See "Announcements" for activities you can try for yourself to link up with our work at ALT-C. Click on the word 'Announcements' on the left side of the screen.
Why is it so exciting for someone from a FE College to go to ALT-C? I have been to ALT-C once before, having received special dispensation to miss the start of term activities at college. I came back 'buzzing' with ideas and excited about all the collaboration and possibilities that 3 dynamic days away brought. I learned about 'Appreciate Inquiry' which was a minor life changing (and affirming) moment.
It is difficult for anyone from further education to get away at the busiest time of the year. ALT FE committee knows this and the offer of a reduced rate to encourage more people from the sector to attend was helpful. Still, my line manager gulped when I asked her if I could go this year after LSIS asked if I could blog as a FE rep. I promised to bring the college iPad and keep in touch so she said 'yes'.
NEWS from ALT-C
The keynote for Wednesday was given by Karen Cator, via video link from the US, on Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology. This is what the session looked like:
It was a good session because the technology, for the most part, worked and Karen's personality came through, along with her view of education.
Some of you know that I am a product of the American school system so I have my own views on the basic inequality built into a system which gives local control of education at state level to elected school boards. School districts are funded from local taxes for the most part so it isn't difficult to explain that if you have money, you move to a better area if you have children and want to educate them in state schools. Of course it also means that if you live in an area where there are deeply held religious or social beliefs that you may not agree with, your education may have a restricted view of the world.
With that in mind, Karen sounded a positive influence to me because she acknowledged these aspects of the American system but said that the present government was anxious to try to overcome the inequalities. I was very pleased when yesterday's speaker from Uruguay asked a question, that Karen knew about their project and was full of praise for it and for the country. I always prefer to be hopeful about the transformative power of education and I liked her response which was phrased something like, "Education is a moral imperative and an economic necessity".
I rushed off to two final sessions; one on web conferencing, using Adobe Connect, followed by a session run by TechDis on their Online Accessibility Self Evaluation Service (Oases). The web conferencing workshop provided a handy list of realistic training and behaviour tips if you want to seriously engage with vc. Since we have started to go down this route (and will be participating in an LSIS funded online seminar for FE about implementation), this was a timely session. It is intriging that often people engage with technology and forget that training is important. Communicating online, even if you can see someone, isn't the same as face to face.
Here's a shameless plug for the JISC online conference in November - Innovating e-Learning; Learning in Transition.
This is an excellent opportunity to see what it's like to attend a conference online. All of us who work with learning technologies should understand and experience online learning/video conferencing because it is going to become a more important part of what we all do. It's no longer restricted to those organisations which have money and a large IT Services team to run it. Don't forget that we all have free access to JANET Video Conferencing.
Congratulations to JISC TechDis for its part in the In-Folio implementation team which was awarded the Learning Technology Team of the Year Award at the 2011 Association of Learning Technology Annual Conference (ALT-C) dinner. If you haven't come across TechDis, you must give yourself 5 minutes to browse their website. They have managed to put together resources and information about accessibility in technology which is useful to everyone.
The Oases session was a good example of this - an easy to use tool to allow a range of people in institutions to benchmark accessibility in relation to the service that they are responsible for. This is a free and anonymous service to help everyone understand what it means to make 'reasonable adjustments' according to current Disability Legislation.
SKG project; Comfort, aesthetics, flow, equity, blending, affordances and repurposing.
It was a good session to start a conference on learning technology because it highlighted the need to look at how people learn and how institutions deliver 'learning'. Without good learning design and spaces, the pedagogy is not going to make much progress. The interesting thing was that we were in a traditional classroom with a sign on the wall that said we couldn't move the furniture unless we promised to put it back! However, we had an opportunity to work in small groups and design an innovative area on flip chart paper as we compared notes.
Simple ideas, such as using small whiteboards in place of flip chart paper and then photographing the results to be directly uploaded to a VLE were greeted enthusiastically by many of us who need low cost solutions to supporting a more collaborative style of learning in existing buildings.
As you can imagine, there were a number of good ideas and this type of session is a good example of why conferences are so useful. I could have been given the report, but the discussion with colleagues about the issues involved have me thinking long past my bedtime.
Interesting question from this session - How can you judge the quality of the learning experience in a more relaxed environment?
It was a packed day, starting with the keynote from Miguel Brechner, an education minister from Uruguay who spoke on a subject close to the heart of all of us who work in FE; social inclusion. I could wax lyrical about his talk, which outlined how giving every child in his country a laptop promotes equality and self esteem. Check the ALT-C website next week for a link to his talk which I hope was filmed. It makes a fine contrast to the current educational climate in the UK.
I then listened to a session on using Google Apps for Education. Now I like Google Apps a lot but it still seems a leap of faith to turn over the whole institution's business to Google. I admit that I haven't spent time looking for answers to questions about data security, etc so perhaps my scepticism has answers. On the other hand there are lots of interesting things going on in the Google world and the session chair did show us an app called 'Moderator' which allows people to post questions and others to comment and vote on the questions.
JISC launched its latest publication, Emerging Practice in a Digital Age which has case studies, video clips and useful links to research projects which have used a range of simple and sophisticated technologies to improve the learner experience. Andy Ramsden demonstrated QR codes to a packed room and had everyone talking and thinking about how the codes could be used to design interesting learning experiences. Download the document by clicking here. There is much in the guide that would be useful to further education about working in partnership with students and developing good employability skills.
The final session of the day for me was Institutional Digital Literacy. I have already said that we provided a case study for the JISC project - Supporting Learners in a Digital Age. There was plenty of activity in the session led by Rhona Sharpe and Helen Beeham and some interesting comments and questions gave us food for thought. For example, in the digital age, is there a pedagogy of abundance...just too much information? We were asked to think about whose responsibility it is to develop good digital literacy skills.
I have spoken to a few colleagues from FE who are here - or who are presenting sessions. Patricia Forrest from Lewisham College presented a session with Phil George on the VLE. In spite of the HE nature of the conference, there is so much which is relevant to us in FE. The opportunity to talk and discuss issues over 2 days is such a bonus and it does provide a stimulating environment for bringing constructive ideas back to the home institution. I'll add more under the 'Opinion' section.
The first session of the morning included a presentation on using Skype for learning. Have a look the University of Derby project here - http://www.derby.ac.uk/sflproject. It's always good when there's a warts and all presentation to help us be realistic if we want to translate something to our own institution. Skype doesn't always work on networks and older computers so it was helpful and kind of the presenters to remind us of this.
The later presentation was about students as change agents, and identified a range of school, FE and HE institutions that asked students to lead some necessary changes. Kingston College, for example, failed to attract pre-entry students on a social networking site so they asked students to design and run a site with staff support. The student led network achieved 65% engagement and over 90% satisfaction with the process. Berkhamsted School had students negotiate how they wanted to be assessed, using a variety of technologies because they recognised that 21st century learners will be doing things differently. The University of Exeter is using students as researchers. They found that the value of using voting systems, for example, was great and the university has invested in devices for 4000 students.
And just so you don't think it's all work, here's a photograph of some of the JISC team who were preparing for a session called,'Are we in Open Country?'
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