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Looking beyond – team perspectives from a recent conference

2 October 2017 Posted in: Articles By: Manoj Singh

The ALT annual conference, known as ALT-C, is the UK’s main conference for those involved in technology in teaching. It is held over three days every September, providing a forum for practitioners, researchers, managers and policy-makers from education and industry to explore, reflect on, influence and learn new technologies. It brings together different critical perspectives in learning technology from across the community and examines the challenges ahead.

Three members from the E-Learning Unit attended ALT-C this year, and here they share their experiences and ideas, particularly in terms of how the themes covered at the conference relate to the QMUL context.

Rose Heaney – Senior Learning Technologist (Learning Applications) – seasoned ALT-C attendee


I went to ALT-C after several years’ absence and found it as lively and rich an experience as ever – the fact it was in Liverpool was an added bonus. This year’s conference title ‘Beyond islands of innovation – how Learning Technology became the new norm(al)’ reflects a fairly widely held view that learning technology has come of age and is no longer niche. However, the conference wasn’t encouraging any complacency or self-congratulatory behaviour – there is still much to do.

I was only there for one day but managed to attend a variety of sessions on e-assessment, staff/student partnerships, VLE baseline standards and using video in teaching. One session that has stayed with me, possibly because it’s a topical issue for QMUL, was Are we serving from the baseline – student and staff perspectives on an institutional VLE baseline requirement. Facilitated by Daniel Roberts and Tunde Varga-Atkins of Liverpool University, it explored a recent evaluation of their VITAL (VLE) baseline standard. The evaluation was noteworthy in that it was developed and conducted in partnership with the university’s Guild of students. Outcomes included:

  • Many staff adhere to and exceed the Baseline
  • Staff don’t want the Baseline to be overly prescriptive: needs to remain flexible to suit different contexts.
  • Gaps in staff and student perceptions: students report less provision on VITAL than staff thought they were providing & students also feel they make better use of VITAL than staff think they do

Further investigation of Liverpool’s baseline reveals that not only have students been involved in the recent evaluation they have also had a key role in defining and refining it. Food for thought as we embark on the rollout of QMUL’s initial set of VLE minimum standards. The theme of student partnerships resonated throughout the conference. York university’s Facilitating student led teaching and content creation is worth checking out, especially the linked resources.

The programme pages of the website contain all session abstracts and the conference Youtube channel has recordings of keynotes and some other presentations.

Has Yate – E-Learning testing and support officer – ALT-C newbie

I recently joined the E-Learning Unit at QMUL and this was my second outing to a learning technology event having been to Bett 2017. I attended the second day of the ALT Conference 2017 which kicked off with a keynote from Siân Bayne -The death of a network: data and anonymity on campus. I found Siân’s talk both enlightening and informative, it helped me think about a subject area I am interested in which is: anonymity and how it can help towards developing a student’s confidence when enabled in online classroom applications.I also enjoyed the session ‘How can university student pioneers of learning technology support their peers and their institution?’ by Denise Sweeney. I think actively encouraging student input to the development of learning technologies is critical to education as a whole.

At ALT, there is an ample opportunity to talk to various E-Learning service providers, hence I visited quite a few stalls. I had a productive conversation with the Catalyst team about their services they offer. As they are working with QMUL at the moment, I also wanted to know what they thought of QMplus and its development to date. It was also good to talk to the founder of URKUND about the plagiarism control tool, which was recently taken up by The University of Glasgow. It was interesting to see the tool in action and also how different it is to Turnitin.

I was very inspired by the content and format of some of the group presentations and look forward to presenting the e-learning work I become involved in at a future ALT Conference session.

Manoj Singh – Learning Technologist – seasoned ALT-C attendee

I have been attending ALT on and off for the past several years. I co-presented a poster at ALT in 2011 and then I ran a workshop last year. For me ALT provides an opportunity to look beyond the institutional silo and explore the recent developments and research currently being undertaken in the sector. Attending a mammoth conference like ALT can be daunting and overwhelming if one is not prepared, so I like to make sure that I read the whole programme beforehand and make a draft list of sessions I plan to attend. This approach has helped me to deal with the myriad of sessions and topics that goes on simultaneously at the conference.

I usually go with a focus to explore one particular topic with some allowance to spend time on other areas. This year I was particularly keen on ‘Learning Analytics’ as I am very interested in this subject. The field of learning analytics has become mature enough to assist in both enhancing teaching and learning experience and define the path of product development to enhance this experience. However, in my opinion we in the E-Learning Unit haven’t made substantial progress in this area. At conferences, we hear about concepts such as ‘Interaction Analysis’ or ‘Discourse Analysis’ but at QMUL we are still exploring methods and tools to allow us to perform quantitative analysis.

Whilst I attended inspiring keynotes and sessions on e-assessment and other topics, my focus was on sessions related to learning analytics such as the HEFCE Catalyst funded project RISE (Rich Information Set for Educators) and a few other sessions providing students’ perspectives on learning analytics. These sessions gave an outlook on what other organisations are doing in this area and if we were to undertake similar projects what resources and effort would be required.

Overall, it was a very good experience and it has made me realise that more work need to be done on learning analytics. Consequently, I plan to attend more conferences on this subject in the near future and implement some of the systems at QMUL.

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