2018: The year Learning Technology

Collage of snapshots from my work in 2018
Snapshots 2018: ALT Scotland, Glasgow; Blended Learning Symposium, Hong Kong Polytechnic; ILTA Annual Conference, Carlow, Ireland; CMALT Ceremony, Hong Kong; ALT Northern Ireland, Belfast; SEDA Annual Conference, Birmingham; OER18 Open Education Conference, Bristol, ALT’s Annual Conference & Awards Evening, Manchester, UK. Thank you to everyone’s who made my year. 

Against a backdrop of much political, social and environmental upheaval I have spent the past year working hard for all things Learning Technology – always on a mission to make better sense of how we relate to technology as we learn, teach and live. Learning Technology is so interesting and challenging because the work we do is happening at the intersection of education and work, constantly negotiating our relationship with technology as a society, as human beings. It brings into focus some of the biggest questions that we face in this age, questions about the role of machines in our world, artificial intelligence, about how knowledge is produced and ultimately the forces that shape our lives.

Day to day the reality of supporting lecturers with a VLE or teaching adult learners how to get online is a little more prosaic than that, but if there is anything we have learnt this year it is that the legal, ethical and moral dimensions of Learning Technology are becoming ever more important. From the role of lecture capture in labour disputes to implementing GDPR and to safeguarding well-being online there is no shortage of examples that Learning Technology has indeed come of age and that we have to face these important questions in a manner that is not only practical, but equitable and fair for generations to come. And although this year has certainly brought with it much to be dismayed about, in Learning Technology there has been a new cause for hope as our work to create a more nuanced, a more critical and reflective discourse has gained momentum. No longer do we focus primarily on advocating for technology as a solution but on a more holistic approach that acknowledges the importance of people, of learners and teachers in every learning context.

So here is my year in Learning Technology in ten highlights for you to share, make use of and be inspired by:

Learning Technology – A Handbook for FE Teachers and Assessors

My favourite part of this handbook (read the review) is that is has a section on evaluating what you are doing and reflecting on it. It’s useful for many beyond Further Education and it’s written by someone who really knows their stuff – Daniel Scott. If you haven’t come across it yet, put it on your reading list for 2019. 

Beyond advocacy for change: developing critical & open approaches in Learning Technology #LTHEchat #altc

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (29)
Extract from the LTHE Twitter chat 

This twitter chat, which Martin Hawksey and I worked on together, brings together many of the themes from this year around the role of Learning Technology, how our work is changing and how we can take a more critical, open approach. You can explore the chat itself on Wakelet or read up on the follow up blog post

Policy Making in Action – A Senior CMALT portfolio by Melissa Highton 

Melissa Highton‘s approach to achieving Senior CMALT was particularly inspiring as Melissa  describes how she “delivered a session at AltC 2018 exploring the interplay between technology and teaching, and learning technologists and academic colleagues. In it I talked about the importance of working alongside colleagues from different backgrounds and I used a ‘learning from critical incidents’ framework for my reflection.”

The topic of Melissa’s work was “experience of writing, and consulting on, an institution-wide opt-out policy for lecture recording” and the context that “work with technology for teaching and learning… comes into contention during a strike” as was discussed in these blog posts [written during] during the strike can be found here.

When I grow up I want to be a Learning Technologist by Clint Lalonde

Skip to 22.28 min in for Clint‘s talk or even better sit back and watch all of them compered by the inimitable Tom Farrelly

How and why should Learning Technologists engage with start-ups? A collaborative guide… 

Working with industry in Learning Technology is not always easy and one of the collaborations I led this year was to write a guide for Learning Technologists about how to work with start-ups. At the outset of the project, we wanted to find out what makes a successful collaboration between Learning Technology professionals and start-ups, what barriers may get in the way and what experiences we can learn from. We also asked the question why this is important and how it might be useful to the wider community, both individuals and organisations. You can now access the guide http://bit.ly/altcstartupguide and read the related blog post

25 years of EdTech by Martin Weller

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (5)

In Learning Technology we have the history, evidence, research to shape a more critical perspective and there are an increasing number of voices that articulate how things are changing. Martin Weller’s inspiring series on ‘25 years of Ed Tech’ is a great example of this (and definitely worth reading if you haven’t come across it yet). Martin emphasises the need for taking a critical approach to our thinking in Learning Technology, to examine the (commercial) interest that influence its development,  ‘for example, while learning analytics have gained a good deal of positive coverage regarding their ability to aid learners and educators, others have questioned their role in learner agency and monitoring and their ethics.’

A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology, 1994-2018

…”Our session is based primarily on two perspectives.The first perspective is rooted in our analysis of the past 24 years of ALT’s Annual Conference — as represented in published websites for later conferences, and for earlier conferences, references to the conference in ALT’s Journal (now Research in Learning Technology). The second perspective is our own personal histories that both exist beyond that narrative and intersect with it. Our initial analysis of the conference has identified Open/Active Learning and Community/Communities of Practice as themes that have persisted over several conferences and many years. We will summarise the themes and trajectories, highlighting how these ideas have been represented within ALT’s Annual Conference, how they have evolved, which perspectives have persisted and which have become irrelevant or have fallen out of favour. In addition, we acknowledge that the personal is political. Our respective critical approaches to this work reflect our own varied histories within and beyond HE, IT, and learning technology.”… by Frances Bell and Catherine Cronin

#CMALT #altc Twitter chat 

CMALT Core Principles visualised by Bryan Mathers

This year has seen a lot of work on professional recognition and cpd for Learning Technologists and this twitter chat  at ALT’s Online Winter Conference formed part of a broader effort of consultation and development to forge two new accreditation pathways. With input from over a hundred Members, work has progressed so that Associate and Senior CMALT are launching in February 2019 – exciting times ahead.

