Category Archives: Conferences

#OER16: Empowered openness

Sea from the trainOn the train on the way to Edinburgh to the OER16: Open Culture conference I was past York and heading North when the sun came out. A while later the train tracks approached the coast and I looked out at the sea for the first time in months. A wide blue sea under an open sky. In the distance LEGO-brick like shapes of container ships appeared as we neared the shipping lanes and in the brilliant sunshine we approached our destination. It felt like this conference certainly had good meteorological karma.

Running conferences is hard work, so as you might expect I didn’t get to go to half as many sessions as I would have liked – but what I did have was an experience worth sharing. If you participated in any part of the conference whether online #oer16 or in person, you will likely have your own take home moments. Here are a few of mine:

MHighton_OER16Melissa Highton’s closing keynote gave me a glimpse into what it takes (and whom!) to make OER and openness work at scale across a whole institution, for hundreds of staff, tens of thousands of students and the wider community. Armed with a strong vision and persuasive arguments for senior decision makers it was awe-inspiring to hear at what scale and with what commitment Melissa leads colleagues working to achieve the university’s vision for openness. For someone in my position who has to make arguments for openness all the time, there was a lot to take away and adapt in this presentation.
IMG_2569Making ‘open happen’ by doing it was also something that John Scally,  from the National Library of Scotland, inspired me with. Again, this is openness at scale with literally millions of openly licenced resources being ‘born digital’ in a major national undertaking. Like last year’s keynote speaker Cable Green from Creative Commons, John’s commitment to widening access and sharing with us an understanding of what it takes to open up the national collection of Scotland to all was eye-opening.
IMG_2564Meanwhile throughout my two days #oer16 I saw participants all around getting involved in conversations, making new connections, getting stuck into workshops with everything from musical instruments to colourful creations. Poster-side discussions took place with a back drop of Arthur’s seat and outside in the welcome (and persistent) sunshine the conversations continued.
IMG_2571The Wikimedians also had a lot of activities taking place on both days organising editathons including one on Women in Art, Science and Espionage, walk in “ask a Wikimedian” sessions and presentations . Their support for and involvement with the conference is only one example of how many connections this community has. Long-haul conference attendees staying in Edinburgh for the LAK conference the following week were an equally welcome addition.
@BryanMMathers_OER16Looking back at the two days there is one theme that is particularly relevant to me and which Catherine Cronin explored in her opening keynote: participatory culture (and I am including a visual thought from the wonderful Bryan Mathers here). Catherine was speaking about openness, equity and social justice and her opening set the tone for what felt to me the key factor that made this conference work: participation. Participation as in having a voice, a stake in what is happening, a share in the common future, the future of the commons.
Whenever I hear Catherine speak I reflect that despite the awesome challenges we face in terms of content, infrastructure, technology and policy it is ultimately a very personal thing to be in the open, whether through open practice, creating open content or shaping open policy.
Emma Smith, whose articulate story-telling was spell-binding and thought provoking at the same time, made a comment that most academic ‘work in progress’ being shared is so close to the finished product that it is ready to publish. It is harder, more exposed, to share the actual rough drafts, the work in progress that isn’t something we feel proud of, our processes.
Processes of practice, of production and ultimately of our own learning are personal. It’s about who I am, how I think, what I learn – and that is a scary thing to put in the open. And yet, as a magical glimpse into the world and work of Jim Groom proved, there is so much to gain, such potential, when we do.

IMG_2566That is why we are working to take control over our own domains, our data – being empowered by how we use technology and how we contribute in open spaces. That’s what I am taking away from #OER16 and supporting that process to thrive will be my aim for the next year until OER17.

Recordings of these keynote sessions and lots more available via the OER16 website. 


Looking back at delivering an online conference

As part of finishing my #CMALT portfolio I have been working on completing a section on communication. The example I am using is leading a small team in delivering an online conference, in this case ALT’s first wholly online winter conference in December last year.

Some of the things I have been reflecting on re communication are:

  • delivering live events when you are not all in the same place and using online communication methods to help bridge the gaps;
  • how online events compare with face to face events when it comes to communication and leading the delivery team;
  • how to communicate when, yes, the network you and participants depend on goes down the day before the event…;
  • using group communication as a way to manage and problem solve.

