My #OER17: many voices taking action

Live visual thinkery by @BryanMMathers CC-BY-ND

What a week it’s been #OER17… As I wasn’t able to catch that many sessions while running the event, I am enjoying reading, watching and catching up with everything. And there is a lot out there – photos, drawings, presentations, videos, recorded live streams and an ever growing number of blog posts. Thank you for sharing!

Before the conference I had three hopes:

First, learn & listen about how Learning Technology can support openness. I am thinking here about technology used for learning, teaching and assessment in any context (ALT’s definition is useful here) not the more specific ‘educational technologies’ like VLEs or e-portfolios.  The huge potential of technology for all kinds of openness is evident – but what this conference made me think about is how critical it is for staff and students to gain sufficient understanding of the tools, platforms or networks to make informed use of them. That would include understanding what data about them is collected and how it is used, what footprints they may leave and for how long and so forth. Providing support for developing this kind of fluency can be difficult, in particular when in many institutions the concept of openness is contested. I came away with many questions and a sense that there is much to tackle once I get back to my desk…

Image of a Virtually Connecting Session
Photo of Lisa Taner, Lucy-Crompton-Reid & Maren Deepwell at a Virtually Connecting session at OER17 taken by Martin Weller

My second hope for OER17 was to make time for people and conversations. That was probably the most enjoyable aspect of my days, and like many other participants I was delighted to be able to connect in person with many individuals from my social networks. One of the highlights was joining a Virtually Connecting session with Lisa Taner and Lucy Crompton-Reid, facilitated by Martin Weller – and I am grateful to Maha Bali for inviting me. You can now watch it on YouTube . Meeting participants from different continents and having a conversation that bridges the physical divide was a great way of seeing things through someone else’s eyes. The social events before and during the conference were another good time for catching up and I was impressed by the bowling, ping pong and karaoke going on all around.

Together with Bryan Mathers I ran a workshop and Bryan has kindly shared all the content from the presentation and the featured image above, the ‘Live Thinkery’ I helped facilitate. The workshop was called “from Voice to Visual” (prezi is here) and we were looking at the creative journey of the ALT visual strategy. If you haven’t already, visit Bryan’s page dedicated to OER17 and find all of his visual thoughts, all licenced CC-BY – thank you, Bryan!

CC resist by @bryanMMathers
CC resist by @bryanMMathers at

Conferences and communities like this are special to me, so my third hope was to enjoy the two days (and not ‘just’ do the day job). With so many inspiring and engaging sessions in the programme it is hard to pick out any specific ones. What brought it all together was the plenary panel. The recording of this session and the content created during the session are life affirming and I particularly enjoyed the Storify #OER17 #IWill shared by Catherine Cronin. Asking everyone to share their intention, their hope for making change and taking action was a powerful reminder of how much individual action matters, how much each of us matters. My experience of OER17 was a testament to that.

Time to be… open #OER17

Image of oer17 watch face

We’re getting ready for the OER17: The Politics of Open conference this week. As one of the organisers of the event my main focus has to be on making sure everything runs as well as it can – but it’s also an opportunity for me to spend a few days with a community who shape the future of open education around the globe. And this year the conference has a stellar line up across 2 days with sessions set to challenge the politics of openness from the personal to the national.

Image of ALT laptop stickers
Stickers featured in the workshop

There already is a plethora of blog posts by practitioners reflecting on and setting out their thoughts, hopes and inspirations. It makes for inspiring reading and personally I can’t wait to see some of these conversations play out at the event. I might have to write a follow up blog post (with a particular focus on a workshop I will be running jointly with Bryan Mathers called ‘From Voice to Visual – the making of an open strategy’ ). For now, here is what I’ve got in mind for my own #OER17, beyond the running of it:

First, I’ll be looking out for new opportunities for Learning Technology to scale up, support and strengthen Open Educational practice. Technology isn’t always the answer, but I often think it can do more for openness.

Second, I’ll be making time to have conversations. This year I am prioritising people over the programme… so if you are at the event in person or joining into one of the streamed sessions (or my first venture into Virtually Connecting thanks to Maha Bali!) come and say hello.

Third on my list for this week is to enjoy OER17. That might seem like an obvious one, but it’s worth remembering. Over the past 12 months I have seen volunteers and colleagues pull together an event that has grown in participation, influence and voice. It’s going to be an amazing opportunity for everyone to come together and hopefully translate into practice and policy what they experience this week – taking action for open education.

Equality, empowerment, accreditation and beyond. My fantasy conference proposals… #altc

snapshot of a mic and presentation slide

Every year around this time when I encourage my peers to submit proposals to the ALT Annual Conference, I reflect on the fact that as one of the organisers I can’t submit a proposal myself. And given that as a Learning Technologist this is one of the key events in my diary each year, I have often thought about what I would submit if I wasn’t affiliated with ALT. So here are some of my fantasy proposals, ideas in the making, that I won’t be submitting (again) this year. If you have your own ideas then your chance to submit your 250/500 word proposal is still open until 20th (or soon to be 27th) March. Take your chance & make your voice heard.

