Conference Review: ALT-C 2015 – Shaping the Future of Learning Together

Dr Barry Ryan, School of Food Science and Environmental Health

I recently attended the ALT-C (UK Association of Learning Technology Conference) in Manchester University. This conference is aimed primarily at learning technologist; however, as an academic interested in technology enhanced learning it was interesting to join the educational conversation with this important group. The conference itself hosted over 500 delegates and was divided over three days, and categorised into 5 topics:

  • Social media in learning and teaching,
  • Participatory approaches to the development of learning technologies,
  • Open educational practice,
  • Learners as agents of change,
  • Harnessing the power of the crowd – collaboration and connectivist learning

With such a diverse range of topics, it was sometimes difficult to see how they all aligned to the conference theme of Shaping the Future of Learning Together. Another difficulty was trying to pick which parallel session to attend; however, this is always a good complaint from a conference! The conference was opened by keynote speaker Prof. Steve Wheeler who really got the audience in tune with his ideas of learning encompassing social media and Web 2.0 technologies and how the learner of today is digitally ‘tuned in’. Indeed, half of his keynote took the form of a round-table discussion with some of his current students to contextualise for the audience the importance of digital based learning.

The delegates then dispersed into many, many rooms for the parallel sessions and I plumped for the participatory approaches to the development of learning technologies strand where the speaker that most chimed with me was Jenny Fisher. Jenny spoke on the use of animation to assist students in their learning process whilst simultaneously developing reusable learning objects. Another parallel session followed a tasty, but quick, lunch. I presented in this first afternoon session on the use of Augmented Reality in Laboratory learning. I first came across the technology, Aurasma, that formed the basis of my showcase during the 12 Apps of Christmas. The 12 Apps of Christmas is an excellent initiative run by Dr. Frances Boylan in the LTTC where each day in the run up to Christmas a new app is showcased and potential teaching and learning uses explored. My presentation went well and aligned to an apparent subtheme of the conference (augmented reality in education) which was further evidenced on the second day where Ruth Clarke from Leeds College of Music spoke on The Reality of Change: the use of Augmented Reality to enhance learning in Music and Suzy Houston from the University of Edinburgh detailed their student led use of Google Glass throughout their campus.

Over the course of the conference there were several social events and networking sessions; however, nothing beats walking around the city to get a feel for the hosting university. Manchester, somewhat cheekily, claims that to have more rock and roll superstars per capita than any other city in the United Kingdom…something that is evident throughout the city in conversations with the locals, the signs and memorials to past greats. Currently the city is undergoing rejuvenation, and like Dublin, a new tramline is being laid in the city centre!

The final day started with an interesting keynote by Laura Czerniewicz from the University of Capetown who raised several questions about the openness of the open education movement and equality in education (and general). She detailed an interesting point that in South Africa 2 people have more of the country’s wealth than 50% of the population…think about it! Also on the final day another favourite technology of mine, PeerWise, was discussed in relation to crowdsourcing assessments by Eamonn Costelllo of DCU, based in the National Centre for Digital Learning.

Overall the conference was very well organised, in a great venue and generated a lot of debate about the future of technology enhanced learning which is sure to go continue, and grow, between now and AltC 2016!

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