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

The VLE is dead (or is it?)

September 9th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Lots of fun at yesterdays debate on the future of the VLE at the Alt-C Conference in Manchester, UK.

James Clay, Nick Sharratt, Steve Wheeler and myself all were allowed to argue our position for five minutes and then we handed over to the audience.

Great fun and lots of interesting contributions. It is surprising how attached to their VLEs these ed techies are :).

Manchester PLE to be launched this week

September 6th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

For some time now I have been following the development of the Manchester Personal Learning Environment – now called the mPLE.

As Mark van Harmelen explains the “mPLE was first conceived of a response to a perceived lack of usable open source software to support communities and learning in those communities.

Informed by social constructivist and constructionist perspectives mPLE is designed to support individual and group learning activities. The intent is for mPLE to be used by self-directed and peer-assisting groups of learners (possibly teacher-led, but without any special status for teachers in the PLE). In order to support this vision of learning, mPLE combines a social software layer with advanced multi-user multi-media spaces where learners can meet and collaboratively perform learning activities in real time.

mPLE is close to the start of a release cycle, and will be released open source. mPLE is intended to be hosted either by an educational institution, a community group, or a less formal group of individuals. To facilitate easy hosting, one of the distribution media will be virtual machines for SUN’s free VirtualBox, making for a particularly easy install on Windows and Linux machines.”

You can read more about the mPLE on the Hedtek blog.

Hedtek Ltd will demonstrate and discuss the Manchester Personal Learning Environment (mPLE) at two fringe events during the ALT-C 2009 conference.

  • 16.00 – 16.40 Tues 8 Sept (Atlas Rooms, Kilburn Building)
  • 16.30 – 17.10 Wed 8 Sept (Lecture Theatre 1.5, Kilburn Building)

The Kilburn Building is next to the conference location.

Open and on-line at Alt-C

September 6th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

This coming week is the annual Alt-C conference. And, as is becoming standard for conferences these days, many of the sessions will be freely available on line. Alt-C themselves are broadcasting the keynote sessions through Elluminate.

The keynote speaker schedule (all times UK) is:

  • Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University, Tuesday 8 September, 09.25 to 10.25 ;
  • Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor Designate of the Open University, Wednesday 9 September, 11.55 to 12.55;
  • Terry Anderson, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Distance Education at Athabasca University, Canada – Canada’s Open University, Thursday 10 September, 11.55 to 12.55.

Just head over to to access these sessions.

But it is not just the keynote sessions that can be followed online. Many other session organisers are planning some form of on-line participation.

Tuesday, 8 Steptember, 1340 – 1500 UK time sees a debate on the future of Virtual Learning Environments, entitled “The VLE is dead” with short (and lively!) contributions from James Clay, Steve Wheeler, Nick Sharratt and Graham Attwell.  The event will be broadcast on Ustream. Deatils to follow.

Wednesday sees a Jisc Emerge symposium on Institutional Change entitled Emerging practice and institutional change symposium: a user-centred, learning technology R&D support-community network“. Speakers include George Roberts, Isobel Falconer, Josie Fraser and Graham Attwell. The symposium runs from 9.00 to 10.20 UK time. You can watch the Ustream for this session on the Emerge portal and of course contribute through Twitter.

For those of you living near Manchester but not enrolled for the conference, the wonderful fringe programme organised by F-Alt is open to all. Check out the programme on the F-Alt wiki (hash tag #falt09).

And of course, many other sessions can be followed on line. More details on the official conference Croudvine site or follow on Twitter on the #Altc2009 hash tag.


July 13th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Yes, F-Alt is back by popular demand. F-ALT is a fringe event organised to coincide with the annual UK Association for Learning Technology annual conference. This Year ALT-C will be back in sunny Manchester!

As the F-Alt09 wiki says: “Spurred on by the fantastic success of F-ALT 08, we’re looking forward to an even more fabulous series of unconference events.”

F-ALT 09 will consist of a variety of sessions held in public, conference and university spaces. Delegates are encouraged to experiment with format, with slots focusing discussion and allowing participants and bystanders to experiment with an alternative conference format. Participants pick the topics they are most interested in debating and negotiate session delivery on the F-Alt wiki.

So don;t forget – if you have session ideas – stick them up on the wiki and the detail can be worked later. And if you are coming to F-Alt, don’t forget to signup

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