Openness in education: a call to action for policy makers

Article on Wonke
Article on Wonke

Together with Lorna Campbell I wrote this article on Wonkhe, which explains how 2018 was a “particularly important [year] for Higher Education as 2017 marked the anniversary of several groundbreaking initiatives that laid the foundations for what we now recognise as the open education movement. 2017 saw the 15th anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, and the release of the first Creative Commons licence, the 10th anniversary of the Cape Town Declaration, the 5th anniversary of the UNESCO Paris OER Declaration, and it was also the year that the new UNESCO OER Action Plan was launched.” Read more

And finally…. in my own words:  who shapes the future of Learning Technology?

This year I have a handy way of letting my work do the talking because much of what I am most interested in and many of the things that I feel are important came together in my keynote talk. This was a very special keynote to me and I was grateful to the Trustees of ALT to invite me to speak at ALT’s 25th Annual Conference. This post shares the slides and some of my notes for the talk and you can also watch a recording from the conference here . Thanks to James Clay for this video sketch note of the talk.

Keynote: Maren Deepwell – Beyond advocacy: Who shapes the future of Learning Technology?

‘Learning Technology in Higher Education – challenges and opportunities’ – SEDA Conference keynote

I was delighted to be invited to speak at this year’s SEDA conference. It’s a special honour this year, as both SEDA and ALT are celebrating their 25th anniversary and my talk followed inspiring keynotes by Pauline Kneale, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Teaching and Learning, from Plymouth University and also Julie Hall, Professor of Higher Education and Deputy Vice Chancellor, Solent University Southampton as part of the conference programme.

Here is the abstract of my talk:

This talk will address the major themes of the conference – ‘meeting challenges’ and ‘supporting staff’ – from the perspective of learning technology, exploring recent developments in this area and discussing their relevance and implications for educational development and for the work of educational developers. For example, my review of initiatives and key developments from the work of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) will include exploration of our new pathways to professional recognition and accreditation and discuss how these are mapped to other frameworks, including the UKPSF, QTL and Jisc’ Digital Capabilities. There are significant strategic challenges facing the sector and this talk will critically reflect on how we are solving these, sharing examples of research and practice from the ALT community and relating these to the  larger questions they pose in relation to ethics, student welfare and the future of technology in education. 

As well as looking at some of the challenges, my talk explored how we meet them and how things are changing, specially in relation to how we engage students – and how that has changed professional practice.

One of the other areas I explored is how we are developing professionalism in Learning Technology through openness, using examples from across the ALT community, from the Open Education Special Interest Group, to the Open Access research journal and the forthcoming OER19 Conference.

You can access all the slides and references from m talk here https://go.alt.ac.uk/SEDA18. 

Preview: SEDA Conference keynote ‘Learning Technology in Higher Education – challenges and opportunities’

I am really looking forward to speaking at this year’s SEDA conference and I wanted to share a preview of my talk ahead of the event. It’s a special honour to be invited to speak this year, as both SEDA and ALT are celebrating their 25th anniversary and I look forward to hearing Pauline Kneale, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Teaching and Learning, from Plymouth University and also Julie Hall, Professor of Higher Education and Deputy Vice Chancellor, Solent University Southampton as part of the conference programme.

Here is the abstract of my talk:

This talk will address the major themes of the conference – ‘meeting challenges’ and ‘supporting staff’ – from the perspective of learning technology, exploring recent developments in this area and discussing their relevance and implications for educational development and for the work of educational developers. For example, my review of initiatives and key developments from the work of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) will include exploration of our new pathways to professional recognition and accreditation and discuss how these are mapped to other frameworks, including the UKPSF, QTL and Jisc’ Digital Capabilities. There are significant strategic challenges facing the sector and this talk will critically reflect on how we are solving these, sharing examples of research and practice from the ALT community and relating these to the  larger questions they pose in relation to ethics, student welfare and the future of technology in education. 

As well as looking at some of the challenges, my talk is going to explore how we meet them and how things are changing, specially in relation to how we engage students – and how that has changed professional practice.

One of the other areas I will explore is how we are developing professionalism in Learning Technology through openness, using examples from across the ALT community, from the Open Education Special Interest Group, to the Open Access research journal and the forthcoming OER19 Conference.

Senior CMALT: Open Access research & promoting equality in Learning Technology

Part of my professional development for this year was to take part in the pilot schemes for new pathways to CMALT, ALT’s accreditation scheme for Learning Technology professionals. I acted as an assessor for the Associate CMALT pathway and updated and submitted my own portfolio, which was originally accredited in February 2016, for assessment for the pathway for Senior CMALT. Now that the pilot has been concluded, and I have been awarded Senior CMALT alongside colleagues who also took part in the pilot,  I am updated the openly shared version of my portfolio here as well as on the official CMALT portfolio register. 

In contrast to others, I did not choose to create a new portfolio in order to take part in the pilot, primarily because it is due to be updated in February 2019. Instead, I have added additional sections to my portfolio as follows (the other sections remain unchanged as they are already in line with the requirements of this pathway):

  • Specialist option(s): second specialist option added, Open Access research publishing in Learning Technology
  • Advanced area: new advanced area added, Promoting equality in Learning Technology

As this is a pilot of the scheme, it remains to be seen what the finalised guidance for this new pathway will say, but my portfolio will help provide a baseline of examples for future candidates.

