Home on the range
Continuing with the task I began yesterday, here are my initial thoughts on
today’s talks and workshops at ALT-C 2011.

Social media and professional identity

I began the day with Anne-Marie
talk on
professional identity in the context of medical education. Anne-Marie herself
has a complex identity, as practitioner, educator, researcher and student, and
when she began blogging and tweeting in order to combat the isolation she
sometimes felt as a GP she found that identity challenged in some interesting

Following Anne-Marie’s talk was a poorly disguised sales pitch from some guy
who works for Blackboard — the least said about that the better, I think.

Led by the “Knows”

Next up, Doug Belshaw and John
gave me a refreshing change: a
workshop which was actually a workshop. They’d chosen a couple of collections
of elearning-related case-studies, and split us into groups to critically
analyse the case-studies therein. We got a really good debate going, trying to
decide what the purpose of a case study should be and what it should contain to
be valid/useful.

For my part, I think that a lot of the weaknesses we identified could be
mitigated by the inclusion of references to the sources of the data quoted, so
that if you choose you can verify the conclusions for yourself.

I did like John Traxler’s comment that we need to be wary of policy-based
evidence replacing evidence-based policy.

Are we in Open Country?

The last session before lunch was a bit of fun, but with a serious message too.
Amber Thomas, David
, David
and Helen
got dressed up as characters from
the Wild West to talk about issues related to OER. There was even bonus banjo
music from Dave Kernohan!

Some of the most interesting points for me came up in the extended discussion
that followed their introductory presentation. In particular, it’s very
important when thinking about OER to not get sidetracked by the content. Making
content open has some value, but it does not democratise access to education
per se; in some ways it can have the opposite effect. It’s important to
be able to associate the pedagogical context with a given open resource.
Similar arguments seem to apply to other forms of openness as well.

Transforming American Education

After lunch we had a keynote speech from Karen
, Director of the Office
of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. She told us a
bit about the Obama government’s plans for educational technology, which does
indeed sound quite impressive!

She described technology as a “force multiplier” — not a replacement for
teachers but a way of making teachers more effective, which I think is the
only attitude that can work in the long term. As part of that, they’re making
an effort to make educational research more transparent and accessible to
educators so that they have more opportunities to learn about
evidence-supported good practice.

She also talked about making learning more like a game, something which I’m
currently a bit sceptical about. I can see the advantages, but there’s always
the danger that as you incentivise one group you end up disincentivising or
even alienating another. It has to be implemented in a sufficiently fool-proof
way to avoid that situation occurring.

Effective web conferencing

My final session of the day was a workshop on web conferencing with a guy from
collaborATE, who provide support for Adobe Connect
in the UK. I’ll admit, I was a bit wary of this after the earlier Blackboard
sales pitch, but actually the presenter did a great job of providing us with
some useful tips for running a successful webcast.

I took a lot of notes from this session, so I’ll probably save them for another
post, perhaps when I’ve had chance to try them out. The key message, though,
was this: preparation, preparation, preparation. Like all forms of
communication, webcasting works best when you’re confident, well practiced and
in control of your environment.

In a little bit it will be time to relax a bit and have a good old chinwag with
some old and new friends at the gala buffet, so I’ll wrap it up for now.

PS. If you’re wondering where all my tweets about the conference have gone, I’m
experimenting with a separate conference account,
@jezconf to avoid spamming my regular followers
with lots of ALT-C tweets. If you’re interested, please follow that account, or
you can just follow the conference hashtag,