Conference to practice: reflecting on a week at ALT-C

I’ve been a Learning Designer for three years now, and ALT-C (The Association for Learning Technology Conference – September 2021) was my first conference within the role. While I’d never expected my first experience with this to be online, I must say I thought it was fabulous.

The organisers did a grand job of making it feel like a large scale professional event, but what really pulled me in was the community, who were engaged, engaging, curious, passionate and knowledgeable (picking but a few of their characteristics). My own ‘local’ community of fellow OU Learning Designers added to the buzz, and experiencing something synchronously alongside them was wonderful – something we haven’t had the opportunity to do much of over the last 18 months.

So I loved the conference, but what grabbed me in particular?

Ethics and inclusivity was a recurring theme of my journey through the choice of synchronous conference sessions, with Mutale Nkonde’s keynote in particular prompting me to reflect on the algorithms that I encounter in personal and professional life, ponder the direction on travel of learning technology in general, and how it will reconcile and moderate itself in years to come. Discussion around the ALT Ethical framework launched on day 2 showed that as a profession, ethics has moved from a value driven set of tick-box aspirations to a more self critical, reflective approach to practice.

There were some great examples of activity design as well. The Delfitia Project struck me as a really neat idea, it’s a research project on the Delfitia Microbe that spans multiple cohorts across multiple years, with students progressing the wider research goals in bite sized increments, producing student created OER resources and building confidence in scholarship. Others appealed to my extracurricular interests, with both ‘Teaching English in VR’ and ‘From Here to Anywhere: A Digital Escape Room’ demonstrating great opportunities for experiential learning in their respective environments, with some nice succinct evaluation bundled alongside to demonstrate their impact. Rafa (our evaluation lead) would be in his element.

The digital pivot and upheaval many universities experienced last year (and continue to experience) was interesting to observe from our own primarily distance-based model, in large part due to the challenges they’ve experienced in many ways echoing those we encounter at the OU. I was particularly struck that research in to student experiences perceptions and circumstances mapped closely with what we’ve seen in our own qualitative findings.

This is just a selection of the highlights of course, and I flitted across dozens of sessions within the jam packed programme.

The question is, what will I try to take in to my own practice?

The new perspectives on ethics and inclusivity are something I’ll need to digest and reflect upon. I can see this prompting me to engage in a critical look at my own practice, to see if I’m where I’d like to be – being an ethical and inclusive practitioner who promotes and demonstrates those values. I’ve recently enrolled in CMALT so I’ll look to build in that ethical lens as I construct my portfolio.

The activity design case studies were brilliant, and I’d like to see if we have anything analogous within the OU in presentation at the moment, and if so make sure we’ve got them captured on our TEL In Practice showcase site. It would be great to be able to promote this kind of experiential activity with teams who are looking to do something a little different, and a little innovative.

Finally, I’ll be taking back a general flavour of the conference, and where the Learning Technologist community seem to be at the moment. In the last 18 months my professional network has narrowed due to a lack of colocation and a finite capacity for online meetings throughout the working day. Being digitally immersed in the community even for a few days has been a well needed and timely reminder that there’s a big wide world of ed-tech professionals outside of my immediate team, unit, and institution, and that there’s a lot of great stuff happening within the space.