For the first new section, I drew on an area of my work that I had previously not included in my portfolio:

I have led and worked on a number of Open Access projects supporting research in Learning Technology including establishing the ALT Open Access Repository in 2009 (the wALTer Project), overseeing the transition to Open Access for ALT’s journal Research in Learning Technology (for which I contributed to the report on “The Transition to… Open Access”) and in 2017 the second and third transition of this journal from its Open Access publisher, Co-Action, to be sold to Taylor & Francis and subsequently taking independent ownership of the journal, which is now published by ALT in partnership with Open Academia. Since 2012 I have had responsibility for the journal, working together with its Editors and Editorial Board. In 2018 I led the establishment of a new strategic working group of the journal. The new group will help steer the development of the journal with representatives from other scholarly bodies including ascilite, ILTA and the OLC alongside our Editors. The group is chaired by Prof Neil Morris, who also chairs the Editorial Board.

Over the past 18 months I have negotiated the contracts for both transitions, first from Co-Action to Taylor & Francis and then from Taylor & Francis to ALT in partnership with Open Academia. I have project managed both transitions, supporting Trustees in their decision making as well as the Editorial Team. During this time ALT has had to suspend operations of the journal for several months and I regularly communicated with Members and other stakeholders during this time (including a transition announcement, publisher news, re-launch update and thank you). As part of my work with the working group, I have researched current practice for Open Access journals around journal impact factors and alternatives to these, including altmetrics, h index and Eigenfactor, some of which I have shared in blog posts and at the ILTA Annual Conference, EdTech2018, at IT Carlow, Ireland, in June 2018.  Under my leadership, the journal has adopted Open Access best practice and has recently been awarded the DOAJ seal and has also resumed steady operations and is now publishing regularly including a recent themed collection on Playful Learning.

The other new section I have added is the advanced area of practice, and for this I chose to focus on how my practice contributes to promoting equality in Learning Technology. This is something I have written about before and also presented as part of my keynote at ALT’s Annual Conference in September 2018.

From this section, I’d like to share the reflective element in particular – relating how my work addresses the core principles of the CMALT framework:


I have not only chosen this advanced area because I think it is really important to the success of my practice, but because in my view it has a particular relevance to Learning Technology professionals. Reflecting on the core principles of CMALT, here is how my area of advanced practice, promoting equality, relates to them:

  • A commitment to exploring and understanding the interplay between technology and learning: Learning Technologists are often at the centre of negotiating an organisation’s, or a group’s, relationship to technology, for example students relationship to a social network or staff engagement with a cpd course. We are able to inform the perspective other, less expert, users have of how technology is used, understand how it affects our lives and our identities. How the data or content we create affects our work. At best, Learning Technologists empower staff and students in their relationship with technology, help them gain a more critical, reflective and thus effective long term engagement with the tools and platforms they use – and hopefully shape or create in future. It is a big responsibility and a big opportunity at the same time. If our practice, my practice, is shaped by values that prompt us, me, to promote equality, create greater equity and so forth, then we can make a real difference.
  • A commitment to keep up to date with new technologies: for me an important aspect of keeping up to date with new technologies is to understand their context: how they are financed and by whom, who has developed or tested them, or what kind of data sets informed their working, whom are they aimed at and what do they promise? What is their business model and how is it sustained? One piece of work I did this year is to collaborate with startups on a guide about how Learning Technologists can work together with start ups and through that project I had many useful conversations with CEOs of edtech startups. They were all young, white males and invariably the conversation about organisational culture reflected the pressure of moving at the speed they needed to whilst trying to have a more diverse team being in conflict with each other. It was an interesting first hand experience of how keeping up to date with technology and the constant need to catch up and adapt does not foster a culture that promotes equality. It is also an example of how our perception to need to keep pace with innovation, to move ahead, is used an an excuse, either consciously or subconsciously, not to diversify.
  • An empathy with and willingness to learn from colleagues from different backgrounds and specialisms: This is the core principles which most closely relates to promoting equality. In my own team I have led to establishing a strong practice of weekly meetings that include a show & tell element for example, enabling everyone in the team to ask questions, share ideas or show each other new tips or tricks from spreadsheet shortcuts to new tools we could use. Together as a team we take part in online cpd courses such as 23Things or a GDPR course on Futurelearn and I value the opportunity to learn alongside my colleagues, gain a sense of their perspective and understanding and to reflect this in my own.   
  • A commitment to communicate and disseminate effective practice: Lending your voice to raising issues around equality is not a task for women, but for everyone and I am grateful to have many male colleagues who play an important part in this. But I don’t think you need to explicitly reference equality at all to effectively promote it. Simply taking a balanced view in whom you reference, whom you include in your perspective, can have a most powerful effect. For me, the OER Conferences are a good example of how to promote equality in Learning Technology, how to amplify the voices of those less often heard.

There is a lot more I hope to achieve when it comes to promoting equality in Learning Technology. I leverage what I have to make a difference and I do my best to take every opportunity I can to do so, but whilst I have a growing network of inspiring allies to work with, there is a multitude of indifference who will ask “So what?”.

For many, equality is something that doesn’t have anything to do with them. It’s not something they want me or people like me to go on about. It’s not a an issue because…”women can participate if they want”, because “no one is stopping them”, because “I haven’t experienced discrimination so it doesn’t exist”, etc. etc. Insert any number of cliches!

