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September 10, 2007

Reflections on ALT-C 2007

Pete, Ed and I spent most of last week at ALT-C 2007 in Nottingham.  It was my first ALT-C and, if I'm honest, I went there primarily because Eduserv had a stand in the exhibition area and we'd taken a decision to use it to draw attention to the 4 Second Life projects that we've funded this year.

With this in mind I spent the run up to the conference preparing a 10 minute video to show on the stand - displayed using the, err, rather expensive flat-screen monitor that we chose to hire for the event.

This worked pretty well actually, and generated quite a lot of interest, meaning that we were able to give away a reasonable number of the tiny MOO cards that we'd created about each of the projects.

As a member of the conference programme committee I was also asked to chair a couple of sessions, which I was happy to do.  The first of these had 3 short papers covering the use of blogs to support reflective learning.  The second followed the same format but looked at the use of wikis.

Before the event I was slightly worried that trying to fit 3 short papers into an hour-long session was going to be overly tight.  In fact, all my speakers stuck exactly to their alloted period (for which I'm very grateful), allowing plenty of time for questions from the audience to each of them.

I also attended one other paper session, two short papers about the use of pod-casts in elearning.

The papers in these sessions reported on relatively small-scale cases studies around the use of new technologies in learning.  It struck me that we need far larger bodies of evidence if we want to draw anything other than anecdotal conclusions about the effectiveness and impact of these kinds of approaches.  Having said that, all the papers reported on the efforts of people to get on and do something practical - which is to be applauded.

Several themes seemed to emerge from these sessions:

  • the technology itself no longer presents a significant hurdle, in terms of installing and running the applications (as evidenced by the speed at which we were able to create a Hood 2.0 (see below) Facebook group and blog and almost get it indexed by Google within an hour)
  • however, pedagogic and cultural issues remain
  • student familiarity with Web 2.0 tools, particularly wikis, is often over-estimated
  • hence there is a need for induction to the tools in use and the netiqette (web2iquette?) that goes with them
  • the prominence of the 'VLE as sole delivery mechanism' seems to be diminishing somewhat - though several presenters still talked about the need to embed the external Web 2.0 tools they were using into their campus VLE
  • students do not always use the tools as intended - e.g. a group of students who were asked to collaborate using a wiki, but who chose to do the work in Facebook, only uploading the final result into the wiki - on questioning, it was not clear whether they chose to do this because of a preference for the Facebook style of working, or because they wanted to hide their work from the lecturer!

Last thing on the first day I attended a short briefing session about the JISC Emerge project which was interesting - I wasn't only there for the free wine, 'onest.

And first thing on the second day I attended a rather fun Web 2.0 Slam organised by Francis Bell, Josie Fraser and Helen Keegan.  I knew this was going to be a session in which the audience had to do something but being a rather thick techie, I kinda assumed that I'd just have to stand up and talk about my experiences of using Blastfeed, dctagged and Yahoo pipes to create mashups.  Who was I kidding?  Instead we were split into groups and expected to produce a 90 second skit on Web 2.0.  Suggested options included poetry, which to their credit one group actually managed to achieve quite successfully.

I have the performance art skills of a brick and a creative imagination to match, especially at 9.00 in the morning.  Fortunately, the rest of my group (James, Kathy and Agnes) came up with our offering - Hood 2.0 (a play on the locally relevant theme of Robin Hood (Web 2.0) stealing from the rich (the big corporations) to give to the poor (the individual)).  The resulting Hood 2.0 Facebook group already has 19 members - I have no idea why :-)

Altcemerge Finally, it's worth noting the very large and impressive JISC stand which featured, amongst other things, Second Life - a first I think.  The plan was to have a collaborative build of the new Emerge Island going on in Second Life during the conference.  I'm not sure that this worked out too well, though I and a few others spent some time on the island building stuff.  I'll describe the results more fully on the ArtsPlace SL blog in due course.

Overall the event was well organised and ran very smoothly.  Oh, and the food was great :-)

Summing up:  a fun event, well organised, good buzz, great for networking.

Final thought:  when are conference organisers going to stop filling delegate packs with reams of shite marketing blurb?  This stuff has got to be killing our planet in one way or another hasn't it?  Surely we can find a way to use technology to do this more effectively?


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Hood 2.0 has arrived...



Agree with you about the marketing blurb, why wasn't it all (in electronic format) on the 256MB USB stick which was part of our lanyard with our badge?

You and James are not the only people to question the wisdom of including marketing blurb in this way. The point is in our post-conference review.

Make a stand! Return the marketing bumpf to the organizers and blog about it.

@Seb Thanks, glad to see this is on the agenda.

@Seb and @AJ The irony of me complaining about this whilst being a member of a sponsoring organisation that included at least one bit of paper in the bag is not lost on me! :-)

Eduserv is perhaps an unusual sponsor in some ways. We sponsor primarily because we see sponsorship as helping to meet our charitable objective of "realising the effective use of ICT for learners and researchers". We don't sponsor purely and simply as a marketing exercise. On that basis, I would sponsor ALT-C again without hesitation and I personally would prefer to do so without any Eduserv bumpf in the delegate bag. Others here will probably (and perhaps reasonably) see things differently.

But I think we all need to start measuring our activities against some kind of 'environmental metric'. As an occasional meeting organiser and regular traveler to events I'm well aware that this is not easy to do. I presume that the major environmental cost of any meeting is in how and how far people travel to get to the meeting.

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