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#altc: a personal history

It’s this time of year again! Time to prepare for ALT’s Annual Conference, pack your gadgets, conference shoes, pin badges, stickers, research notes and gala dinner outfit(s) and make your way to Warwick or indeed online (although in that case most of the above applies likely only to the top half of you which may be on camera 🙂 . Also, don’t forget to pack a piece of #edtech or #altc history for the onsite display/museum. It’s a collaborative effort and only as good as what we can bring together.

I am VERY MUCH looking forward to this year’s editions of our conference, and I hope you are, too. It’s no small feat to run a successful conference for THIRTY years, and I am so proud to have been to quite a few (but definitely not the most, as plenty of others have been to more).

Before we jump into the fun, here is the usual reminder to register if you haven’t done so, as the early bird deadline is approaching (6 August 2023).

Why I love this conference!

As you can tell from the long list of posts below, I am a big fan of our conference, and over the years I have reflected a lot on why that is – and why it matters. Having worked my way through the posts (and pictures) from 2008 to this year, I have come up with three things that I feel make a big difference to this event, and that to me make it very special indeed.

Obviously, as the CEO of the organisation that organises the conference it’s part of my job to be its strategic cheerleader and ambassador (just as it will be Billy’s when he becomes the next CEO of ALT in a month’s time). Part of my role involves working closely with the Co-Chairs and our Conference Committee ( fantastic volunteers led with vision and great commitment by Santanu and Lawrie this year), our partners and sponsors (who always make a huge difference to the success of the event) and speakers, Trustees, ALT Members and staff not just during the event, but also for the months leading up to it. My year very much revolves around the conference project plan, as do my holiday plans (June, before it gets manic, and late September, to recover).

Since I joined ALT in 2008 there’s been no quiet summer for me (or indeed my fabulous colleagues who work their socks off while most other people in education try to fit in some sort of well earned break). Instead, at this time of year my days get longer, my inbox gets busier and the quality time I spend with risk registers increases exponentially.

Each year, things go wrong, and each year we try to improve and evolve aspects of the conference. We learn, we try again, differently, harder. I am all too aware that we don’t always get things right, and that there is always more we could do. And yet I have seen many other events come and go in the past 15 years, and ours is still here, still relevant and it still matters.

Here is why I think that is (and I am looking forward to learning what you think):

C stands for… collaboration, community and… criticality

Over the years, our conference has become the thing ALT is most closely associated with. I meet many who call ALT by the hashtag, and in many ways I have always been delighted that in this context the letter ‘c’ can stand for not only the word conference, but also collaboration and community.

In many ways, the conference is an engine of collaboration for our community, forging new connections and reinvigorating partnerships and networks across sectors. It’s where many projects start, and friendships are formed. I am always amazed by how much inspiration we bring together over the three days.

Importantly, and not in common with all that many other events of this nature, the c also stands for criticality. And that element is absolutely crucial. As the professional body for Learning Technology we are obviously aiming to spread knowledge, to share expertise and to advocate for professional recognition, in short we want to make everyone more aware of how important our field is and how impactful the work of the professionals we represent is. We are also aware, however, that the intelligent use of digital technology in education requires us to be critical, to reflect and examine its impact, its history and theory and its wider context.

I often hear first time delegates who are surprised (and pleased) that not every session at the conference is a glowing review or enthusiastic case study for a new tool or platform and that you are likely to step into just as many sessions who share lessons learnt of when things went wrong, or exploring ethical conundrums.

This year’s keynote line up reflects this aspect of our conference very strongly and I am proud that over the past ten years we have used this international platform to amplify the voices of influential thinkers like Tressie Mcmillan Cottom and Audrey Watters.

#altc is not just for September

There is no doubt that the conference is a huge highlight of the year for our community. So much happens in the conference week, from our Annual General Meeting (my last as CEO as I will be stepping down and handing over to Billy on that day) to the Learning Technologist of the Year Awards, to the CMALT Ceremony and the Honorary Life Membership Award as well as launching new initiatives like this year’s launch of the first ever apprenticeship ALT has formally endorsed and new projects for CMALT, our professional accreditation scheme.

Each year, the conference brings together a huge concentration of activity and engagement, encouraging Members to get involved in a whole range of activities and groups and inviting newcomers to join ALT and discover the valuable support, connections and resources we share.

And yet, unlike many communities that are grouped around a particular conference and only come together once a year, we work together on a packed calendar of events, publications, news and policy developments throughout the year.

Our conference may be our biggest showcase, and yet there are so many other highlights throughout the year that it is hard to mention only a few. Preparing my handover for our new CEO has given me a renewed appreciation just how much we do as an Association and how many separate activities, groups, committees and milestones there are throughout the #altc year.

That is one of the key reasons why this conference is so special: it’s not organised by a production company or an events department in isolation, bringing together well known names with no other connection than that they are suddenly on the same agenda together. Instead, it’s a community-led event, that is shaped by the work, and the thinking, that goes on day in day out. At it’s best, our conference is welcoming and warm, and ‘meticulously informal’ in just the right measure.

The people who help organise it, the speakers who submit proposals, the participants who register… the majority of the hundreds of people who we see each September are likely connected to ALT already in one way or another. They may not be able to come each and every year, but they have voted with their feet since 1993… and they have voted to come back again and again.

We foster empowered edtech professionalism

When I closed my keynote in 2018, a wonderfully nerve-racking talk I won’t soon forget, I quoted a Public Enemy song lyric from Harder Than You Think:

If you don’t stand for somethin’
You fall for anything

Public Enemy

That sentiment still rings true to me today, nearly five years later, and forgive me if I quote my own words here:

When we ask who shapes the future of Learning Technology – my hope is that we don’t leave it up to others. My hope is that we continue to participate in the conversation, that we make our voices heard and listen to others.

When I first stood in this theatre in 2009 I saw great potential in what could be achieved by this community and I wanted to contribute to it. Nearly 10 years later I have seen parts of that vision come true, but there are much bigger things still to come.

And that is up to all of us. So I invite you to share your hopes, your vision and make your own voice heard.

My altc Keynote 2018

What I saw first in 2009, and then talked about in my keynote in 2018 still stands today. This year, as we gather once again, I look forward to seeing the process of shaping the future of Learning Technology in practice, through the vision and the voices of our community.

That is why I love this conference and I look forward to celebrating thirty years of this very special event together with you all, with our Trustees and staff, and with our new CEO, in a few weeks time in Warwick and online.

My #altc blog post retrospective

Image credit: Picture by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology ALT conference 2019 , Edinburgh.rDay two – Wednesday 4th