CMALT is a peer-based accreditation framework that retains its value because there is a continuous cycle of developing our understanding of what it means to be a Learning Technologist and what we understand to be good or best practice through being assessors and updating our portfolios. I think promoting equality is a big part of what makes me a good Learning Technologist and I hope that this new section of my portfolio demonstrates that.

If you would like to have a look at the full version of the portfolio I submitted for the pilot, you can access the Google doc version and the evidence folder.

Beyond Advocacy: Who shapes the future of Learning Technology

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (1)

This is a very special keynote to me and I am grateful to the Trustees of ALT to invite me to speak at ALT’s 25th Annual Conference. This post shares the slides and some of my notes for the talk and you can also watch a recording from the conference here . Thanks to James Clay for this video sketch note of the talk.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (10)

I wanted to introduce myself via the skin of my laptop, which has been tattooed, to borrow a phrase from Bryan Mathers, with my experiences as ALT’s CEO over the past six years. When I started to prepare for this keynote I thought a lot about how I could tell a story from my personal perspective, rather than in the voice of the organisation I lead. Because thanks to working at the heart of what ALT does, with Members from across all education sectors in all parts of the UK and beyond, I have the privilege of a very unique perspective, one that encompasses everything from global Learning Technology policy to a single teacher using a new gadget for the first time. I can’t cover all of that in less than an hour of course, but I do want to give you as much insight as I can into my perspective, what it’s like to be standing in my shoes, and so the photos in this talk are from journeys I’ve taken to work with Members from Oxford to Edinburgh, from Belfast and Galway to Cardiff and London. They paint a picture of the landscape that I work in, what the world looks like when you are standing in my shoes.

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I hope that this talk will help us to critically examine our perspective – and in particular why our gaze is always drawn to what we are promised is just around the cover, just over the horizon. In her analysis of the most recent Horizon Report, Audrey Watters updated her project to track the predictions that the report has made over the years, examining whether what advocates promise actually comes to pass. Audrey writes: ‘Your takeaway, now and then and always: do not worry about what this report says is “on the horizon.” I bet you in five, ten, twenty years time, folks will still be predicting that it’s all almost here.’ 

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What does it mean for us if we are locked into a perpetual cycle of not arriving, of advocacy for tech that does not deliver to its full potential? We can go back through the history of Learning Technology and come across solutions promising to ‘solve problems’ from cutting costs or reducing teacher workloads to improving learning outcomes or increasing student satisfaction. But have these solutions really delivered for all learners? Does the way we think about and make policy for Learning Technology work? Or does this approach when viewed on a global scale, place the UK firmly in a policy context that the Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg describes as market-led privatisation, text-based accountability, de-professionalisation, standardisation and competition resulting in, in his view, unsuccessful education policies? I think so.  

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (4)

Advocating for what’s just beyond the horizon causes 3 issues: first, it gives us the sense that technological innovation is the driver behind change, the only solution to solving the problems that we face. The dominant narrative here is that we are at the mercy of inevitable innovation, the endless march of the machines and that we need to keep running in order to keep pace with progress. This in turn highlights the second problem: a perspective informed by advocacy focused only on what’s ahead increases our perception that we need to compete harder in order to achieve constantly moving goal posts. Compete with other countries as we move up or down league tables, with other institutions, with each other. Instead of making the most of sharing what we have, we don’t like to adopt something that’s ‘not made here’, we re-invent, re-design and re-solve problems and create content over and over again in a race to be the first, the best, the most successful. The issue is that this perspective of continual advocacy tends to ignore the history, the research, the evidence that we do have (and we have decades worth of it by now!). Does being focused on and advocating for what’s always just beyond the horizon also absolve us from ethical responsibility? We’re always talking about the future not what’s happening now?

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (5)

I argue that we have the history, the evidence, the research to shape a different perspective, to walk a different path in the future of Learning Technology and there are an increasing number of voices that articulate how things are changing, who are shifting the discourse to a more critical ground. Martin Weller’s inspiring series on ‘25 years of Ed Tech’ is a great example of this (and definitely worth reading if you haven’t come across it yet). He emphasises the need for taking a critical approach to our thinking in Learning Technology, to examine the (commercial) interest that influence its development,  ‘for example, while learning analytics have gained a good deal of positive coverage regarding their ability to aid learners and educators, others have questioned their role in learner agency and monitoring and their ethics.’

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (6)

Another important influence on my thinking and our wider discourse work examine the role of gender and equality in Learning Technology, led by man inspiring role models including Maha Bali, Frances Bell, Anne-Marie Scott, Bon Stewart, Josie Fraser, Donna Lanclos, Melissa Highton, Clare Thomson, Helen Beetham, Lorna Campbell, Sheila MacNeill, Laura Czerniewicz, my fellow keynote speakers this year Tressie MacMillan-Cottom and Amber Thomas, and many others who I am sorry not to mention by name. In her reflective post ahead of the conference, Catherine Cronin reminds us that often ‘long-standing work in critical and feminist pedagogy, for example, was not often acknowledged in later work about MOOC/online/open teaching and pedagogy. Acknowledgement and analysis of earlier work is vitally important in education’.


With ever growing challenges facing us, and decades of research and practice to inform our thinking, it seems clear that (Ed) Tech won’t ‘save us’. It won’t save us because it shouldn’t be the driving force behind what we do. Instead, we have to move beyond advocacy for tech that is the answer to all our problems. Towards empowered, critical practice that enables us to negotiate and articulate our relationship with technology and how we use it for learning and teaching. This isn’t to say that technology doesn’t have significant potential and I don’t meant to dismiss the role that industry plays or how much technological innovation contributes to the way we learn, teach and work. Learning Technology can bring big benefits for learners and educators – but it needs to be an empowered relationship instead us being threatened to be buried under an avalanche. 

