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My Reflections on ALTC 2015

Photo credit : Chris Bull
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Last week I spent three days at the Association for Learning Technology Conference (#altc) in Manchester. 

It’s been a good few years since I’ve done the conference thing but I was looking forward to totally immersing myself in ideas and learning from people's’ experiences.

The conference themes were:

  • Harnessing the power of the crowd – collaboration and connectivist learning
  • Learners as agents of change
  • Open educational practice
  • Participatory approaches to the development of learning technologies
  • Social media in learning and teaching

The Emergent Themes - What It Really Was About

For me, the standout sessions and the ideas that seemed to permeate most of the conference were:

  • Learning Analytics
  • Research and reports regarding User Centred Methodologies and Pedagogies
  • Novel approaches and research to learning  i.e technologies, apps, MOOCs, IoT, wearables etc

… but this of course could have just been the sessions I chose to go to. There was an overwhelming choice of sessions at any one time, which inevitably gives you the feeling that you must be missing more than you’re getting. Take a look at the sessions for day one here

I took copious notes throughout the conference, or rather doodled a lot, knowing that when you get flooded with information it’s so easy to lose many of the small but interesting threads. I did. Even now, a week later things are still sinking in.

Learning Analytics

I’m guilty of assuming I knew what Learning Analytics was simply because I recognise the words. The conference has given me a clearer understanding of the aims and intentions people have but it’s clear that the paint is not dry on lots of Learning Analytics thinking.

All the Learning Analytics sessions were about early findings and plans for the future. Yes, there are some “complete” products available, like IBM’s Portal. Interestingly, for me, IBM seem to bundle a social tool ( think Facebook for the university ) which could be used, very obviously, to feed more usage data into the learning analytics side of things. Seems a smart-ish.

The JISC Learning Analytics initiative and tools looked very interesting. We saw wireframe mockups and finished designs of what the student app and the teacher dashboards would look like. They looked slick. But it was funny how, when you start “playing” with the app in your mind, digging deeper, all sorts of dark corners and questions start to emerge about how it would work and what it would mean and what would then follow. The ethics and oversights of Learning Analytics are as important as the how it all works.

I was particularly intrigued by JISC’s  “Consent Service” component, where a student might agree to their data being used to provide them with more information or even BYOD (Bring Your Own Data, for example uploading your FitBit logs or allowing access to other online resources).

The OU suggested that aligning your learning analytics with your educational vision was the only way forward. This made complete sense and they showed how different universities had approached their learning analytics implementations.

We saw a presentation from Brocklehurst College who were working with IBM’s Portal service. They’re a year in and claim myriad improvements in retention and performance.

From Hull, @thebigparticle, noted that their Learning Analytics work had stimulated lots of discussion with students, that superficially was about the tool, but actually was about their learning, and that this was invaluable, changing students’ mindsets.

Some Random Technology, Apps and Gadgets

QuizIt Champion was an interesting quiz testing app That will be released soon and is free.

Aurasma AR tool looks fun and powerful - and really could be used with Archaeology exhibits, for example. Think of everything in the world as a visual QR code, kinda.

iBeacons are little devices that send out “I am here, I am here” messages, meaning you can, with an app, ascertain presence or closeness to the device. With 3 in a room you can effectively do indoor GPS. These look fun to tinker with.

Makey Makey is what you need when you want a banana piano. No seriously. is being used for storyboarding.

If you haven’t seen the horror site, Take This Lollipop, and you use Facebook, give it a whirl.

Student Centered Processes: @GCDigiTech

Gloucester College had a nice project where they asked “Student Innovators” to trial and review apps to tell other students if they’re useful or not in their studies. The students blogged their thoughts here.

The created an “App of The Week” category and used the blog to provide some peer support. Recommended apps included Grammarly and RefMe.

This interesting part of this was how students were researching the tools and ways they wanted to work, making suggestions and recommendations to their lecturers and each other, and discussing with each other the best approaches.

To Wrap Up

I headed off to ALTC expecting to learn a lot and I learned more than I expected. I learned that full on three day conferences are knackering, I’m getting old, and concentrating and listening hard for that amount of time is taxing work. I will of course, be suggesting a meditation zone with sitar players, hot tubs and champagne to the organisers for next year, back me up people.


  1. I'll definitely back you up on the sitars, hot tubs and champagne! Do you mind if I link to your post in my blog post on our e-learning website? Just putting it together now.

  2. That was amazing story the thoughts you have shared with us was amazing. But i just want to say if you use Nerdio_Tech in your work then things would more interesting. Also your performance level will raise and it would be best for you.


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