F-Alt – a quick (if belated) reflection

September 22nd, 2008 by Graham Attwell

So much seems to have been written about F-Alt – the fringe conference organised at ALT-C this year – that it almost pointless to say more (see links on the F-Alt wiki and on the #FAlt08 Twemes page). But I would like to add some words about the learning processes.

First of all the organisation. F-Alt did not have any formal organising body in the normal sense. But it did have organsiation and leadership in the sense that individuals took responsibility for doing things. This relied on a high degree of community and of trust and possibly refects the emergence of a community of practice aorund the use of ICT for learning which has perhaps been lacking before. Maintaining community openess and willingness to remain emergent are challenges for the future.

Th technologies worked pretty well. The Wet Paint wiki offers a quick way to develop a collaborative organising platform. Twitter was pretty useful for getting the word out although it would have been better if Twemes had been restored earlier and we had been able to publicise our tag.

The big success fo me was the format. Running short, sharp and issue focused sessions – no speakers were allowed more than three minutes – allowed both a focus n those topics particpants wanted to discuss and also, critically, highly participative events. None of us knew the venue in advance and we expropriated public spaces. Whilst this did pose problems in terms of people knowing where events would be and in somewhat distractive background noise levels (30 of us discussed e-Portolfios around a poolt table in the corner of a pub!) it also kept us focused on the wider conference and communiy environment in which we are working. Perhps there is a learning lesson for organsers of ‘official’ confernces. There are plenty of formats other than the stand and tell – or stand and powerpoint – followed by three or four questions. Lets try and innovate. I would also like to see experiments with ‘blended conferences’ where presentations can take place online and face to face sessions used to discuss, debate and challenge around the issues and possibly produce new resources and outcomes.

I am sure that others will replicate the sucess of F-Alt and we will see more such fringe happenings in the future. This raises the question of the relationship between conference organisers and the fringe. In many ways F-Alt was all the better for being not associated officially with Alt-C. But, I believe F-Alt provided added value to the conference and thus such events should be encouraged by confernce organisers. But raher than endorsing or officially supporting such Fringe activities, better could be to provide open spaces where such activities might take place. In other words, to accept that unconferencing is what is says and is not part of the conference, but a useful, complimentary and parallel activity. As such it could be good if conference organisers were to provide times and spaces where such activities could take place – not just for F-Alt bu for anyone with a burning issue to discuss.

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