Poster, Theme: Wildcard: Poster showing how peer accreditation for Learning Technologist works based on the CMALT framework, which is mapped to a number of other accreditation pathways including the UKPSF, the Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework and Blended Learning Essentials. CC licenced so that the model can be adopted by participants in their own contexts.

Lightening Talk, Theme: Empowerment in learning Technology: Empowered #edtech governance. A fast paced, visual take on how to work collaboratively with decision makers to build new strategies, using work with cross-sector stake holders as examples. Would include a 1 page “recipe” handout to take away and try out in your own organisation.

Presentation, Theme: Learning Spaces: this presentation would be led by three apprentices/interns whom I have worked with in the past year and they would take participants on a tour of their learning spaces, both physical and virtual. The tour guides would explain how spaces are used and lived in, why and for what purpose. We would reflect on issues like privacy and agency in different spaces and importantly what happens in the spaces and time periods between things, i.e. between institutions, between life stages, between qualifications. We’d question how Learning Technology can provide continuity for life long learning both online and in person.

Panel, Theme: Empowerment in Learning Technology: Working in Learning technology one of the things I am passionate about is equality. Particularly for those working as open practitioners there are so many ways in which inequality and discrimination can impact on our ability to achieve our aims. This panel would bring together 5 exceptional practitioners to share their own strategies for empowered practice in Learning Technology and to reflect critically on how their approaches are challenged. We’d invite participants to contribute their own tips and tools in advance and during the discussion, ending up in a series of posts providing practical information that would be useful to both learners and professionals.

Workshop, Theme: Wildcard: Learning Technology: top 10 complete failures. This is one of the sessions I’d like to go to but somehow it doesn’t seem to make it onto any conference programme. Presumably because no institution pays for their staff to go and share the details of how they lost money or worse when Learning Technology failed. And indeed because no one wishes to have this particular reference added to their CV. Still, other conferences now include specific sessions where we explore what happens when things go wrong. What happens when projects don’t deliver, students don’t use the tools or academics simply don’t co-operate. The list of forgotten, crumbling Learning Technologies is long. This workshop then would include the brave colleagues I have known and worked with over the years who would be prepared to share their perspectives so that we don’t have to make the same mistakes over and over again. Participants would be contributing their own stories. Ideally one or two policy makers and industry experts would be contributing, too.

You probably have your own ideas as to what sessions you’d like to go and see at the conference. Submit them… .

2008-2016 in Learning Technology #altc

I missed 2008, but every year since then I have participated in ALT’s Annual Conference. While I work for ALT in my ‘day job’ I also attend the conference as a Learning Technology professional (and this year as a Certified Member of ALT for the first time…). So as well as work, for me it’s CPD, a great opportunity to expand my network and a chance to find out about research, new thinking in the field. While a packed, parallel programme means that I never get to see all the sessions I would like, I want to try and pick out some of the key moments from the last eight years, things that made me think, changed my mind or simply stayed with me.

2015 – Ripples #altc: last year my work commitment focused on the AGM and that meant I had less time than usual to focus on the academic programme. So from 2015 one of my strongest ‘take aways’ is the long list of blog posts that was compiled by participants afterwards. It includes reviews, reflections and in depth posts about individual sessions. Thoroughly recommended reading (particularly welcome in the exhausted week that follows each conference for me).


2014 – Audrey Water’s Monsters: a year of keynote and invited speakers that coincides strongly with my personal interests at the time, including wonderful talks from Jeff Haywood, Catherine Cronin and Bryan Mathers (you can watch all of them on YouTube). But for me, that Thursday morning in the front row in the giant auditorium in Warwick, listening to Audrey Waters weave a spell-binding narrative on the future of Learning Technology was an experience that has stayed with me. Audrey made me think about who has the power to decide about the future of Learning Technology – and how to empower practitioners and researchers to have more of it.

2013 – 20 years of ALT: a very special year for the community as we celebrated the 20th anniversary of ALT, marked by a session led by former Presidents‘ of ALT looking at over the two decades. The conference was opened with a learner perspective, led by Rachel Wenstone from the NUS and also featured talks by Dame Wendy Hall discussing the role of the web and a keynote by Stephen Downes. All three made my think about the forces that shape Learning Technology. There were even fireworks that lit up a rather damp Nottingham sky.

