an example of a subject that is difficult to teach”. He offered a list of 10 problems with lectures, many of which demonstrated the inappropriateness of the hour-long lecture format in the context of what we understand about teaching and learning. Donald’s 10th problem was that researchers regard teaching as an ‘add-on’. He advocated organisational changes to address this as well as logistical issues such as the continued construction of lecture theatres and other inappropriate and underused teaching spaces. Another issue that aroused his passion (and sometimes colourful language) was that of the recording of lectures – Donald suggested that not recording lectures is unfair to students as we don’t learn in one hit”. There was a fundamental contradiction between the title and the mode of delivery of Donald’s presentation, and when questioned about how he could have done things differently he suggested that he would have blogged instead.

Photo of Donald Clark
Figure 2: Donald Clark


Parallel sessions

With over 100 parallel sessions to attend, three of the delegates report back on those they found most interesting, inspiring and useful.

Mat Tinker, University of East London

There was an impressive selection of sessions on offer, covering a seemingly ever diversifying range of subjects devoted to learning technology. This point was emphasised by David Morris (Coventry University) and Nigel Ecclesfield’s (Becta) presentation the ‘life cycle of an ALT-C theme’ in which they demonstrated how mapping software could be utilised to summarise the key themes of large bodies of text, such as the ALT-C abstracts, and then graphically represent themes and sub-themes in mind-map format. The combination of Cirilab’s Speed Reader and Mind Systems’ Theme Reader allowed David and Nigel to map trends such as the decline of terms such as CAL (Computer Assisted Learning) and the prominence of new terms and influential colleagues. Consolidating and representing large volumes of data in this fashion has implications for reviewing trends in areas like analysing news and RSS feed trends over time, checking that design documents and proposals have met their stated objectives or identifying community interest.

Colleen Connor, Dean of Learning and Teaching at the University of Wales Institute, reviewed her method for raising the profile of design to improve the uptake of e-learning and the sharing of expertise. The creation of a programme-design sabbatical for programme directors positions the focus on technology-enhanced learning on a par with research. This allows programme leaders to gain experience of learning design principles by working with learning developers in re-developing aspects of their programme. Through this, skills and best practice in design are shared at a senior level, fostering a strong collaborative ethos.

As a learning designer at a learning technology event, it was interesting for me to see how technology has been used as a solution to variety of design issues. I was especially interested in attending Diana Laurillard (Institute of Education) et al’s well informed workshop on ‘Innovating in teaching with an intelligent design environment’ which showcased a knowledge-based application to help designers and Subject Matter Experts work together to produce a learning design. The software makes use of intelligence which provides graphical feedback on the suitability of a chosen blend of activities. The use of a common intelligence struck me as a very useful tool for collaborative development between designers, as well as between an academic project team. Visit the Learning Design Support Environment site for a thought-provoking read and further details.

The serious impact technology has on our environment and society and the production and dependence upon unsustainable resources was the discussion topic at Richard Hall and Joss Winn’s (University of Lincoln) workshop, which posed the question, ‘is the use of technology in Higher Education (HE) more efficiently unsustainable?’ Having dispensed with the lecture theatre environment and breaking out in discussion groups, participants were able to get to grips with proposals for how Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) could influence change as well as recognising the impact that HEIs have on our environment and the lack of strategic priority placed on environmental impact by the major support organisations. Solutions focused around greater community involvement and co-operation, the ‘disestablishment’ of an inflexible national institutional model, and the sharing of resources within a global environment. For more information and the development on workshops covering some of the key issues discussed in their workshops, see Richard Hall’s learning exchange blog post.

Mary Jacob, Aberystwyth University

Lectures as a mode of teaching, and the impact of lecture capture on pedagogy, informed several of the parallel sessions. Amanda Hardy and Juliet Hinrichsen (Coventry University) shared the results of the JISC ELTAC project; they challenged assumptions about lecture capture and lecture as a format, noting that training is important because lecture capture does have an impact on teaching style. Amanda presented some concrete tips about using video and resolving microphone issues when team-teaching or having sessions with student interaction.

In the interestingly titled ‘Lecture capture: rich and strange, or a dark art?‘, Jane Secker, Stephen Bond, and Sonja Grussendorf (London School of Economics) surveyed the literature about lecture capture, identifying attitudes of staff and students. Like Amanda, they noticed that being recorded changes delivery: it tends to be more formal with fewer real-life examples and jokes. The impact on attendance was variable: students will come to class if there is perceived added value.

