ALT-C 2009: Manchester

The Hilton, ManchesterMy thoughts on the way to ALT-C this year were rather mixed. The problem with all previous ALT-Cs I’d been to has been the predominance of technology-focussed papers, with little in the way of pedagogic thought, evidence-based practice or strong research – so this was a real risk again. On the plus side, I knew many more participants this time round (almost all through my Twitter network) and was looking forward to meeting them and networking; but also, with my day job now taking a focus on distance learning, I was on the lookout for a new range of topics.

Oh, also, I was to be staying with my brother and sister-in-law-to-be in the rather swanky Hilton which now dominates the hitherto rather confused Manchester skyline. Thanks to them, I had a very comfortable base.

So to the conference itself. I’ll cheekily fit into the ALT-C mould by first noting the technology I used – of note only because it’s the first time I’ve conference’d with an iPhone, which rather revolutionised the way I interacted with it, socialised and recorded (see a fuller description here if you’re that way inclined).

I’ll deal with the game-related sessions in a separate post, and focus on the main education themes here. I was aiming for those on feedback and assessment methods, mobile learning and open and distance education (including Open Educational Resources, OERs) in the main. These, sadly, largely disappointed.

Using CRS for fieldwork

Using CRS for fieldwork

On assessment methods I saw nothing of interest; on feedback the presentation of a forced feedback-read for students within BlackBoard before they can receive their mark, by Stuart Hepplestone et al from Sheffield Hallam, was interesting – although there was no solid data yet on how the students reacted to or benefitted from it. A nice side-idea from this project was getting older students to write the instruction guides, rather than staff. I also took part in a great workshop on alphanumeric portable CRS (classroom response systems) which used a mixture of well structured questions and instant feedback in the field and back in the classroom to develop and reinforce learning – an impressive improvement on previous use of simple ABCD devices I’ve seen which don’t encourage deep learning.

The most interesting OER project was the OLNet.org project at the OU, which aims to gather together existing resources in a useful and searchable way, emphasising reuse rather than creation. The questions from the floor afterwards were particularly good, with a suggestion that open pedagogies for using the open content would be a very useful addition. A project worth watching.

There were sadly no mobile learning papers of note that I could see (surely a huge omission), but one online project to support students at point of need by involving tutors in the use of google talk and wikis to help exam revision was interesting (Manish Malik from Portsmouth) though short on details/feedback. The most thought-provoking session of the conference for me, though, was Dave White’s update to Prensky’s digital natives, with his ideas of Natives and Residents (I’ve followed – and liked – this idea for a while): great discussion after. Oh, and our Twitter paper went down well too.

The keynotes (viewable here, go to Sept 8/9/10) were good overall: Michael Wesch started with a great anthropological study which moved from Papua New Guinea to the ‘I want to be on TV/Youtube/famous’ attitude of the contemporary 18-year old. Martin Bean gave an upbeat first keynote of his time as OU vice-chancellor; but Terry Anderson finished off with the best of the three: a fast-paced but always interesting look at the nature of the modern student and how they arrive at university with their own already formed ideas of the tools and information which is relevant to their life (it is up to us to widen and expand this view) and a plethora of open resources and tools which it will take an interesting week or two to work through.

LizardThe venue was good, if a little inflexible in terms of workshop/symposium-friendly rooms; the locale perfect for social meetups (plenty of bars serving great beer at proper northern prices) including the excellent Manchester Museum across the road, with its tyrannosaur, fabulous anthropological and egyptian collections, and collection of live lizards and frogs (through which Alan Cann gave us a guided tour). F-alt ran its usual collection of slightly disorganised but well attended and lubricated sessions, and putting faces to, and sharing drinks and ideas with, Twitter friends made it the most social ALT to date.

Overall, a very good three days. A noticable increase in pedagogically-driven papers, if not always supported by good evidence, but it’s a move in the right direction. And socially/network-wise, a cracker.

Mmm... beer

Mmm... beer

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