Highlights from attending the ALT-C 2023 learning technology conference.
2023 marks the 30th year of ALT (Association for Learning Technology) and this year’s conference themes were: Leading People in a time of complexity; Diversity and Inclusion; Sustainability and Social Justice; and Emerging technologies and behaviors, highlighting a clear interest in a deeper consideration of edtech’s potential impact, rather than just its utility.
With so many presentations and workshops, these are a few highlights of some of the sessions that were on offer.
The conference got off to a strong start with Anne-Marie Scott’s heartfelt look over her experiences in education in ‘Things cannot be made simple‘. After setting the scene, including tragic events of recent years and the uncertainty of the future, we were nevertheless encouraged to see there was still hope: to pick our priorities, take the small wins, recognise we are part of a much bigger picture, and nurture connections beyond our immediate team. However, when it came to generative AI, and the hype around it, we were urged to be cautious, as it could be the ‘wolf that eats grandma’ if we let it.
Matt Turner and Alison Gibson in ‘Accessibility for every student: Working with departments to create discipline-specific accessibility statements‘, looked at their accessibility statements (for modules in the VLE (virtual learning environment)) and found them not to be accessible to the students they were intended to support. To address this, a shift was made to providing two accessibility statements, which advise staff and students differently. Principles were developed to guide staff on how to make an accessible statement, along with a Word template with headings and discipline-specific examples (having conversations with colleagues from different discipline was felt to help understand the differences in how teaching is done). Further support included staff training; setting expectation, and improving communication with students (as there was a low awareness of accessibility statements among students).
As part of their VLE review, Will Moindrot and Ben McGrae, in ‘Diamond ranking and kaleidoscope eyes: engaging stakeholders to tune-in to our VLE review‘, asked different stakeholder groups for their views on what they wanted from a VLE. Unsurprisingly perhaps, students tended to favour consistency in online course design but staff preferred there to be deliberate variation between online courses, a potential dilemma likely faced by others. Recommendations for those approaching a VLE review were to speak to all stakeholders early and make them part of the review.
This initial study by Celia Popovic [‘Selfie Generation: but not in class‘] looked into how faculty felt about students switching their cameras on (or not) in online classes. Faculty reported feeling that students switching on their camera was important, linking it to engagement (believing it showed students were attending) or as feedback (to those teaching). Though 65% encouraged student to switch on their camera, few (1%) required it of all students, and only 4% required it of students who were speaking. Interestingly, in classes of 20+, faculty reported they themselves were unlikely to have their own camera on all the time, and mostly only when speaking.
Karl Luke and Carl Sykes [‘Virtually the same for everyone: A project considering practices to support the decolonisation of the traditional VLE‘] started by acknowledging that the decolonisation of hardware and software (at the institution) would not be possible (by them) but that raising awareness of staff and students was. To this end they set up a Community of Expertise; spoke with vendors about how they are approaching decolonisation; spoke with students about their view; and created resources for faculty. Following workshops with students, changes to use of the VLE included: more inclusive language; more mobile responsiveness; more use of the name pronunciation capability within the tool; and less use of stock photos.
Again, another strong start to the day with Donna Lanclos leading the student panel keynote ‘Student voices: Shaping the post-pandemic campus‘. We learnt a lot about their recent experiences of education, their worries, and what they wish staff had known. Key concerns were the overestimation of what students were already familiar with, in terms of study, their level of independence as learners, and that they already have adequate kit (the opportunity to borrow kit needing to be made clear without students having to ask). Though the opportunity to ask for help was offered, it could still feel intimidating to do so. How should we communicate with students? ‘By email’ and ‘not by email’ were both suggested! Probably the wisest was the suggestion to put information in the places where students already congregate. When asked about generative AI, the panel expressed concern that their work could be mistaken for generative AI text or this could add to the digital skills gap between students.
The ‘gap’ referred to by Zac Gribble in ‘Digital Platforms: Mind the Gap‘ relates to the lack of defined role for digital platforms (VLEs and more). Platforms need to be a good fit for the organisation (and how it teaches), they argued, and where there are multiple platforms with ill defined/duplicate roles, there is a risk of confusion for staff and students (though they acknowledge that the shift to online due to the pandemic has had a hand in creating this situation.)
In ‘The next big bang theory: Developing digitally proficient and confident agile stakeholders in higher education: avoiding a knee jerk response to artificial intelligence‘, Becki Vickerstaff focused attention on the need for staff and students to develop digital skills (rather than skills in specific technology, which will change). Developing staff digital skills was supported through embedding it in review and appraisal; rewarding engagement; starting early (in induction); and using peer learning and sharing. Developing student digital skills was achieved through the Warwick Award, which students could study for alongside their academic programme.
In ‘Making digital transformation achievable: critical foundations for success‘ Sarah Knight, Lou McGill, Simon Birkett and Elizabeth Newall linked digital transformation to people, infrastructure, strategic vision and core business activities. And because technology and practice are constantly changing, transformation is never ‘done’ but is rather a continual, iterative process. They shared their structure for digital transformation in the Framework for digital transformation in higher education and offered the opportunity to get involved in the working group.
Another great start to the day with Satwinder Samra’s keynote ‘Collaborative Practice: Designing, Communicating and Diversifying Architecture‘. The ‘2016 timebomb’ described the concern that it took 7 years or more to qualify as an architect, and financial pressures could mean students would drop out and the discipline would be less diverse as a consequence. We were shown the process the team had to undertake when changing the academic programme to one where students are ‘earning while learning’, which meant not only seeking approval from the university and the professional body, but also the work necessary in order to gain ‘credibility’ for the team to help people believe in their new programme design.
Matt Turner and Els Van Geyte, in ‘Accessible and Inclusive Practice: ways to increase and share good practice in and across our institutions‘, outlined how it had been made clear that any resource they created had to be possible to be engaged with in no more than 30 minutes! To help improve its uptake, the content of their resource is evidence-based to give credibility and embedded in existing practice using a familiar platform. Engagement with the resource is not mandated but those doing so, and making a commitment to accessible and inclusive practice, are awarded a digital badge.
In ‘OMG that’s gross: Empowering the Digital Education Team to avoid exposure to distressing learning content‘, Owen Crawford, Laura Roach and Matthew Doyle recounted how staff reported being exposed to content that made them uncomfortable as part of their role in digital education, but that they didn’t feel able to step away. The resource the team developed means that staff are (a) informed of what to expect, and (b) are empowered to step away. One member of staff found it a ‘revelation’ that they didn’t always have to prioritise work ahead of themselves, and even if staff didn’t need to use the resource for themselves, all felt the subject was important.
(image: Tracey Madden)
(image: Tracey Madden)