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Thoughts on Alt-C

September 11th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

I got back from the Alt-C confernce in Manchetser late last night and have spent today catching up with the urgent stuff. Now I have a lttle time to write up a quick reflection on the week’s events. So – in no particular order –

The People

The people are always the most important part of any conference. Alt-C brings together a wide cross section of the educational technology community in the UK and it was great to catch up with old and new friends alike.  The best ‘people bit’ for me was F-Alt – in providing spaces for like minded folks to share ideas in an informal atmosphere.

The Keynotes

I usually skip keynotes but this year went to all three – with Michael Wesch, Martin Bean and Terry Anderson (for recordings of keynotes and invited speakers see –  I greatly enjoyed Michael Wesch but am not sure he said anything new. Great style, great use of multi media, but I fear he is slipping into the ‘digital natives’ school of which I am highly sceptical. Twitterers (including me) were a bit hard on him, I think.

Martin Bean is the Vice Chancellor (designate) of the UK Open University. He jumped on the stage in a burst of energy and fairly wowed the audience. High points – explicit support for Open Learn and the forthcoming Social Learn platforms and services. Curious omissions – no mention of the OU Moodle platform or anything to do with assessment or business models.

For me the best of the three was Terry Anderson. OK – he does not have the same presentation charisma. But Terry is a great researcher and I particuarly liked his ideas about open researchers.

The programme

I have to say I was a little disappointed with the programme. Although the Crowdvine site makes it easier to find out what is going on when, I still found it quite difficult to make decisions what sessions to go to. Traditional conference abstracts do not really help much. It is not really Alt’s fault ,but I think the strand titles (and conference themes) could be more transparent. One problem is that in such a big conference people naturally have different levels of experience and different interests. Although many of the sessions I went to were well presented, from some I did not really learn anything new.

The technology

Being an ed-tech conference, the tech being used is always interesting. Alt-C had a much bigger online presence this year, allowing people to follow even if not physically present. Alt-c used Crowdvine for the second year, Cloudworks also set up an online confernce site and Manchester University provided a reliable and reasonably fast wireless service. But of course it was Twitter which dominated the event with hundreds of posts tagged with #AltC2009. How much did Twitter add to the conference? I am not sure – it is a great communication channel but I still have my doubts as to its value for reflective discourse.

Themes and Memes

This is going to be somewhat impressionistic, being based meainly on things I was involved in or things I talked to others about.

Open Educational Resources

The idea of Open Educational Resources seems to have mainstreamed, being seen by many institutions as teh best way to develop repositories and license resources.Whilst it was hgard to see any new busniness models for OER drvelopment, many institutions seem to be adopting OERs as a strategic reponse ot present economic and social challenges and pressures.

How important is the technology?

An old argument which just won’t go away. Personally I think technology is important and is socially shaped. As Martin Weller says “Alternatively, from my perspective the technology isn’t important argument is used as a justification to disregard anything technologically driven and hopefully carry on as we’ve always done. In this context suggesting that technology isn’t important is irresponsible.”

Blogging and Twittering

I got caught up in this one when Josie Fraser pursuaded me into a F-Alt Edubloggers meet up stand up debate on teh subject, Josie’s position is that Twitter is just another form of blogging, I say it is different in that the 140 character limit prevents the exploration of subjects in depth and does not really allow reflection on learning. At the end of the day we probably largely agree and most of teh audience abstained in the wrap up vote!. However, the meme is still running – see twtpoll by Matt Lingard and new cloudworks page entitled  “Is twitter killing blogging?

The Future of The VLE

The VLE is dead debate organised by James Clay, ably chaired by Josie Fraser and with short inputs from James, Steve Wheeler, Nick Sharratt and myself was well attended F2F and via a stream. It has certainly caused lots of discussion. Pretty obviously despite all the interest in social software and PLes, VLEs are alive and kicking. Personally I would have liked to see more discussion on how the benefits of educational technology can be extended to lifelong learning and to those outside the institution but maybe Alt-C is just not that kind of conference! Great fun and may the debate continue.

Post Digital

This was the subject of a great pre-conference F-Alt kick off session led by Dave White and Rich Hall. To quote Dave’s excellent follow up blog post :

The post-technical then does not put technology second or first, it simply liberates the debate from those who build/code/provide the technology and puts it into the hands of those who appropriate it, the users, or ‘people’ as I like to call them, who write essays and poetry in Word, transform images in Photoshop, sustain friendships in Facebook, learn stuff by reading Wikipedia and express opinions in blogs.

The perspectives we are currently using, to come to an understanding of the cultural/educational influence of digital technologies and the opportunities therein, need to be reconsidered. I’m not sure yet if the answer lies in post-digital or post-technical approaches but I’m looking forward to tending these ideas over the next few months and seeing if something beautiful grows.”