2012 – knitting in the main auditorium: that’s a special year for me as it was my first as ALT’s chief executive. The playlist reveals a broad array of speakers from across sectors, but one of the sessions that I can still picture in my mind vividly is this invited session with Steve Bunce, who engaged participants in the presentation and got us all finger knitting! Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that pedagogy doesn’t necessarily require the shiniest, newest gadgets… . With Eric Mazor, Richard Noss and Natasa Millic-Frayling together with James Clay, Sarah Porter and others completing the line up of invited speakers it’s another playlist worth revisiting.

Looking north towards Hallingskarvet behind Kraekkja in Hardangervidda, Norway
Looking north towards Hallingskarvet behind Kraekkja in Hardangervidda, Norway by Seb Schmoller

2011 – political climate & “Live Beta”: a year with a cold theme. Two of my strongest memories of that year are firstly an impressive keynote by John Naughton, whose column in the Guardian and other writings I have since followed. As I was particularly interested in the political dimension of Learning Technology at the time, his talk resonated strongly with me. A very different experience also stayed with me, the “ALT LIVE – BETA” experiment which was led by members who were streaming interviews with speakers and other content live from the conference. It was another step in our efforts to enable participation widely and openly and in some ways it set the precedent for a lot of the work in this area we have done since.

2010 – Don’t lecture me…: As one of the most watched keynotes from the past few year’s Donald Clark’s talk “Don’t lecture me” is probably already familiar to you (if you haven’t seen it, you can watch the video with and without the ‘Twitter track’ – which in this case I suggest you watch, too). For me that year Sudhir Giri from Google, who shared his perspective of how Google use their own tools for internal team communication, skill sharing and CPD fascinated me. Given that for several years we have been running our own Google Apps for Education domain which now facilitates a large part of what we do in ALT, that is hardly surprising. I am only glad that our has only a handful of users, rather than the multitudes that the Googlers make up.

2009 – 100th CMALT Holder: My first ALT Annual Conference which took place in Manchester. Also, my first time to hear Diana Laurillard give an eye-opening keynote, which left me with the distinct impression that there was quite a lot about Learning Technology for me yet to learn. However, given that I was most involved in ALT’s accreditation and membership services at the time, the milestone of celebrating our 100th Certified Member has stuck most strongly in my mind. It also set me on the path to achieving CMALT myself, which…. erm….. I did in 2016!

If you have your own memories you want to follow up, the past conferences page on the ALT website can be helpful – or browsing the YouTube playlists which go back to 2008. This year’s conference, as ever, feels to me like there is even more to look forward to. See for yourself: – and I hope to see you in Warwick.

Google Apps for Education (#GAFE) as a #CMALT portfolio tool

Recently I was accredited as a Certified Member of ALT (find out more here) and the key component of the scheme is a peer-reviewed portfolio. You can build your portfolio in almost any format provided that it is accessible to assessors and follows the required structure.

CMALT folder
My portfolio in Google Drive

I chose to build mine using Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and here I’d like to reflect briefly on the experience:

Why use GAFE? My main reasons were that it is free to use, I am already familiar with the tools available, there is storage and authoring tools all on one place and most importantly it works long terms as I will retain access to the files or at least be able to download them easily if needed. A further advantage for me was the ability to organise all the different types of content including supplementary evidence and images into different folders and make them easily accessible to the assessors.

What did I use? I focused my portfolio around a Google Doc. I decided early on that I wanted to illustrate my portfolio and the format I was after was linear  – I wanted to build a narrative. I included screenshots, images and links and where appropriate filed these into folders on Google Drive. I also used a Google Sheet to help collect a lot of the evidence in the early stages, mainly to have a record of the various locations and links. I think that may be something I keep using as an ongoing record of my CPD activities.

What does this look like long term? Now that I have achieved CMALT the portfolio will have to be reviewed every 3 years. In that time period I’ll likely accumulate a lot of evidence of my professional development and my intention is to log it in a Google sheet, link to it where appropriate, and build up my folders of visual evidence as I go along. Then, when the time comes to review and update the main document or add to it, I should be able to draw on the information I already have. It’ll also make it easier to reflect on what I have done.

Any drawbacks? From my perspective there was no functionality that was missing and the auto-save and offline working capabilities made it fuss-free for me. Because you can share content without requiring others to have an account but you are still able to limit access I found GAFE was a useful tool indeed. Another plus was that I could share early drafts for comment and others could add to and comment on specific paragraphs.


Open practice? If you are curious to have a look or indeed find inspiration for your own CMALT portfolio you can access my portfolio folder via this link . I have added a Creative Commons Licence so that you can access it and re-use for example the images I have included. The specialist area I have written about in my portfolio is open practice in a leadership role. Sharing my portfolio openly is part of the work I do and I am grateful for all the encouragement and feedback I have had from my colleagues throughout this process.

Looking back at delivering an online conference

As part of finishing my #CMALT portfolio I have been working on completing a section on communication. The example I am using is leading a small team in delivering an online conference, in this case ALT’s first wholly online winter conference in December last year.

