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September 17, 2008

Thoughts on ALT-C 2008

A few brief reflections on ALT-C 2008, which took place last week.

Overall, I thought it was a good event.  Hot water in my halls of residence rooms would have been an added bonus but that's a whole other story that I won't bother you with here.

I particularly enjoyed the various F-ALT sessions (the unofficial ALT-C Fringe), which were much better than I expected.  Actually, I don't know why I say that, since I didn't really know what to expect, but whatever... it seemed to me that those sessions were the main place in the conference where there was any real debate (at least from what I saw).  Good stuff and well done to the F-ALT organisers.  I hope we see better engagement between the fringe and the main conference next year because this is something that has the potential to bring real value to all conference delegates.

I also enjoyed the conference keynotes, though I think all three were somewhat guilty of not sufficiently tailoring their material to the target audience and conference themes.  I also suspect that my willingness to just sit back and accept the keynotes at face value, particularly the one by Itiel Dror, shows what little depth of knowledge I have in the 'learning' space - I know there were people in the audience who wanted to challenge his 'cognitive psychologist' take on learning as we understand it.

I live-blogged all three, as well as some of the other sessions I attended:

I should say that I live-blog primarily as a way of keeping my own notes of the sessions I attend - it's largely a personal thing.  But it's nice when I get a few followers watching my live note taking, especially when they chip in with useful comments and questions that I can pass on to the speakers, as happened particularly well with the "identity theft in VLEs" session.

I should also mention the ALT-C 2008 social network which was delivered using Crowdvine and which was, by all accounts, very successful.  Having been involved with a few different approaches to this kind of thing, I think Crowdvine offers a range of functionality that is hard to beat.  At the time of writing, over 440 of the conference's 500+ delegates had signed up to Crowdvine!  This is a very big proportion, certainly in my experience.  But it's not just about the number of sign-ups... it's the fact that Crowdvine was actively used to manage people's schedules, engage in debates (before, during and after the conference) and make contacts that is important.  I think it would be really interesting to do some post-conference analysis (both quantitative and qualitative) about how Crowdvine was really used - not that I'm offering to do it you understand.  The findings would be interesting when thinking about future events.

The conference dinner was also a triumph... it was an inspired choice to ask local FE students to both cater for us and serve the meal, and in my opinion it resulted in by far the best conference meal I've had for a long time.  Not that the conference meal makes or breaks a conference - but it's a nice bonus when things work out well :-).  Thinking about it now, it seems to me that more academic/education conferences should take kind of approach - certainly if this particular meal was anything to go by - not just in terms of the meal, but also for other aspects of the event.  How about asking media students to use a variety of new media to make their own record of a conference for example.  These are win-win situations it seems to me.

Finally, the slides from my sponsor's session are now available on Slideshare:

As I mentioned previously, the point of the talk was to think out loud about the way in which the availability of notionally low-cost or free Web 2.0 services (services in the cloud) impacts on our thinking about service delivery, both within institutions and in community-based service providers such as Eduserv.  What is it that we (institutions and service providers 'within' the community) can offer that external providers can't (sustainability, commitment to preservation of resources, adherence to UK law, and so on)?  What do they offer that we don't, or that we find it difficult to offer?  I'm thinking particularly of the user-experience here! :-) How do we make our service offerings compelling in an environment where 'free' is also 'easy'?

In the event, I spent most time talking about Eduserv - which is not necessarily a bad thing since I don't think we are a well understood organisation - and there was some discussion at the end which was helpful (to me at least).  But I'm not sure that I really got to the nub of the issue.

This is a theme that I would certainly like to return to.  The Future of Technology in Education (FOTE2008) event being held in London on October 3rd will be one opportunity.  It's now sold out but I'll live-blog if at all possible (i.e. wireless network permitting) - see you there.


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Your liveblogging was appreciated Andy. Coveritlive worked well. I was less impressed by Crowdvine, which crashed a few times and didn't seem to engender the same sense of community that Twitter did.

The use of Twitter at ALT-C was interesting...

Yes, for those people on Twitter there is a real sense of community... but Twitter usage is surprisingly low. At ALT-C 2008, where there were somewhere in the region of 500-600 delegates, nearly 450 signed up to Crowdvine, but only about 45 used twitter (that I could find).

Now, that last figure isn't very scientific - it's my best guess based on looking at everyone's Crowdvine profile (yes, I really mean everyone!) added to the people who followed the @altc2008 Twitter account that I maintained during the conference.

Based on that evidence... I suggest that approx 10% of the ALT-C community use Twitter.

That's quite low (IMHO) - much lower than my expectation - for a community that one might expect to be well engaged with such things.

So Crowdvine, it seems to me, was much more inclusive of the whole ALT-C audience - despite that fact that Twitter feels much more community-like in many ways.

In fact, I suggest that it is because Twitter is somewhat cliquey that it feels more community-like??

Interestingly, I suspect that a heavily disproportionate proportion of F-ALT attendees (the fringe events) were Twitter users - again leading to a sense of F-ALT as a community, not necessarily shared by the rest of the conference.

There's some interesting issues wrapped up in this I think.

I should perhaps have explicitly mentioned that I maintained the @altc2008 Twitter account before and during the conference.

I am interested in your thoughts about whether it was any use or not?

Noting the numbers above, I was disappointed in how low the use of Twitter was at the conference. Although most stuff being pushed out thru @altc2008 was auto-generated from various RSS feeds, there was some manual stuff and it was disappointing that it wasn't hitting a bigger audience.

I based my comment above on feel rather than numbers. Crowdvine didn't feel like a community to me. The Twitter #altc2008 tag did.

Yup... and I agree with you. Just noting that I think 'feel' and 'numbers' are probably entwined in some way.

One other thought... the wireless network worked very well. Congrats to the technical team. Seems daft to have to highlight this, which is why I forgot to in the original post... but wireless connectivity is still so often crap. Places that get it right are the exception and deserve to be congratulated.

Andy, glad CrowdVine was a success. Thanks for saying so publicly!

There were 54 users with twitter accounts. Good idea to make that more visible somewhere.

Another vote of thanks for the live blogging - much appreciated.

These days I couldn't *imagine* a conference without twitter (and tags). It's just such a useful "back channel" to get immediate feedback from sessions and keynotes. Certainly, it was conference use that got me into twitter as a regular thing.

But what types of cloud-based services did people talk about? ;-)

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