Eoin McDonnell and Brendan Curran (Queen Mary University of London) described an innovative approach in which the didactic content is given to students online through lecture capture. They emphasised critical thought over rote learning, moving beyond straight lecture by presenting contending models and following up with online student interaction. Some class time was used to answer questions students had asked online. Eoin recommended the JISC Legal guide for lecture capture.

The need for pedagogical training was emphasised by Darren Gash and Ian Gardner (BPP College of Professional Studies) who described their staff development programme for using Wimba Classroom. They devised a training session in which tutors took the role of students using Wimba Classroom for the training session itself. This approach was well-received, as lecturers seldom have the opportunity to take the students’ role.

Another innovative approach to delivering online courses was demonstrated by Niall Watts (University College Dublin)In a clinical medical context, students were given video clips of interview techniques with virtual online patients. Questions were devised with open text answers and model answers. A blend of approaches was used, combining narrative, diagnosis, exploration and problem-solving. Created using Flash Form and Articulate, the learning objects were put into Blackboard, where statistics showed students frequently accessed them.

A wide range of possible uses for video in teaching was outlined by Wayne Britcliffe and Simon Davis (University of York). These included demonstration videos (e.g. Chemistry laboratory practicals), assessment (e.g. student-created videos for foreign language courses), information and academic skills (e.g. induction materials for international students), and teacher training. Students appreciated the student-created videos in particular and asked for more opportunities to make videos. They advised that baseline quality levels for video depend on where the videos are posted: higher quality is required if the clips are public but lower-quality clips with smaller files are fine for VLE-only access. They used Kodak zi8 cameras with tripods, lecture capture, Flowclay for subtitling, and Wowsa streaming server.

An extensive range of uses for video was also shared by Karen McCourt, Karen Robins and Amanda Relph (University of Hertfordshire).They purchased 75 Flip cameras and noted that while staff tended to use video for transmission, students used it to capture things they were doing. Staff are given a pack detailing how to acquire copyright and Intellectual Property Rights permissions, as well as a leaflet about how to use the camera. The presenters reinforced the message that students like a ‘rough and ready’ product, so a video clip does not have to have high production standards.

The workshop entitled ‘Guerilla narratives of personal media creation, public media sharing: a 21st century show and tellled by Helen Keegan and Frances Bell (University of Salford), Josie Fraser ( and James Clay (Gloucestershire College) was very effective. We worked in small groups and made video clips as we brainstormed a wide range of uses for video in teaching. The workshop facilitators advocated a ‘can-do’ attitude on the part of the lecturer in order to inspire students.

Colin Loughlin, Kingston University

Ostensibly relating the details of a HEFCE research project into online learning in the UK, Dave White (University of Oxford) impressed hugely with his presentation ‘Sailing against the trade winds?’. The (possibly predictable?) outcome of which was that business/professional and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are the dominant subject areas, whilst Humanities struggle to make a dent in the statistics. In a talk that generated much adulatory tweeting, Dave navigated the potentially dry statistical nature of the research with a fascinating and highly entertaining presentation. His lecture (sic) went beyond the statistics and challenged us to consider some broader themes of HE, in which the focus is moving away from the technology itself and mooted that the next ‘sea-changes’ in educational technology will be those of ideas and pedagogy, “It’s the social science not the science of the web that will dominate the next decade”. Going on to talk about both peer-to-peer, and student-teacher interaction, Dave suggested that the “atomisation” of contact is both needed and expected by online students to replicate the social and networking experience of HE that full time students take for granted.

"With OER [Open Educational Resources] etc, content becomes king" was another Dave White quote that led nicely into the OER workshop ‘OERs in HE – trends and scenarios’. David Kernohan and Heather Price (JISC), Li Yuan (JISC CETIS, IEC) and Sheila MacNeill (JISC CETIS, CAPLE) posited possible scenarios for the future of HE in which OERs have an increasingly influential role. The global proliferation of OERs seems set to continue and the discussion focused on what, if it is within our power, traditional HE institutions should be doing to shape that future. The spirited discussion that followed touched on the possible isolation of students working purely with OER content; and, what pedagogical changes are required to embed high quality OER content into traditional teaching situations.