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (8)

So my questions are: How do we move beyond advocacy? How to we realise the potential of our professional practice for the benefit of learners and for the greater good? How to we move to using Learning Technology to meet some of the biggest challenges we are facing globally right now?

These are big questions. I’d like to share some examples from my own recent work as a starting point to answering these questions. Putting Learning Technologists firmly at the heart of that effort, I’m going to start by looking at how professional practice has changed, using the example of ALT’s accreditation scheme, CMALT

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Building on the work Shirley Evans, Trustee of ALT, and my colleague Tom Palmer have done in the past two years to collate information from hundreds of portfolios submitted for accreditation since 2004, I’ve started examining if and how the evolution of Learning Technology as a profession can be charted by what specialisms individuals have chosen to demonstrate their practice with. Since 2004 over 100 different areas of specialist practice have been defined and starting to group these into different categories quickly became difficult as they had to be so general as to become meaningless instead of insightful. That in itself is interesting, because it emphasises how diverse the profession is and continues to be.

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It brings us back to ALT’s definition of Learning Technology ‘as the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching and assessment. Our community is made up of people who are actively involved in understanding, managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of Learning Technology.’ and reminds me of the original maxim that still holds true: you don’t have to be called a ‘Learning Technologist’ to be one. To me, it aptly reflects the reality of how differently we as individuals and within organisations approach the challenge of making effective use of Learning Technology and I feel that great strength lies in embracing and respecting this as a hallmark of our profession instead of trying to exclude or ignore words or people who don’t fit within a more narrow definition. Even if we don’t speak the same language or use the same terms to describe our work, the growing body of CMALT portfolios is a powerful example of what we do share.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (13)

Instead then of focusing on the bigger picture, my work has focused on drilling down into the detail of how specialist areas have developed and this first example shows specialisms related to engaging learners. It is interesting to see how even the titles chosen reflect a changing relationship to working with learners, from a more distant research or evaluation approach to focusing on support and feedback and then to collaboration and engagement.

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Another interesting question to ask is when particular kinds of work became important or developed enough to constitute specialist areas of practice and this slide shows examples of ‘firsts’, i.e. when particular kinds of practice were first submitted for accreditation as specialist areas over the past ten years. It only took a year after 2012’s ‘Year of the MOOC’ for instance for it to appear on this list for example. Meanwhile, more recent examples of new specialisms include digital well being, student collaboration, analytics, gamification and leadership. More and more CMALT Holders have started to share their portfolios via ALT’s CMALT Portfolio Register, opening up their practice and at the same time contributing to our ability to gain a better understanding of how professional practice is developing and changing.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell

One question we should ask is to what extent the kind of best practice usually included in portfolios submitted for accreditation, in particular if they are subsequently shared more widely, reflect the reality of professional practice? What isn’t included in this picture? What is left out? Most of the time, anything that’s gone wrong: all the times when a pilot didn’t lead to full scale implementation, when a new gadget ends up gathering dust in the back of a cupboard, when colleagues didn’t co-operate, students gave negative feedback or leadership failed. Learning Technology is a risky business and sharing what didn’t work is still not widespread. But there is something besides failures that isn’t reflected in this picture and that is all the work that is hard to put into words. Hours spent building someone’s confidence or overcoming their resistance to change. Days devoted to influencing decision makers to make the right choices when it comes to strategy or procurement. Teams who translate between faculties or directorates in order to arrive at a common consensus for the new VLE. I can think of many examples of what specialisms I’d like to see appear on the list – and I am sure you can, too.

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One of the trends however we can follow over the past ten years or so is the gradual increase in the number of people who choose a management or leadership related specialism as more and more Learning Technology professionals move into more senior roles. Their expertise in Learning Technology becomes more important as technology becomes more complex and our demands of what it can achieve for students or staff on a large scale become more ambitious.

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In consultation with Members of ALT this has informed the development of new accreditation pathways over the past 18 months, and the second pilot of both Associate CMALT (a new pathway for early career professionals or those for whom Learning Technology is a smaller part of their role) and Senior CMALT, for senior professionals whose work involves management, leadership, research or similar advanced areas of practice, are about to be concluded. These new pathways mark the first expansion of the CMALT framework since 2004 and I want to share some early findings from the pilot groups to date.

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The requirements for Senior CMALT include two (instead of one for the existing CMALT pathway) specialist areas of practice to be described, evidenced and reflected on. The subjects chosen to date reflect a broad range of practice from scholarship and Open Access publishing, to assessment, online courses and mobile learning to staff development, training and leadership. Similar to the earlier chart which showed a diverse range of different specialisms over a time these choices reflect how more senior roles in Learning Technology are developing their focus.

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A new requirement added to Senior CMALT is an Advanced Area of practice, which needs to be specifically related to the four CMALT Core Principles. The visual thought here shows the result of consultation with and discussion amongst Members who came together to re-articulate these principles afresh as part of the work to develop new pathways to CMALT. This is particularly relevant to the earlier question of how far the practice evidenced for CMALT reflects the reality of our professional everyday as to me these shared principles are a strong example of how we articulate what may be less straight forward to share about the work we do. To me these principles reflect professional practice beyond advocacy.

