In September Alex Moseley, Matt Mobbs, Stephen Walker and myself attended the ALT (Association for Learning Technology) Conference at the University of Warwick. This annual conference provides an opportunity to share learning technology research, practice and policy work from across sectors. The theme this year was Connect, Collaborate, Create – the full programme is on the ALT website.
The conference opened with a keynote from Josie Fraser, a Social and Educational Technologist, entitled In the Valley of the Trolls. Josie used the example of Microsoft’s Tay, an artificial intelligence chat bot, which was designed to interact with people on Twitter to develop an understanding of conversational interaction. The more it chatted, the more personalised its contributions would become. This was targeted by ‘trolls’ who made it mimic deliberately offensive language, and within 16 hours Microsoft had to remove the Tay account. Josie discussed the motivations of trolling behaviour (‘doing it for the lulz’) and looked at how we can continue to work, learn and share openly online while protecting ourselves from trolling. The best advice remains to not get involved in conversation with a troll – ignore, block and report.
Ian Livingstone, co-founder of the games company Games Workshop and co-author of the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series, gave an inspiring keynote. He discussed what he’d learnt from 40 years in the games industry, from being a pioneer in the writing of non-linear fiction, where the reader gets to make choices about where the story will lead, to his current work of using games to improve the lives of children with disabilities.
Our favourite sessions
Louise Drumm, from Glasgow Caledonian University, presented ‘Connections between theory and practice: rhizomatic teaching with digital technologies’ where she discussed the findings of a doctoral research project which asked the question ‘what role does theory play in university teaching with digital technologies?’ Rhizome theory (Deleuze & Guattari 1987) was used as a theoretical basis to investigate types and pockets of activity. The research interviewed lecturers about how they theorise their teaching practice, and uncovered many ‘folk theories’. Louise talked about ‘bought sense’ – the way academics choose technology based on their pedagogical beliefs.
Andrew Raistrick and Steven Bentley, from the University of Huddersfield, discussed their new approach to staff development courses in ‘Flipping heck! Be careful what you wish for‘. They had found previously that training courses were not particularly well attended, and so surveyed staff about what they would like training sessions to be. They found staff would prefer much short sessions, so offered a ‘pic ‘n’ mix’ approach where people could attend small stand-alone training elements over a number of days. They also tried a flipped classroom approach by asking staff to watch a video of preparatory material before the session, and use the face-to-face time to try out more practical elements.
Manchester Metropolitan University’s presentation, ‘An experiment in open-access, micro-learning for educational technology training’ gave an interesting look at how they are engaging academic colleagues in technology enhanced learning training. With lack of time being one of the main factors preventing staff from attending training sessions, MMU have developed #1minuteCPD, a micro-learning blog designed to provide short, daily insights into different technologies. They have seen a good take-up of the resource, and found that 17% of staff look at the posts on a daily basis, and 50% weekly. At the University of Leicester we have developed a similar resource on this blog, providing short, one or two minute posts or video tutorials with the tag #uoljam. If you have found these useful or have suggestions for topics you’d like to see covered so let us know.
Cork Institute of Technology have developed a similar approach, being developed as part of the TELU.me research project, a consortium approach to micro-learning. These short ‘nuggets’ of learning can also be plugged together to create personalised longer, more in-depth courses.
Sadly as I was driving, I couldn’t take part in the #altc #play travel game on my journey home, so I will sum up the ALT conference 2016 in 3 emojis here instead.