A meme to watch for the future, I think.

Mobile and ambient technologies

Several excellent sessions around mobile technologies. I was also lucky to see a pre release demo of the forthcoming Doop augmented reality iPhone app mashing up with Twitter and Google myMaps. Very cool – will post more on this once it is ready.

More – much more

I greatly enjoyed Frances Bell at al’s Digital Identity session. Mark van Harmelen demoed the forthcoming mPLE. I loved Joss Winn’s session on WordPress goodness….more tomorrow when I wake up remembering all the great chats I have forgotten now.

Open educational Resources

11 Responses to “Thoughts on Alt-C”

  1. Frances Bell says:

    Thanks for the link love and hope the urgent stiff is not a problem 😉

  2. Martin Oewn says:

    “simply liberates the debate from those who build/code/provide the technology and puts it into the hands of those who appropriate it,”
    Graham this is b*ll*cks. People who “those who build/code/provide the technology” are first and foremost the first users and the “people” who identify the need. In the second instance they are people who make money out of customers and only get customers (or people as I like to call them) if the people need the product. Stop techie bashing now!

    It sounds like another of those “critical” approaches that places primacy of “text” over activity. You know those folk who happily label everything as a “literacy” rather than an activity and competence in the activity.

  3. Graham,
    Useful reflection. What is it about a session that you need to know to make a decision about whether to go to it?
    Inclusion of a micro-abstract – 140 characters max?
    Themes addressed?
    Type of session (demo, workshop, symposium, etc)?
    Level of experience aimed at?
    Where on tech/learning spectrum it lies?
    Extent to which it has a strong data or numerical component?
    Just musing here, but I’d be interested in your response.

  4. Jeff Cobb says:

    I was not aware of this particular conference, but read your summary with interest. Thanks for taking the time to write it. Interesting that you feel “Open Educational Resources seems to have mainstreamed” – I’ve been feeling more and more that this is the case. – Jeff

  5. Anto says:

    Thanks for your effective summary of that importat conference.
    Happy to hear that you too are skeptical about the “digital natives” hype :-)

  6. Andy Powell says:

    I wasn’t at ALT-C so this is a reaction from afar so to speak…

    You refer to a thread of discussion around “is twitter killing blogging?”. My take on this had been quite different until I read your post – specifically that twitter is killing the ‘feed-reader’ rather than blogging itself. I.e. people still read and write blogs, but the way they discover new blog content is thru twitter, rather than by regularly firing up their preferred feed-reader. Did any of that surface in the discussions at ALT-C?

  7. Emma says:

    As I largely agree with Graham when he said: “One problem is that in such a big conference people naturally have different levels of experience and different interests. Although many of the sessions I went to were well presented, from some I did not really learn anything new.” … I’ll try to answer some of Seb’s questions.

    “What is it about a session that you need to know to make a decision about whether to go to it?”
    For me, you’ve particularly got it when you asked:
    “Level of experience aimed at?” – though i know that it’s
    a: Really hard for presenters to categorise the level they’re aiming at (i.e. what level do you have to be to be “expert”; if you’ve used tool X extensively, but tool y never – does that experience mean you’re actually really quite familiar with tool y?)
    b: Can’t police who turns up anyway.

    In terms of the type of session – it doesn’t make too much of a difference to me; I guess, ultimately, I, like others, prefer the sessions where it’s hands on & you can do something/ contribute to a discussion – BUT – a really good paper session is much more useful than a poor workshop.

    As to the timetable, inevitably interesting sessions seem to happen at the same time, positive tweets make you wonder if you selected the wrong session; discussions over coffee (or, as happened here, during sessions with other escapees, but not necessarily the coffee) are often as useful as those that are scheduled.

    I think, like Graham, it was those interactions whether the vaguely formal F-ALT or the totally informal chats that were the most useful.

    Don’t get me wrong, some sessions I felt went v. well – the VLE’s death; the session on Cognitive mapping [if only to confirm to me it’s not for me], a session on student IT experience on entry [good to confirm what I feel – that the digitally native learner doeesn’t really exist], and, as Graham mentioned, the Digital Identity session.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Graham Attwell and Graham Attwell. Graham Attwell said: My impressionistic thoughts on #Altc2009 – […]

  2. […] seminar on Open Content The debates around the themes I talked about in my report on AltC last week have not gone away with a weekend of fantic blogging and twittering. This week I will try […]

  3. […] Attwell fornisce un’ottima sintesi della conferenza (che quest’anno ha inserito la possibilità di seguire alcuni eventi via […]

  4. […] needs to be paid as to how to provide rich information about sessions. I posed this question in a previous blog post about the #AltC conference. Seb Schmoller from ALT put forward a number of interesting suggestions […]

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