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Now we can see the earliest topics chosen by participants of the pilot groups for Senior CMALT and what areas of their practice they have chosen to as Advanced Areas relating to the core principles and these range from research focused topics, such as research in postgraduate distance learning or blended professional development to leadership of cpd programmes and leadership in the development of research and practice communities. At this stage the insight we can gain from this is still limited by the necessarily small numbers of professionals involved. But it does give us a glimpse of what critical approaches to professional practice in Learning Technology may develop and this will become more interesting as this pathways is fully established and the number of examples we have increases.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (21)

I gained CMALT two years ago and I found the process very rewarding. It was valuable to step away from the perspective of having managerial oversight and put it to the test as a professional, becoming a candidate myself and seeing the other side of the process (you can access my portfolio here and note that my portfolio was assessed by Trustees of ALT to manage the conflict of interest). So when the opportunity came up to put one of the new pathways through its paces, I opted for Senior CMALT and set to work expanding my portfolio. It prompted me to reflect on how I have moved my own practice towards a more critical perspective.

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As my Advanced Area of practice I chose promoting equality in Learning Technology and I soon realised that this was harder to translate into a portfolio of evidence than I had imagined. It’s my own “CMALT Fantasy Specialism” and I am fortunate to have had some very helpful critical friends who provided input to ensure that it didn’t turn into a nightmare.

So to unpack what this part of my work is about it’s important to explain the context in which my understanding of equality is grounded and to do this I want to share an extract from what I wrote in my portfolio: 

Whilst my position is indeed one of relative privilege, it is nonetheless an experience of inequality.

As a space in which we work, Learning Technology sits at the intersection of the tech industry, education, politics and the third sector. When I started working in Learning Technology I had no concept of how much inequality there is and how much it would affect every single day of my professional practice and that of every colleague, every learner. Particularly as a Learning Technologist in a leadership position it can be sobering to see the kind of structural inequality Laura Czerniewicz (who stood in this stage 3 years ago and inspired us with her talk on Inequality in Higher Education) and others speak of on a national or global scale. But whilst the bigger picture is important to my work, examples of inequality I have experiences can be found far closer to home, in the day to day working life many colleagues can relate to, such as being the token woman on a ‘manel’ to seeing reports about empowerment illustrated exclusively by white women in high heels to being the only women on a table of policy makers representing “the sector” to having to be introduced by male colleagues as ‘the boss’ in order not to be mistaken for their PA, from not being allowed to ask questions at events to not being invited, not being funded, not being considered for an opportunity. The list of examples goes on and on and for me it’s difficult to describe dispassionately.

The need to promote equality in Learning Technology goes far beyond the personal (and as I have acknowledged in my case a personal position of privilege). Inequality is structural and political and frequently apparent in the development of Learning Technology, such as algorithmic bias shaping the way new technologies operate. I admire writers and researchers who analyse, chart or expose inequality and I actively use my position to take action to promote equality. I have specifically chosen to attempt to develop this area of my practice in my portfolio because that in itself can contribute and I have selected three examples of how I promote equality as a Learning Technologist. … 

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (23)

One of the examples of practice included in my portfolio is volunteering to support the FemEdTech initiative and at this point I’d like to give a big wave to  everyone involved in #femedtech who help us foster more criticality in Learning Technology by helping us create a more diverse, a more inclusive perspective and community. And this isn’t an effort that is relevant only to women or people of colour or any other other group that fights for equality and against discrimination. Although it may seem like an obvious point to make, equality is for everyone. It concerns all of us.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (25)

Grass roots projects like UnCommon Women demonstrate that one of the key ways in which we can achieve greater criticality is greater collaboration, knowledge exchange and openness. Our practice is political, it’s personal and active participation in any of these initiatives makes a difference. It helps us articulate a narrative that isn’t dominated by advocacy alone and expands our personal learning networks beyond those we already know and feel comfortable with, help burst the filter bubbles that surround us. 

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (26)

For my own work, focusing on open collaborations is intensely practical and an efficient way to making things happen. I leverage this approach in my work for ALT for example for providing input to policy makers such as the call to action for policy makers collaboratively developed and published at the start of this year. Or working with start-ups and academics to bring together a guide for how to work together. Or developing ALT’s own approach to operating as a virtual organisation, a project in open leadership that I work on with Martin Hawksey.  Collaboration and inclusivity help foster criticality, inform my thinking through the different perspectives I encounter and inform strategy.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (27)

I follow in the footsteps of others (including the outstanding teams and individuals who were amongst the winners of the Learning Technologist of the Year Award announced yesterday) who have leveraged their open practice to make change and spark more critical professional practice.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (28)

Criticality helps ensure that we do not leave answering the big questions, facing the big issues up to others without making our voice heard. Criticality and collaboration are at the heart of professional practice that enables us to work in partnership with industry, to inform how products and services are developed and to influence policy that effectively governs our relationship with technology and the tech industry. We do have the power to shape our future and we do have a vision of what that future should look like. To close, I’d like to focus on that future.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (29)

Who shapes the future of Learning Technology? That is what we asked participants in the LTHE chat in June, when we discussed developing critical and open approaches in Learning Technology. We asked participants as the final questions of the chat to share a hope for the future of Learning Technology. Their vision is for Learning Technology to be ‘inclusive. Not a bolt on, not an alternative, lesser experience’, that ‘all education is open’, that we will combine ‘innovation and integration’, that there will be ‘greater sharing of results, greater scrutiny of results and greater understanding of the process followed to produce the results’, they highlighted the ‘need to raise the lowest level of engagement with technology/pedagogy as well as supporting those on the cutting edge’ and they hoped that ‘a symbiotic and ultimately synergetic relationship with pedagogy is established which facilitates a revolution in society’s objectives for our education system’. 

