The Lecture is… ALT-C Reflections

September 11, 2010

The ALT Conference is always a good conference to challenge your assumptions, make new discoveries and question your practice.

This year’s conference was no exception, there was plenty to make you think, question, challenge and importantly learn from others. As with many conferences the discussions outside the sessions (either on the back channel or over coffee) are just as valuable as the content of the sessions themselves. However they can’t exist in isolation, the presentations and discussions are important and complement each other.

Last year, the VLE was a dominant theme, this year the lecture came under the spotlight. Donald Clark who opened the conference with his keynote riled people and annoyed them with a blanket attack on the lecture.

There are reasons to question practice, it is often too easy to fall back on what we have always done, because we have always done it that way. However while I think Donald was right to question the validity of the lecture, his approach was to attack, dismiss and offer no serious alternatives to the current lecture format. Donald’s only serious suggestion was to produce online learning packages. Yes there are historical reasons why we have lectures in the form that they are, however this isn’t necessarily an accident of history, it could be the evolution of a useful and efficient teaching process.

Having said that I do recall from my undergraduate days one lecturer whose lectures were word for word taken from his book. I bought the book and never went to the lectures. I guess at least I had a choice, though the book was very expensive as I recall! Though that was some time ago and you should never rely on personal experiences to reflect what is happening now across the whole sector.

After Donald’s keynote I was part of a session that gave delegates at ALT-C an opportunity to discuss and debate the keynote. One of the issues we did discuss was the impact learning spaces have. If we have lecture theatres then we have lectures and lecture theatres make it challenging to do other kinds of activities. So we hear lecturers saying they do want to do different kinds of stuff, but the space prevents it. Though it was interesting to hear from others that had created new types of learning spaces, lecturers complaining and wanting lecture theatres back. Sometimes it’s the space, sometimes it’s the practitioner.

The following day, Dave White, from TALL, gave a passionate defence of the lecture.

Dave with his extensive experience with TALL is certainly well qualified to understand the benefits and limitations of online delivery. However he discussed during his talk the importance of the social benefit that physical lectures provide for a community of learners. This is though not impossible to recreate online, is very challenging. Dave demonstrated through his delivery and content that the lecture in itself can be a useful way to stimulate discussion and debate.

I should also at this point congratulate Dave and the TALL team on winning the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year team award.

In my opinion for some learners the lecture can be a useful method of learning. The problem arises when you start to rely heavily on the lecture as your main method of delivery. Using a lecture can be great for learners, only using lectures is not. It’s the same with any kind of learning activity, just using one type of process is not going to be effective, for most learners it will become boring and tedious.

There are other challenges facing the sector with the question of whether universities should focus on research or teaching and whether we should split the sector up into research universities and teaching universities along models found elsewhere in the world.

Another challenge is obviously funding and the inevitable cuts we are facing over the next few years. It will be seen as easy and “efficient” to give lectures to hundreds of undergraduates rather than break them down into small groups for other activities in order to save money.

Overall the conference did succeed in getting the delegates taking about the issues, the challenges and the possible future role of the lecture. I do believe as learning technologists we should question the effectiveness of not only what we do, but also look at existing practices to see if they are still valid and useful.

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Just for fun…

September 10, 2010

Just for fun…

I was going to do more with this, but my editing skills and lack of useful photographs, as well as not wanting to offend too many people, means that this is it!


ALT-C 2010 Day #2

September 8, 2010

So it’s day two of ALT-C here in Nottingham. It’s another very busy day with lots on.

First up I am going to attend the New Bottles, Old Wine? Symposium.

Educators have started using popular digital technologies, including mobile phones and media players; social networking sites like Facebook; blogging sites such as Twitter, immersive virtual environments, mainly Second Life; and online gaming platforms such as World of Warcraft and connected mainstream console based games. This is a significant development, a distinct departure from the use of technologies that are purely educational or institutional such as e-portfolios or VLEs, where educators and their institutions control the technology and impose the rules. Where popular digital technologies, are used beyond the walled garden of the institution, other rules have already begun to emerge. These technologies are creating more places and modes that people can inhabit, where communities can form and disband, where ideas, images and information can be produced, stored, shared, tagged, discussed, transmitted and consumed and where diverse expectations have developed about language, humour, posture, taste, fashion, etiquette and behaviour. They are like foreign countries, ones where we take our students or ones where we hope to find students, ones where we must learn the rules, where the inhabitants and communities each have their own ideas of what constitutes ‘identity’, ‘consent’, ‘privacy’, ‘harm’ or ‘risk’. There are no easy ‘for’ and ‘against’ formulations; different technologies are used in different ways with different students and in different contexts. The speakers come from social media, gaming, immersive virtual worlds, mobiles and transnational perspectives. This debate draws on a range of strongly held opinions emerging from within a newly formed HEA SIG exploring the ethics of educational interventions, both teaching, evaluation and research, in popular digital technologies. We hope delegates will join the SIG and continue to be involved as discussions and understandings evolve. We hope to identify important and over-arching issues and approaches for educators, in order to support and protect their students, and to enhance their institutional procedures and inform the development of relevant professional frameworks.

