Making sense of the ALT-C change
What I learned as a remote attendee at this year's ALT-C conference, "Into something rich and strange" - making sense of the sea-change - a brief, partial and highly irrelevantirreverent view.
Firstly... on the technology front it was good to see that audio, slides and the occasional Twitpic from those delegates who made the effort to turn up was pretty much as good as a real [tm] video stream. Also that Java is alive and well on the desktop - Elluminate being one of the few remaining applications that still require me to have Java on my local machine. Still, it's good to remind ourselves every so often what we thought the future of distributed computing was going to be like about 10 years ago.
Secondly... I learned that lecturers are called lecturers because they lecture - a medieval practice of imparting knowledge by reading an old-fashioned auto-cue rather badly. Being called a lecturer is an indication of status apparently. They're not called teachers because they don't teach, despite the fact that we really need teachers in HE - so somewhere along the line we got our wires crossed and ended up in the bargain basement. Oddly, everyone knows that lectures are sub-optimal but if you stand up and say that in a room full of people, half of whom are lecturers, half of whom used to be lecturers and all of whom think they know better, you don't make many friends, especially if you don't say what you think needs to replace them. Even more oddly, lectures are so bad that the only way of making things better is to video them and put them on YouTube so that people can watch them over and over again. I think it's called aversion therapy. Of course, the ALT-C Programme Committee feel duty bound to appoint a 'the lecture is dead' keynote speaker every year and even go so far as to send them the same images to use in their slides - you know, the one of the monk asleep at the back and the other one with the kids dressed up as victorians and sitting in rows.
I also found out that a university education is a public good - as opposed to a private good or a public bad - and that market forces are OK in science and engineering but not in the "useless" subjects. Amazingly, most of the politicians around at the moment did those very same useless subjects - many of them reading something called PPE at Oxbridge, which I can only assume is Physical Education with an emphasis on the physical and which clearly had a very popular module called "101 How to fiddle your expenses". On that basis, the definition of "useless" being used here includes the notion of getting a fast-track to lots of political power and money. Margaret Thatcher was the only one to buck the trend, reading Chemistry apparently, but the less said about that the better - I don't want to give all chemists a bad name.
One other thing... if you're a builder that doesn't mind using computers when you don't have enough bricks to fill all the holes in your walls, especially if you don't mind kids playing on your building site, you can probably do a very popular keynote slot at future ALT-Cs. Children apparently learn best when you take away all the teachers, give them a computer (best if it's firmly attached to a wall to stop them nicking it) and let them get on with it. Many of them turn into rocket scientists within 2 or 3 years. Nobody is quite sure if this also applies to teenagers and adults but it's worth a shot I reckon. I suggest using the University of Hull as an experiment - sacking all the teacherslecturers, moving the computers outside, and letting the students get on with it. We could call it the University of Hull in the Wall and see if we get away with it?
Unfortunately, I missed out on F-ALT, the alternative ALT-C, this year cos I forgot to set my Twitter radar to the correct hashtag, so I can't report on that particular cliqueexperience. It's been so long since I took part in F-ALT that they've probably withdrawn my membership.
Oh well... here's to next year's conference. I don't know what it'll be called yet but it'll probably be some 'clever' reference to the massive changes happening in the wider world whilst ignoring the complete lack of change inside the sector.
Change? What change?
In the words of the late, great Kenny Everett... all meant in the best possible taste!