Continuing the theme of online communities the ‘New bottles, old wine’ symposium by John Traxler (Learning Lab), Frances Bell (University of Salford), Andy Black (Becta), Mark Childs (Coventry University) and Steve Wheeler (University of Plymouth) focused on non-institutional online communities such as Facebook, Twitter and Second Life. With the growth of these platforms being used in an educational context, we were asked to deliberate the ethical implications of involving students in a field trip to a “foreign country” in which we have no control over the expectations and behaviour of other participants. How much do students understand the persistent and public nature of material they put online? And has the time come for a professional framework to protect both students and teachers?

Rose Heaney and Megan Arroll (University of East London) were also talking about Second Life in their session ‘Staff perceptions of Second Life as an effective teaching environment’. Their ‘phenomenological study’ concluded that there are significant barriers to embedding Second Life in situations where the teaching staff are less than enthusiastic. However, in cases where the staff were Second Life adherents, attendance and engagement were substantially higher than in similar face to face lectures, some students seemingly more comfortable contributing via a virtual persona.

Posters and exhibition

Devampika Getkahn, CIPD Enterprise

E-assessments and online feedback methods generated a lot of interest among the posters this year, with ‘Changing the way we see test-items in a computer-based environment’ submitted by Matt Haigh winning the Best Poster award from delegates not attending the conference. The poster on ‘Using blogs for summative assessment’ presented some insightful feelings from student focus groups that ranged from additional work and apprehension before introduction to confident and advantageous afterwards.

Photo of a selection of ALT-C 2010 posters
Figure 3: Posters at ALT-C

Building shared repositories was another area of interest among the posters. The JISC-funded SHARE project from Nottingham Trent University demonstrated experiences with staff publishing resources on to a shared repository. ‘OERs a force for change’ had a very helpful takeaway on ‘turning a resource into an OER’. The posters also included many examples of using technology to teach practical content on anatomy and physiology, ICT and programming. Conference attendees voted for ‘First steps in Second Life’ by Bob Hallawell, Jenny Prior and Patrick Lockley (University of Nottingham) as the Best Poster.

The exhibition stands provided delegates information on resources and tools that could help them make sense of the sea-change. This included providers of OERs (JISC, Jorum, The Higher Education Academy), reference material (Routledge), vendors of learning environments (Blackboard, Desire2Learn) and tools to support online learning (Txttools, PebblePad, MyKnowledgeMap, Learning Objects, Blackboard Collaborate).   

Photo of Open Nottingham exhibition stand
Figure 4: Open Nottingham Exhibition Stand

Social and awards

Shirley Evans (JISC TechDis Associate)

The social events started on the Monday evening with the pre-conference meal sponsored by Blackboard. A mouth-watering selection of hot and cold food accompanied by a choice of a fruity but dry sauvignon blanc or a fine merlot. There was plenty of opportunity to chat and have a browse around the exhibition.  

CMALT’s 5th birthday was celebrated with a lunch on Tuesday. Maren Deepwell from ALT did a wonderful job with balloons, which were tastefully colour co-ordinated (subtle shades of greens and purples) with the delicious butterfly adorned cup cakes – Happy Birthday CMALT! Thanks must go to John Slater from ALT for Tuesday evening’s entertainment, an ALT-themed quiz. Members of the winning team, “Off the Wall”, included Shirley Evans and Sal Cooke (TechDIS).  

Photo of CMALT party
Figure 5: CMALT's 5th birthday party

At the Gala dinner on Wednesday evening, 300 people were greeted with sparkling wine and mouth watering canapés. The five-course dinner was designed and prepared by 52 catering and hospitality students from Sheffield College. The layout of the whole room was stunning with meticulous attention to detail on each table. The food was simply delicious with each course complementing the imaginatively created menu.

Photos from the Gala dinner
Figure 6: Photos from the Gala dinner.

The awards for ALT Learning Technologist of the Year, Epigeum and JORUM were presented after the meal; congratulations go to all winners. Full details about the winners are available on the ALT website.

"My first ALT-C"

Two delegates reflect on their experiences at their very first ALT-C.