I think this may be the debate of the conference and certainly one to come to.

After the coffee break I am helping to run a workshop, Guerilla Narratives of Media, with the wonderful Helen Keegan, Frances Bell and Josie Fraser.

Mobile devices in educational settings are powerful tools for supporting and recording learning, but have had mixed reactions from students. Some students see educational media such as podcasts as an intrusion into their personal use of technology; others who are given standard mobile devices for a project don’t relate to them as ‘personal’ devices. Staff wishing to harness mobile learning technologies in their productive engagement with students can get distracted by the provision of technologies rather than focusing on learning outcomes. This practical workshop will introduce participants to a range of ideas for using personal technologies to enhance the teaching and learning experience through student-generated content production and geo-location services. The emphasis is on pragmatic and resourceful practice by students and staff in using platform-agnostic media and services to support the learning process. Participants will be introduced to new narratives using the mobile phone as a tool for data recording, media production and content sharing, and emerging web services as means of aggregating content from multiple platforms. Geo-location services will be introduced from the perspective of using hyper-local mobile phone applications in education, in order to give participants an idea of how these techniques could be used more widely in a learning context. Taking a ‘guerilla narrative’ approach to rapid learning design, participants will then work in groups to produce learning activities which take advantage of the devices in students’ pockets. Each group will produce 3 ‘snapshot’ ideas – audio, image and video – for using mobile technologies in the classroom. Using their own mobile phones participants will record their snapshots/ learning activities, producing media artefacts which can then be uploaded and shared with the wider community via the session wiki. By the end of the session participants will: have developed a conceptual understanding of a ‘guerilla EdTech’ approach to activity design; be able to upload media from internet mobile devices to web sites, including geo-location services; have acquired a range of sample media artefacts and learning activities for their students.

I then intend to listen to David White, who is one of the invited speakers.

Earlier this year my group at the University of Oxford were commissioned to undertake a study of online learning for the HEFCE Online Learning Task Force. Our research showed that the vast majority of online distance learning provided at higher education level is in postgraduate ‘professional’ courses which in these Return-On-Investment times offer an attractive income stream from employers and employees alike. Increasing activity in this area could lead us to believe that we are in danger of generating a parallel ‘training 2.0’ HE sector but the reality is far more complex. Using evidence published in the study, this presentation will explore how the emergent culture of the web is encouraging online students to expect a form of engagement that many in the HE sector have been advocating for years. It will discuss how this is challenging the role of the academic and what strategies institutions are taking to meet the demand for discursive, activity based pedagogies. The presentation will also discuss the need for non STEM disciplines to move online to maintain a balanced representation of the character of our university system in the mêlée of course offerings from around the globe.

Over lunch it’s time to re-visit the posters before attending the keynote from Sugata Mitra.

Then I have decided to attend the Meeting changing student expectations session.

After the ALT General Meeting I will be in the presentation of the Jorum L&T Awards (as I was one of the judges).

Of course in the evening it is the ALT Gala Dinner, which has a lot to match up to the last two years, which were fantastic.


The lecture is dead

September 7, 2010

Donald Clark opened the ALT 2010 Conference with a controversial keynote on the lecture.

This keynote certainly got people riled and discussing the lecture on the Twitter back channel. I do think that Twitter has changed how we discuss keynotes now. In the last we would have discussed the keynote after it had finished, either over coffee or a reflective article like this one. Twitter allows discussion during the keynote itself and brings in people who are not even in the auditorium or at the conference.

So what was the gist of the keynote, well the lecture is dead!

Donald gave us a history of the origins of the lecturer, attacked the value of the lecture and showed us a clip from Ferris Bueller. He talked about the culture of research which pervades HE and that good researchers don’t necessarily make good teachers. I didn’t feel though he offered us any real alternatives though.

In my experience there are good lectures and there are bad lectures. However it would appear that the good inspiring lectures are rare. The key question is the norm of the lecture so ingrained into the culture of our institutions that any one questioning their value is seen to be questioning not just the value of lectures but also the value of the institution. Do we lecture because we have always given lectures?


ALT-C 2010 Day #1

September 7, 2010

So it’s Tuesday the 7th September and I am in Nottingham for ALT-C. It’s a very busy day with lots on and I have a fair bit to do too.

The conference opens at 10.00am and then Donald Clark delivers the first keynote of the conference.

He is intending to be controversial and I need to pay attention more so than usual as I will be on a panel later discussing the keynote.

