Monday, 17 September 2012

Event report: ALT-C 2012

ALT-C 2012 held at
the University of Manchester
Since I'm not long back from ALT-C (the annual Association for Learning Technology Conference) which this year was held at the University of Manchester, I thought I should get some notes written up on the themes, resources and highlights I picked up during a very full three days.  Lots to enjoy, lots to think about, lots of questions to take away... so... here's my take on ALT-C 2012.

Keynotes and themes
The conference theme was 'A confrontation with reality' with keynotes from Eric Mazur (Harvard University), Richard Noss (London Knowledge Lab and Institute of Education) and Natasa Milic-Frayling (Microsoft Research Cambridge) and all three took an analytical look at technology enhanced learning.

Eric Mazur is renowned for his work with electronic voting in the classrooms (clickers) and he talked with great humour about the way in which traditional education has focused on transferring knowledge into students' heads - with the main issue being that the really important stuff isn't happening in students' brains en route!

Eric Mazur illustrating brain activity
during lectures
In fact, he illustrated that students are typically more asleep in lectures than in their beds with the only other activity that matches the flat brain activity of class being watching television (see picture).  The theme of using data rather than anecdote as a platform on which to discover what really works with course design ran through his keynote.

He encouraged an active, interactive approach which teaches by questioning, which encourages confusion (being confused and wrong, it turns out, is better than being certain and wrong!) and discussion.  His data shows a correlation between the amount of discussion increasing and the number of students who understand concepts increasing - though, I would imagine the law of diminishing returns will kick in at some point!  It's not so much 'the lecture is dead' more the 'dead lecturing style is dead'.  Lots of food for thought!  If you're interested to read more, his slides are available online.

Richard Noss at ALT-C
Richard Noss and Natasa Milic-Frayling continued the research-driven theme.
Both made the point that it's the people underlying the technology which are critical to the success of technology enhanced learning.  Natasa talked about the health of the community and needing the tools to measure this and Richard talked extensively about collaboration and the fact that it's people who change the world, not the technology.  Even if, as he pointed out 'the knowledge that powers the world is less and less visible' he made the point that you still need an inspired teacher to help you understand the things that are difficult to bump into by yourself.

People are the key, and understanding learning and the processes of learning ripples through the use of technology across the education sector.

The University of Sheffield at ALT-C
It was great to see that we had a couple of our Learning Technologists - James Little and Luke Miller - presenting on their work in the School of Nursing and Midwifery and the School of Health and Related Research respectively.  James was sharing his experience of blended study-day based education and Luke was introducing his tool for creating online content, MOPE which he's blogged about here before. And it was fantastic to see that Gary Wood, Associate University Teacher in the School of English had won the Google / ALT Learning and Teaching Award for their work on  Brilliant stuff - very well done Gary and congratulations to your students as well!  

Links and resources
As ever, I picked up a hefty number of links and resources from ALT-C... (I went with a view to looking at issues of curriculum development as well as assessment and feedback)... so here are a few for you to have a look at when you have a moment or two...
  • Supporting Responsive Curricula (SRC) project led by Manchester Metropolitan University where they're re-writing the whole undergraduate curriculum in a very ambitious timescale.
  • UG-FLEX led by the University of Greenwich which is trying to enhanced curriculum development processes underpinned by integrated systems.
  • PREDICT (Promoting Realistic and Engaging Discussions in Curriculum Teams) from City University London and there are some really nice resources for curriculum and programme design there.
  • FASTECH - a JICS-funded project based at Bath Spa University and the University of Winchester which is attempting to enhance student assessment and feedback - lots of good resources here.
  • UCISA 2012 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK - and since we took part in this survey, it's particularly interesting to see the cross-sector results.
  • Rough Guide to Curriculum Design from Birmingham City University which is worth a look even if their processes / systems don't match our own.
  • Viewpoints from the University of Ulster - looking at tools and approaches to support reflective / learner-centered course design
  • Open University Learning Design Initiative - I took part in a workshop where the pedagogical features card sort was used and again, for curriculum design, this looks to be a handy conversation starter as part of the design process.
As ever, I feel sure that I missed a lot of sessions from the conference which I wanted to attend but due to various other commitments I couldn't do so.  However, it was good to catch-up with people from various different institutions / make some new connections, see what's happening and where and get a feel for the state of technology enhanced learning across the field.  Last year most people seemed to be head down and implementing VLEs, this year it's more about main-streaming and the curriculum in response to our changing learners' needs and expectations.

An intense few days!  Next year's theme is 'Building new cultures of learning' with keynotes from Stephen Downes and Tara McPherson and it'll be held at the University of Nottingham - the learner is centre stage.  And that's excellent to hear!

Did you manage to get to ALT-C either in person or online?  What did you make of it?  What were your key themes / messages?  Did you enjoy it?


1 comment:

  1. I wonder why Mazur is talking about 'brain activity' when this is sympathetic nervous system activity?



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