Some of the things I have been reflecting on re communication are:

  • delivering live events when you are not all in the same place and using online communication methods to help bridge the gaps;
  • how online events compare with face to face events when it comes to communication and leading the delivery team;
  • how to communicate when, yes, the network you and participants depend on goes down the day before the event…;
  • using group communication as a way to manage and problem solve.

I will share what I have come up with and my reflections as part of my CMALT portfolio in due course. Sharing one example already, you can watch Martin Hawksey and me welcoming participants to day 1 of the conference in the video below:


Looking back #altc… behind the scenes

As part of the organising team my experience of ALT’s Annual Conference is different from most. I’ve been really enjoying reading others’ reflections of this year’s event and that’s inspired me to share my own. So this is looking back #altc… from my personal perspective.

Badges in the making… Photo credit : Maren Deepwell CC-BY

The week before the conference is always hectic and full of anticipation. One of the tasks we help complete all together is making badges. It’s much quicker if everyone pitches in and I find it interesting to see who is coming, reading the names and institutions on each badge as the lanyard clicks into place. This is my sixth year coming to the conference and I’ve come to know many of the participants but there are always plenty of new names to learn. This year is the third time I’m seeing the event in Manchester. It’s a great location and does have the added bonus of a strong technology connection with a blue Alan Turing plaque on the building close by.


The day before the conference. Photo credit : Maren Deepwell CC-BY

When the actual day before the conference finally arrives and set up is underway, I get to spend some time in the main theatre. I like standing on the stage when the room is empty, learning its layout, checking the set up. It’s good to know what speakers will experience so that we can support them on the day. It’s also my habit to get comfortable well before welcoming hundreds of participants the following morning. Once the first wave of registration is underway the atmosphere changes and gradually the conference comes to life.

From keynote by Laura Czerniewicz
From keynote by Laura Czerniewicz

During the plenary sessions I get to sit at the very front and over the years our keynote speakers have created some of my favourite #altc moments. This year was no different. What connected them for me was their desire to share the spotlight. From a new generation of teachers  to a new community of connected learners to a global voice on equality – for me each of the speakers chose to turn our attention to some of the big questions we face. I come away with notes on what we might do better or what we could do more of in order to meet these challenges.

Picture by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology ALT conference 2015 at Manchester University. Wednesday 9/9/15
AGM voting in action. Photo credit : Chris Bull CC-BY-NC-SA ALT

Another key moment of my conference experience is the Association’s AGM. For me it’s a culmination of a year’s work, another milestone in the history of the community I serve. It’s also a symbol of our member-led governance structure and a powerful reminder of the hundreds of individuals who contribute day in day out. Every year after the AGM the Trustees meet briefly in a formal Convening Meeting. It’s usually in a small room somewhere away from the conference sessions and for a short period everyone turns serious and gets focused on the business at hand. This is when all Trustee appointments are confirmed. It’s an essential part of the Association’s governance and the moment when newly appointed Trustees take on their role.

Photo credit : Chris Bull CC-BY-NC-SA ALT
Learning Technologist of the Year Awards winners. Photo credit : Chris Bull CC-BY-NC-SA ALT

Once that is all safely out of the way and with the second day nearly finished, the mood turns celebratory as everything is made ready for the Awards. Together with the judging panel I am one of the few people who knows who the winners are in advance and seeing their excited faces, teams and individuals getting ready to be called up on stage, is one of my favourite conference moments. My job is to safely convey award certificates and running orders without giving away the results until the big moments for our finalists is finally here. Having managed the process from initial application to interview, it’s incredibly rewarding to see how much it means to each to be recognised, to be celebrated.

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Welcoming everyone on the first morning. Photo credit : Chris Bull CC-BY-NC-SA ALT

There’re many big moments over these three days, but fundamentally my experience consists of many more small encounters, a conversation over lunch with a first time participant, a chat with an exhibitor during a quiet break, a friendly hello to an acquaintance on the way to another session.

Or the moment when the whole auditorium suddenly goes quiet just before I get up on stage welcoming everyone (and reading out housekeeping announcements). That’s special to me.

Three days later, when we say thank you and goodbye I’m always a little sad that it’s over. Fortunately, planning for the next year is already underway, so there’s a lot to look forward to #altc.

Shaping the future of learning together #altc

JPEG back flyer_0 “August is usually the month where everyone is on holiday. For us, it’s the busiest time of year. So if you are keen to browse and think ahead of what this year’s Annual Conference of the Association for Learning Technology has in store, here is a personal preview. This year’s programme features an FE and skills track on Wednesday which I am really looking forward to (and if you cannot participate in person, you can follow much of it online)…”

Read my full FE News article here . Published 5 August 2015. Or visit the conference web site.