…there’s a dark secret at the heart of HE that really holds it back – the lecture. Apart from being pedagogically suspect, many are badly delivered and few are recorded. Donald will do some deconstruction of the lecture in terms of its history, lack of relevance in the terms of the psychology of learning and serious limitations for students.

This may well be controversial for the largely HE audience at ALT-C whose institutions are dominated by lectures.

And before you ask, yes he is aware of the contradiction!

After the keynote there are many parallel sessions and as per usual a fair choice of subjects and topics. I quite like the idea of the mobile learning demonstrations, but I do know a fair bit about that subject so will probably not go. The Fun with ‘Faux-positories’ sounds like  a different and interesting workshop.

This workshop will give participants a chance to work hands-on with Diigo and Netvibes to develop their own resource sharing and dissemination sites for their departments, communities, or classes.

Alas it was cancelled due to illness.

I do also think the two e-book short papers would be of interest and useful for the symposium later on.

After lunch I am as I had said part of the facilitated discussion on Donald’s keynote. I suspect this will prove quite popular once the keynote has happened!

Like the morning the afternoon parallel sessions offer a wide choice.

I think the Changing staff development short papers will be useful. The demonstration on copyright would also be of interest, less sure about the advertising demo in the same session.

I am really liking the look of the Institutional changing paradigms short papers session.

I would probably attend the Student voice expectations short papers session, however from the abstracts it looks like it may have too much of an HE focus to be really useful.

After a range of other sponsored presentations I will be running my e-book symposium.

After dinner there is a range of F-ALT activity and the EduBloggers meet up in the city centre.

As is usual for ALT-C a very packed and busy day.


ALT-C 2010 Day #0

September 6, 2010

So it’s Monday and I am off to Nottingham for ALT-C.

For FE this is a particularly busy time and as a result not many of my FE colleagues will be attending the conference which is a pity as there is so much they could contribute to this conference and so much they could take away. I am lucky in that I have a fantastic team working hard in the libraries, likewise most academic staff I work with are working their socks off with enrolment and induction. As a result though it is a busy week for FE, it’s usually quite a quiet week for me, so in many ways an ideal time for a conference!

For me that is the real value of ALT-C. I am usually presenting in some capacity (and this year is no exception) and I always learn something new that will help me in my day to day role at the college.

I am driving to Nottingham, slightly wary, as the last time I was in Nottingham three years ago, my car was broken into and I had a load of stuff stolen. This time I am taking a lot less stuff (as I am not doing a mobile learning workshop this time) and I am expecting to rely heavily on my iPad (rather than a laptop) for my conference amplification and back channels.

I am involved in three sessions this year. The first is being a panel member in a session that responds and feedbacks to Donald Clark’s keynote. The second is my e-book symposium which is generating some interest, though nowhere near the hype and expectation of the VLE is Dead last year. I am also part of the Guerilla EdTech workshop which will be fun.

The networking and social side of ALT-C is also good and it will be nice to touch base and make contact with old friends and new ones too. Social networking services like Twitter, blogging (and in my case Facebook slightly) have ensured that contacts made last year, and at previous ALT conferences have been sustained and built on.

So looking forward to what will be an interesting conference.


Do you like books or do you like reading?

September 4, 2010

17:15 – 18:15 on Tuesday, 7 September in Room 1

eBooks and eBook Readers bring new challenges and new opportunities for learning technologists. Sony has the eReader, Amazon the Kindle and now Apple has the iPad. Publishers are now offering more titles as eBooks. There is a huge growth and interest in this new medium. Some learners prefer physical books and the feel of paper, but do eBooks have the potential to offer more to the reader? Are eBooks a new way for learners to access information and learning? Are they just a digital version of print, ignoring the affordances of new technologies? This symposium will explore the potential of eBooks, the role of eBook Readers for learning, and the ways in which learning technologists can utilise eBooks to enhance and enrich the learning experience. The panel consists of: educators who have used eBooks with learners; researchers who have researched the use of eBooks in education by learners; publishers who have designed and developed eBooks; and learning technologists. Each member of the panel brings their experience of embedding the use of eBooks with learners. These experiences have been through using eBooks in the classroom and in the library with learners. Researching user behaviour in the use of eBooks and designing eBooks for learners. The session will commence with an overview and introduction of eBooks and eBook technologies, through mobile devices such as the iPad and using the browser. The members of the panel will each deliver a presentation on their view of the future of eBooks. They will pose questions to the audience to stimulate debate and discussions. Panellists with the audience will debate the strengths and weaknesses of eBooks and the various eBook Readers available. They will discuss whether eBooks offer new pedagogies or reinforce existing ones. By the end of the debate participants will have had an opportunity to discuss the advantages and challenges that eBooks bring to education and the role they could play in the enhancement and enrichment of learning.

Music: Comic Plodding by Kevin MacLeod Licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 3.0” http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/