I will share what I have come up with and my reflections as part of my CMALT portfolio in due course. Sharing one example already, you can watch Martin Hawksey and me welcoming participants to day 1 of the conference in the video below:

Learning Technology: critical, reflective, empowered #OEB15

Berlin Fernsehturm
View from the lunch break

Thanks to stimulating plenary sessions, a useful exhibition, plenty of networking and the opportunity to contribute a presentation I got a lot out of participating #OEB15 from 2-4 Dec in Berlin. Now that I’m back, here are my personal reflections on the experience. If you are interested in more information I suggest you look for the videos, storify streams, blog posts and varied other content that the conference organisers make available – definitely worth a look 🙂

One of the highlights for me are the plenary sessions organised at the conference which bring together a broad line up of speakers from across the world. Two particular highlights for me this year were Cory Doctorow speaking on privacy on day 1 and Lia Commissar, Wellcome Trust, on neuroscience in education on day 2.

Cory Doctorow What I found particularly interesting in both talks were the connections between the wider issues facing us and technology used for learning and teaching. For example the importance of young people gaining the skills to become good digital citizens, to be empowered in their relationship with technology and the internet – and to be able to engage with wider issues (political, social or economic) effectively by using technology. While these skills are needed to make effective use of Learning Technology it was interesting to reflect on how many other areas of life now require digital literacy and skills. FullSizeRender (16)Meanwhile the focus on neuroscience and advance in trying to understand how our brains work was a sobering reminder of how little we know as yet as well as opening up a new perspective on the huge potential of research currently being undertaken. Some of the examples of ‘myth busting’ in the session were particularly revealing, e.g. many in the audience were surprised to find out that while personal preferences could certainly be observed, research could not demonstrate that different ways of delivering learning made a difference. This stood in contrast to a teen-led discussion the afternoon before where young people clearly expressed their own preferences e.g. that they felt they learnt better when using a mobile phone or video than making notes on paper in the classroom. One common thread for me however was a strong sense of trying to give people, both learners and teachers, more control, more power. In the face of rapid change and innovation there can be a sense of powerlessness, of loss of perspective – and much of the conference reminded me that skills, knowledge exchange and transparency can make a big difference in creating empowered use of Learning Technology. FullSizeRender (1)The panel I contributed to for example had a focus on peer-based accreditation and assessment. If you’d like to have a look at my presentation, you can see some snapshots and download it (CC-BY) here.

Another highlight for me was seeing Bryan Mathers, City & Guilds, in action sharing a journey in visual thinkery with participants. At a conference so packed with complex issues, new technologies and ever larger challenges facing individuals and institutions across the world it was important to me to be reminded that individuality, creativity and human interaction are not less, but more important in the digital age. That might seem like a rather obvious observation to make but with technology becoming ever more pervasive and the potential of its applications looming larger it is easy to forget that we have choices as human beings that technology doesn’t have. We don’t programme machines to have the freedom think and feel the way we do outside of their area of application – a point discussed by another inspiring plenary speaker and Professor of Artificial Intelligence, Toby Young.FullSizeRender (20)   With an event as large and varied as this, it’d be easy to write many different posts focused on entirely different sessions from world class research to thought provoking debates. Personally I have taken a lot of inspiration away and in particular a fresh perspective on the enduring question about Learning Technology and its impact. We keep asking whether it really makes a difference, whether it has a positive impact on learning outcomes, test scores or learner success? What events like this help me see is that as our world changes, as everything from our economic structures to social behaviours is shaped in part by the technologies we also use in the classroom, Learning Technology and its critical, reflective and above all empowered use becomes ever more crucial to all lifelong learners.




Looking back #altc… behind the scenes

As part of the organising team my experience of ALT’s Annual Conference is different from most. I’ve been really enjoying reading others’ reflections of this year’s event and that’s inspired me to share my own. So this is looking back #altc… from my personal perspective.

Badges in the making… Photo credit : Maren Deepwell CC-BY

The week before the conference is always hectic and full of anticipation. One of the tasks we help complete all together is making badges. It’s much quicker if everyone pitches in and I find it interesting to see who is coming, reading the names and institutions on each badge as the lanyard clicks into place. This is my sixth year coming to the conference and I’ve come to know many of the participants but there are always plenty of new names to learn. This year is the third time I’m seeing the event in Manchester. It’s a great location and does have the added bonus of a strong technology connection with a blue Alan Turing plaque on the building close by.


