Tuesday, 8 September 2009

ALT-C 2009 Day One Round-up

As this is my first post-holiday post I'll try and keep it brief. I'm in Manchester for the next couple of days for ALT-C. ALT is the Association for Learning Technology and the C bit stands for Conference. It's a chance to spend a few days feeling confused about which of the ten parallel sessions you want to attend and more generally hobnobbing with other learning technologists and professionals in the education sectors.

This year's conference got off to a good start, thanks to a keynote from Michael Wesch, which covered identity, the search for authentic self, the history of "whatever", and how this is all looking in our new age of digital media. If you haven't heard of Michael Wesch before I strongly recommend having a look at his short and informative videos on YouTube - specifically The Machine Is Us/ing Us and A Vision of Students Today.

Wesch was funny, knowledgable and sometimes just plain endearing. He began by talking about his experiences in Papua New Guinea, living with people who have no (or perhaps next to no) experience in the way of exposure to digital media, the Internet, or any of the devices that conspire to keep us constantly "connected". According to Wesch, the people he stayed with don't even have names (that they can remember), their village and community are so tight-knit. It made an interesting contrast to his following description of mass civilisation, in which the search for recognition and desire to escape from anonymity have become so crucial that flocks of consumers become hell-bent on winning the next American Idol contest.

I don't think Wesch actually used the word 'alienation' but for me it would have summarised this feeling perfectly. The feeling that creates this desire, that is. And I was glad that he said, despite our need to engage with digital media (as educators, technologists, and citizens, I suppose), the Papua New Guineans seemed just fine the way they were - "disconnected", which sounds perjorative perhaps because it comes from our own homogenising value system with regards to "progress".

I'd like to write about this more - it's an area that fascinates me - but I should mention some of the other sessions I've been to.

Josie Fraser hosted a symposium called "The VLE is Dead" in which a group of four panelists got to put forward their views before opening up to the floor. The panelists themselves were lively and entertaining in their responses to the audience but some expressed frustration that the debate wasn't focussing on the real issues - which when they were brought up seemed to imply that the whole factory-based education system and perhaps even the socio-political organisation of educational institutions needed to be radically changed before something like the VLE (which may only be symptomatic of these larger issues) would die.

One of the panelists Nick Sharratt made a good play on words with the headline "VLE not finished" - meaning that's it's not so much vanquished as incomplete and it's our responsibility as technologists to keep working on it.

James Clay, one of the panelists has posted a video of the whole talk on his blog here. You could try watching the first twenty-odd minutes for a summary of the views as I don't think the panelists really shifted positions on anything fundamental. You can also leave comments there and take part in the general discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #vle.

The final "highlight" of the day was Steve Wheeler's session on Twitter which was kind of chaotic and may have left some newcomers to the tool feeling confused, but raised some interesting questions about its possible applications in teaching and learning contexts. I'll perhaps blog again sometime on the Infinite Summer project I mentioned previously, as an example of this.

All in all, an interesting if tiring first day. It doesn't help that I still have jetlag...

(For once, all the photos are my own! Ie. I pressed the button on my camera and they're not just pilfered from somewhere like usual...)

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