Where do we go from here

Making it happen… leading a community conference

It’s the weekend before the biggest face to face event that the organisation I lead runs each year. It’s our Annual Conference and between an inbox that doesn’t sleep, aching feet and a planning spreadsheet with a row for every detail my excitement is mounting. This is the week of the year when both online and in person our community comes together.

My job as CEO, at least on paper, is to carry the responsibility. To manage risk, to keep oversight, to make decisions and provide leadership. But alongside this, after nearly a decade of Annual Conferences, I have also developed my particular approach to leading the way through this busiest and buzziest of weeks in my calendar. This year again I have tried to improve what I do, so in this post I want to share with you some of what I do to get ready #altc:

Everyone has a voice, so listen: one of the most valuable aspects of the conference for me is to hear all the different voices from across sectors, different institutions and professional practice. Whether it’s an apprentice just starting out in Learning Technology whom I sit next to during dinner or an Awards winner from a prestigious institution, I try to listen.  It’s critical discussion of current issues that I am most interested in – finding out how we are approaching some of the difficult questions around ethics, consent, equity, skills or policy.

Only 400-500 people can participate in person, so this year I have worked directly with supporters to open up the conversation further, for example via podcasts, radio broadcasts, virtual participation, articles and tweet chats in which speakers, organisers and participants can all get involved openly.

Make time to enjoy meeting people: the most common way in which my conference conversations start is by someone saying “I know you must be busy”… or “I know you don’t have time…” – and sometimes that is true. If there is a problem I need to deal with, then you will have to excuse me. But that’s not usually the case and I try to make myself as visibly available as I can and meet as many people as I can, both in person and virtually (and you can always tweet @marendeepwell and say hello). I serve the Association and its growing membership of over 2500 individuals as well as the interests for the wider community we work with. I am here to meet you, find out how your first presentation went, what product you are pitching or what research you are looking for. During most breaks you will find me at ALT’s stand so look out for me and say hello. On the last day of the conference you can also meet me virtually via VConnecting.

Conferences are not about perfect: together with a regular army of volunteers, Co-Chairs, Trustees and a small team of colleagues I get to host hundreds of people next week and we have worked for 18 months to try make everyone have the best possible experience – but conferences are not about perfect and more likely than not I will be the recipient of any grumbles or complaints so that we can deal with them and improve. There’s always small things that can go wrong and so I try and pick a handful of things for each day I really focus on and if they go right, then the day is a success. I use the same approach when I attend an event as a participant, and it works well for me. Meet 2-3 specific people, get to a few particular sessions, ask a question – have some fun… and you have had a good day. I have read many of the blog posts others write about preparing their presentations, planning their programmes and getting ready to network, share and connect. If you are contributing, good luck to you and I hope it is a rewarding experience.

‘C’ stands for Community: for me, our conference is all about community, a community of shared values. Yes, there is a rigorous peer review process, an emphasis on research and academic knowledge sharing, networking and showcasing innovation. But with 24 years of leading professionalisation in Learning Technology behind us we also get to influence and shape our part of education. We help set the tone, we colour the future, we point the way to what Learning Technology is through research, practice and policy – but also through how we put the values we share into practice. Values of openness, independence, collaboration, participation and, at the heart of it all, the Members of our Association.

Earlier this year when we launched our new strategy, Bryan Mathers helped us articulate these values afresh through visual thinkery, and for me the conference is the biggest opportunity I have to put those values into practice. So while you may not see me wearing actual ALT trainers (although I may have some of those…), I will be doing my best to walk on the path that our vision set out. And I am really, really looking forward to it.

P.S. If you’d like to read what I have written about in the run up to the conference, including recent articles on skills development, accreditation and professionalisation, see my previous post.