Anna Campbell, City University London

“This was my first attendance at an ALT conference as I moved from an academic to a learning technology role last November. I was struck by the differences between ALT-C and academic conferences I have attended. Firstly, at academic conferences there is less of a feeling of camaraderie than I felt at ALT-C. This is perhaps because, although conference delegate roles differ, at the core those involved in learning technology share the same frustrations - academic engagement, IT systems, etc (sound familiar?!). There was also more openness and sharing at ALT-C than at academic conferences where my experience has been that people are very tight-lipped for fear their ideas will be taken. At ALT-C everyone was interested in learning from each other; everything was a work in progress and I found that really refreshing.

I certainly saw presentations at ALT-C that have shaped what I will focus on in the coming year. This includes ideas for mobile learning, podcasts and lecture capture for iTunes U. More importantly I felt welcome and a part of a community that thrives on change. I look forward to seeing you all again next year!”

Suki Kaur, De Montfort University

“For me, ALT-C 2010 provided an overwhelming showering of information and let’s not forget a wave of interesting people, many of whom I recognised through Twitter and many whom I met in the sessions I attended. With such a jammed-packed programme, there was little time to ponder. The venue was great and all necessary amenities were easily accessible; help was at hand whenever needed and my laptop was set up by the technicians smoothly. I went to all my chosen sessions, and I’m glad I did: they were at most thought provoking and gave great snapshots on what others were doing at their own institutions. At times, I felt having three presenters during one session did not leave enough time for questions so you would have to catch up with them later if you could find them! I would also have liked more time for group work. There were times where my thoughts had to catch up with my feet whilst I sat patiently waiting for the next session to begin. Overall an enjoyable first experience leaving me plenty to think about and follow up online”.

Experiences of a virtual attendee

Matt Lingard, London School of Economics

As you would expect there was a lot of online participation around the conference, with non-delegates joining delegates in a lively backchannel as well as being able to attend the keynotes and invited speaker talks, which were streamed live. The blogosphere is now full of conference reports and reflections, which combined with the recordings of the main sessions means it’s never too late to experience ALT-C 2010!

Before arriving in Nottingham, delegates were already making contact and sharing resources on ALT’s Crowdvine site, which provided a hub for the online participation. The site included the conference programme, which enabled delegates to build a personal schedule and provided a space for presenters to upload resources and interact with those attending their sessions.   

Through Crowdvine, online participants were able to view and vote in the Best Poster Awards. For the first time voting was opened to non-delegates and two prizes were awarded; one based on delegates’ votes and one on non-delegates’ votes.

The conference backchannel was extremely busy particularly on Twitter with the numbers of conference tagged updates reaching nearly 7000 tweets compared to around 300 in 2008. Tony Hirst from the Open University has published a fascinating analysis of the ALT-C 2010 twitter hashtag and those who used it on his blog: Deriving a Persistent EdTech Context from the ALT-C2010 Twitter Backchannel.

Photo of #altc2010 Twitter feed 
Figure 7 - Photo of #ALTC2010 Twitter stream

Even with the 140-character limit Twitter provides a great platform for delegates and non-delegates to comment, ask questions and enhance the talks with links and photos. Non-delegates unable to access the live streaming particularly benefited from this amplification of the conference. The #ALTC2010 tweets were displayed to delegates on a plasma screen at the venue and occasionally in the main theatre, though not during the talks themselves which divided opinion among participants. In addition to the Twitter backchannel there was a conference Facebook page joined by 84 Facebook users.

If you missed any of the main sessions, ALT has now made them available on its ClipsfromALT YouTube channel which, along with the Twitter archive and the large number of blog posts, provides a rich archive of the conference. For 2010, ALT introduced a ‘feed of feeds’ promoting delegates' conference blog posts. This feed can be used in personal feed readers but was also fed into the Crowdvine site and the Facebook page, making conference blog reports easily accessible to all.

As with this year, the ALT-C 2011 programme committee will include four web participation coordinators, so if you have any thoughts on how the online experience can be extended please do let ALT know.

Thank you!

A big thank you must go to the organisers of ALT-C, the presenters, the delegates and everyone who made the conference a success. Another thank you goes to the ALT-C reporters for their contributions to this article. We are looking forward to seeing you next year in Leeds for ALT-C 2011 - Thriving in a colder and more challenging climate.

Photographs by Mark Gregory. Copyright ALT.
Licensed by ALT under a Creative Commons "Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales" license:

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