The day before the conference. Photo credit : Maren Deepwell CC-BY

When the actual day before the conference finally arrives and set up is underway, I get to spend some time in the main theatre. I like standing on the stage when the room is empty, learning its layout, checking the set up. It’s good to know what speakers will experience so that we can support them on the day. It’s also my habit to get comfortable well before welcoming hundreds of participants the following morning. Once the first wave of registration is underway the atmosphere changes and gradually the conference comes to life.

From keynote by Laura Czerniewicz
From keynote by Laura Czerniewicz

During the plenary sessions I get to sit at the very front and over the years our keynote speakers have created some of my favourite #altc moments. This year was no different. What connected them for me was their desire to share the spotlight. From a new generation of teachers  to a new community of connected learners to a global voice on equality – for me each of the speakers chose to turn our attention to some of the big questions we face. I come away with notes on what we might do better or what we could do more of in order to meet these challenges.

Picture by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology ALT conference 2015 at Manchester University. Wednesday 9/9/15
AGM voting in action. Photo credit : Chris Bull CC-BY-NC-SA ALT

Another key moment of my conference experience is the Association’s AGM. For me it’s a culmination of a year’s work, another milestone in the history of the community I serve. It’s also a symbol of our member-led governance structure and a powerful reminder of the hundreds of individuals who contribute day in day out. Every year after the AGM the Trustees meet briefly in a formal Convening Meeting. It’s usually in a small room somewhere away from the conference sessions and for a short period everyone turns serious and gets focused on the business at hand. This is when all Trustee appointments are confirmed. It’s an essential part of the Association’s governance and the moment when newly appointed Trustees take on their role.

Photo credit : Chris Bull CC-BY-NC-SA ALT
Learning Technologist of the Year Awards winners. Photo credit : Chris Bull CC-BY-NC-SA ALT

Once that is all safely out of the way and with the second day nearly finished, the mood turns celebratory as everything is made ready for the Awards. Together with the judging panel I am one of the few people who knows who the winners are in advance and seeing their excited faces, teams and individuals getting ready to be called up on stage, is one of my favourite conference moments. My job is to safely convey award certificates and running orders without giving away the results until the big moments for our finalists is finally here. Having managed the process from initial application to interview, it’s incredibly rewarding to see how much it means to each to be recognised, to be celebrated.

FullSizeRender (1)
Welcoming everyone on the first morning. Photo credit : Chris Bull CC-BY-NC-SA ALT

There’re many big moments over these three days, but fundamentally my experience consists of many more small encounters, a conversation over lunch with a first time participant, a chat with an exhibitor during a quiet break, a friendly hello to an acquaintance on the way to another session.

Or the moment when the whole auditorium suddenly goes quiet just before I get up on stage welcoming everyone (and reading out housekeeping announcements). That’s special to me.

Three days later, when we say thank you and goodbye I’m always a little sad that it’s over. Fortunately, planning for the next year is already underway, so there’s a lot to look forward to #altc.

Reflections from the Bett show 2015 on the future of technology for learners

…”At the Bett show we heard from two Ministers, who each shared their vision for the future of technology in education. In my work for the Association I have been involved in Education Technology Action Group (ETAG), as well as the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG), and I listened with interest to find out which ideas and recommendations would be included in their speeches.

Both Ministers duly acknowledged the role of Learning Technology, its potential and its impact. They both spoke about the future, about preparing learners for it, and how technology could help. Ministers were followed by senior speakers from Google and Wikipedia on the first day, and Apple on the second day, who in different ways also spoke about the future and the role that technology has, does, or will play in education. Meanwhile, across the exhibition at the Technology in Higher Education Summit, I also listened to Dave Cormier from the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada, who spoke about a different way of learning. Rhizomatic is the term he used (and if you are interested in challenging your concept of learning and teaching I certainly recommend you seek out his work). But he started his talk with a backwards glance to the late 19th century and the role of school education in preparing young people for work – life in the factories that were fuelling the industrial revolution.”…

You can assess my full article via FE News here.  Published 5 February 2015.