ALT-C 2009: Responsible e-learning? In your dreams?

I blogged a bit about ALT-C2009 on my personal blog while I was at the conference. Now I’ve been back a few days I thought it might be useful to put a few of my thoughts here on the Learning Lab. One of my colleagues, having viewed the keynotes and one of the streamed seminars, as well as following the conference on Twitter, got the impression that (although suggesting this may be unfair) “it’s a very cliquey sort of event with a lot of navel gazing and very little that is of immediate practical use!”

As most conferences are, this was a bit of a curate’s egg – I’ll leave you to decide whether I mean in the original or modern sense. There were a few things that stood out for me and three sessions (although two were actually in the same slot). I won’t comment on the keynotes as you can watch them for yourself and pass your own judgement.

Peer support

Gijs de Bakker from the Technical University of Eindhoven gave an interesting presentation on his research into peer support using the SAPS Model. As he argues, “the essence of the SAPS model is to help students in getting their questions answered.” He uses an algorithm to determine which student is best able to answer a student’s question. The question is allocated to the student and they then communicate using a chat tool he has developed. The chat tool is for research purposes only and he ultimately plans to make it a Skype or MSN tool, so today’s’ news could be interesting. You can find out much more from the links above but one of the key things was that the main beneficiaries were they students answering the questions, as they felt that answering the questions helped them in their understanding of the subject. An area the one of our Enhancement projects is looking at.

QR codes

I’ve heard about QR codes before and David Gill has been looking at using them on a number of projects. Andy Ramsden gave a whistle stop tour of some of the possible uses. He refreshingly didn’t oversell their use and agreed that they may well have a relatively short shelf-life before being superseded by other technologies. However, he pointed out that they are a relatively low-tech, quick and easy way of exploring some of the possibilities of augmented reality. You can find more about Andy’s work on QR codes at Bath here

Visitors and Residents

I’ve never liked Presenky’s Digital Natives. It doesn’t really describe what I think the reality is, it has been latched onto as easy soundbite by a whole bunch of people who haven’t really examined the issues and is offensive on a whole series of levels; not least of which is that it appears to argue that the “immigrants” are in someway inferior beings. As Dave White pointed out, it gets summed up as “Old people just don’t understand this stuff.” Instead of giving Presenky a good kicking (many people at ALT-C spend an awful lot of their time telling people what they don’t like – new media douche bags anyone?) , refreshingly, he talked about an alternative view of the use of technology – the Visitor-Residents Principle. You can read more about it on Dave’s original blog post on the TALL blog but there were a number of points he made that caught my eye/ear.

He argues that there are two main categories of people online –

visitors – go online for a specific purpose, leave and then leave no trace behind.
residents live much of their time online and when they log off something of their presence remains.

There is no hierarchy in this model, with each category being equally valid and educators need to be aware of this.

Here are a couple of interesting quotes from Dave’s presentation

“…..just knowing how to use particular technologies makes one no wiser than just knowing how to read words. “

“It’s not about academic or technical skills (or age) it’s about culture and motivation.”

Great stuff!


I’m not a big fan of awards and award ceremonies as they can tend to be merely an excuse for some mutual backslapping. However, I find the ALT awards especially strange. I’m sure there are reasons for this that I don’t understand but the nominations for the ALT awards are made by the nominees themselves with the winners then selected by a panel. I’m sure that the winners this year are excellent at what they do but why does a ‘profession’ that has a problem with some individuals being more interested in promoting themselves than anything else encourage people to say “Look at me – I think I’m the best Learning Technologist!!” Maybe it’s just me but, even if you think awards are a good idea, this seems a rather odd way of going about things.

Recordings of the main ALT-C 2009 Conference sessions are available here Unfortunately, it’s a bit like ALT-C itself. There’s some good stuff there but you have to hunt for it and and it’s much easier if you’re part of the in crowd. You’ll need to click on the “Recordings” tab and then select the day the session was recorded on. The conference ran from 8th-10th September 2009.

Maybe a few of the ALT in crowd would benefit from taking the 12 step programme?


  1. Mostly not on the "parts of it are excellent" side of the curate's egg then, methinks!

  2. Something tells me that I did the right thing by not going (as I had originally wanted to but then everyone who might have gone with me dropped out and I sure as heck was n't going on my own!
    Having never been part of the 'in-crowd' in my life….always rather more of an 'outlier' to be exact, I doubt if I would have fitted in.
    Nonetheless, you seem to have done a good job of distilling the essence of the conference and I will go and read the links you have given which look intriguing.

    Couldn't agree more about digital natives by the way…the young are by no means as tech savvy as they are purported to be..they are just darn good at texting!!

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