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (30)

These are their voices, their hopes, their vision (and you can explore the conversation with TAGSExplorer). So, 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: 2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (31)Last, but not least, I’d like to thank the Trustees of ALT who have given me the opportunity to speak here today and to thank you for listen (reading).2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (32)

Don’t think you are brilliant? Exploring the full colour spectrum of reflection.


Last year I wrote a post called Don’t think you are brilliant? Think again… and in it I shared my insights from being an assessor for CMALT, ALT’s peer-based accreditation scheme and how I observed that reflecting on practice can help you realise your own strengths and gain a sense of achievement.

Since then, I have assessed a lot more portfolios and also explored those shared by other Certified Members (thanks for sharing!) and I have come across a few more thoughts on this, which I’d like to share with you now – mainly because I think most of us could do with a bit more confidence, recognition and a sense of a job well done before we hurry on to the next deadline or deliverable.

It’s hard to feel that you are doing well when things are tough and often it takes a long time before you can look back and see how much progress you made at the time. When people in my network, mostly open practitioners, write brave posts sharing stories about their ups and downs I am always reminded that for everyone things can be difficult even if as an observer I can only see the what it looks like from the outside: I see the video, or hear the talk or read the paper, I pick up all the indicators of success, achievement, new thinking and so forth, but so often those only tell a small part of the story. But if you are chairing a meeting, on a stage or behind a lectern, people generally assume that you have it figured out. I salute those who let us peek behind the scenes, who share the more human side of their work. I hear people often advocate that we embrace sharing failures more, and I, too, support this notion strongly – but it is harder to do than it looks, I think. If failures are shared, it is mostly on the practical aspect of what we work on, on technology and tools, based on survey results or case studies. Very useful, but not personal like reflection can be.

Some common factors in successful reflection:

Making time: the most effective reflection is often born out of a habit to set aside time for it. Regularly. So that both good and bad weeks are considered, and over time a balanced perspective created. Some people write or have conversations, others think inside their own heads. Most come to record their ideas, thoughts or feelings in some ways. Some of the most insightful accounts I have read as an assessor demonstrate a clear sense of progression, i.e. someone having taking stock at different points in time and building a narrative around that.

Sitting with it: reflection doesn’t always lead to expected or pleasant places. Sometimes a train of thought ends in an uncomfortable place. Or in a realisation that things aren’t going well. Failure looms large. One of the techniques I most admire is the ability to be present with that kind of realisation, to develop a more mature relationship to thinking about topics that are difficult to reflect on. It takes a lot of confidence to do that.

Confidence in yourself: one of the ways in which reflection can go wrong is to rely only on external measures of success or failure. For example, you might reflect on a project as a failure if it didn’t meet its objectives fully even if you learnt a lot from it or it was a useful stepping stone to something new. Developing a sense of confidence and trusting one’s own judgement is a common component of effective reflection.

So, make time to reflect and discover the brilliant or shiny part of your practice alongside all the grey bits, or the darker ones, too. Space to think comes in all colours.

Re-post #altc: My Chief Executive Officer’s Report, May 2018

This is my report to Members of ALT for May 2018, originally published on the #altc blog here.

Dear Members

As I am writing this we are just beginning a particularly busy period for the Association, so my report to you this time will be a whistle-stop tour of what’s happening across our community. I am pleased in particular to welcome new member organisations who have recently joined ALT: Staffordshire University, Ajenta, MyKnowledgeMap, TES, Northern Regional College, University of Dundee and Wrexham Glyndwr University.

A global perspective on professionalisation in Learning Technology

On 3 May 2018 I was honoured to join the BOLT project organisers and partners at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University at their blended learning Symposium @PolyU,  a celebration and culmination of the BOLT project. As this 4-year University Grants Committee-funded project draws to a close, the Symposium celebrated at its impact so far – evidenced by its shortlisting for the Reimagine Education 2017 awards – and also looked to the future and its sustainable legacy. A particular highlight for me was being invited to present two members of staff, Seth Neeley and Arinna Nga Ying Lee, with their CMALT Certificates.

Congratulations to Seth, Arinna and the 20 other individuals who have achieved CMALT accreditation so far this year.  

Launching a new Award for the Learning Technology Research Project of the Year

One of our strategic priorities for this year is to enhance recognition for research in Learning Technology and the launch of this year Award helps us achieve this aim. The ALT Learning Technologist of the Year Awards celebrate and reward excellent research and practice and outstanding achievement in Learning Technology. Established in 2007, the Awards have established a benchmark for outstanding achievement in Learning Technology on a national scale and attract competitive entries from the UK and internationally. All entries are reviewed by an independent judging panel chaired by the President of ALT. We gratefully acknowledge the support from our sponsors Catalyst, open course technologists, for supporting the Awards this year. The Awards are now open for entries.

We seek Member input for UNESCO Recommendation on Open Educational Resources (OER)

ALT is collating a response for the following UNESCO consultation. Please use this shared doc to provide input https://go.alt.ac.uk/2FsAbBA . If you would like to provide input for the response, please use the heading structure provided. Alternatively you can also email your contribution to maren.deepwell@alt.ac.uk . The deadline for responses is 1 June 2018.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

As I’m sure many of you are aware new data protection regulations come into effect at the end of this month. We welcome these regulations as they will hopefully permit greater transparence in the use of personal data including in learning and teaching. In preparation of the new regulation we have updated ALT’s own Privacy Policy and carried out a number of actions in-line with guidance from the ICO.

We have also been supporting Members with a series of webinars to raise awareness around GDPR in learning in teaching. As part of this we were delighted to host Martin Dougiamas, Moodle Founder and CEO, along with Gavin Henrick, Moodle Business Development Manager to highlight actions the Moodle community have taken, Stephan Geering, Blackboard Global Privacy Officer and Associate General Counsel, and Mark Glynn, Head of the Teaching Enhancement Unit at DCU. If you missed any of these sessions recording and resources have been added to the event pages accessible from the past events section of our website.

ALT Annual Survey data & report

I will conclude my report with a reflecting briefly on the findings from this year’s ALT Annual Survey, the report of which was published in March by my colleague Martin Hawksey. As with previous years the Annual Survey is designed to:

  • understand current and future practice;
  • show how Learning Technology is used across sectors; and
  • help map the ALT strategy to professional practice to better meet the needs of and represent our Members.

With the survey in its fourth year we are able to record and report and number of changes. This year some of the biggest changes are in the enablers and drivers for use of learning technology. The insights gained go beyond the trends in technology and organisational change, but help us understand the needs of staff enabling students and building a more empowered relationship with Learning Technology. Themes that we can look forward to exploring more at ALT’s Annual Conference this September.

Maren Deepwell

 Maren Deepwell, Chief Executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), @marendeepwell

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member


Critical Perspectives on Blended Learning: Hong Kong Polytechnic University BOLT Symposium

This week I contributed to the BOLT Symposium at Hong Kong Polytechnic University as keynote speaker. The symposium brought together colleagues from universities in the region to disseminate outputs from the BOLT project, showcasing successful collaboration, shared provision of staff development and initiatives to ensure that the sustainability of what has been achieved. As part of my work for ALT I have supported the project in a small way for a number of years, mostly around the CMALT accreditation framework and it was very rewarding for me to be able to meet the project team in person. 

In my talk I focused on critical perspectives on blended learning, using some common technology focused reports and frameworks as a starting point, including the recently published preview of the 2018 Horizon Report. Using insights from the findings from the ALT Annual Survey 2017 I went on to examine the enablers and drivers being the adoption of learning technology, and shared an update on the developments of new pathways to CMALT accreditation. In the last part of my talk I looked at the bigger picture, drawing on historical perspectives to assess the validity of the claims made for technological innovation including sharing the work of Audrey Watters’ Teaching Machines timeline. My talk concluded with a reflection on the importance of equity for the future of blended learning and empowering staff and students in their relationship to learning technology. We had time for a brief Q&A session and I was grateful for the engaging questions from participants.

I also want to mention a particular highlight of the trip for me, which took place the day before the symposium, as I was able to present two members of staff with their newly awarded CMALT accreditation.

As well as a warm welcome and great hospitality I was inspired by the many conversations with colleagues from the different institutions taking part in the event. It was interesting to hear and see how each institution contributed to the collaborative project as well as finding strategic alignment with organisational priorities.

Whilst the context may be very different, there seemed to me to be a lot of commonality between what is being achieved here in the provision of staff development to help scale up use of blended learning and the kinds of projects I am familiar with in the UK and elsewhere. I returned with a suitcase full of ideas to take back and share with the community here, having gained a new perspective on how the work of ALT can be of value to Members all across the world and inspired by the shared questions we have about the future of learning technology.

How to share credit and praise yourself… reflecting on the value of (deserved) recognition

Recently I have been spending a lot of time writing references, quotes and feedback for colleagues. And I found it easy to talk about their achievements, to praise their outstanding qualities and to describe how they made a difference. It’s easy to do when it’s for someone amazing, it’s easy to do when it’s not yourself you’re writing or talking about, I find.

But then I read something others or I write about ourselves, about our own achievements and what we have made happen and the tone is completely different. There are whole sentences of qualifying statements, there are plenty of “I feel that…” and “I may argue that…” to soften the tone. There are references to other people and their work, acknowledgements of contributions and so forth. Whether it’s for personal or professional reasons, plenty of us struggle to find a way to give ourselves the credit we deserve (self-promoting egomaniacs need not read on…) . And whilst I obviously do not advocate taking credit if you don’t deserve it, it is important to be able to accurately recognise the importance of your own work and its impact on order to develop more mature, reflective professional practice.

In my experience that’s not a gendered phenomenon, and can definitely apply to high achieving individuals as well. Plenty of brilliant people find it hard to accept praise, argue their own cause or believe in their achievements.

Since I was awarded CMALT, I keep writing updates to my portfolio and as part of that process (and beyond it) I am trying to improve how I apply this in my own practice and I have come up with a couple of rules for myself:

Acknowledge contributions: in my case nearly everything is a shared undertaking. So I start by giving credit to my collaborators, to everyone’s who has contributed and say thank you.

Mention my own role: once I have acknowledged what others have done, I also describe my own work, what I made happen, what I achieved.

Reflect on impact: whether it is good or bad, I reflect on the difference what we or I did has made. It’s a useful opportunity to ask for feedback, to acknowledge lessons learnt, to bring achievements into perspective.

Accept praise: genuine praise can be hard to accept, particularly from people whose opinion you value. Some people love being applauded, others don’t feel they deserve the credit. Accepting praise is a skill like any other and I find it is important to remember that sometimes others can see more clearly when we deserve it. If they make the effort to bestow upon you, accept it.

Hopefully this approach will help me find the right balance between sharing credit, celebrating what I do well and getting and giving others the professional recognition we deserve.