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?

More than swag: #oer18 material & visual culture

As an Anthropologist I’m interested in how human beings shape to the world and relate to each other. In particular, I’m interested in how what we make, exchange or treasure articulates our relationships. This past week participants from the OER18 conference have shared a wealth of… well, you shall see.

This is my story of the conference told through its material and visual culture. It is a story of swag … of badges, stickers, t-shirts … but it’s also a story of values, friendships and love, of rebellion and criticality, of struggle, adversity and diversity. It’s a study in gift giving, of intangibles made flesh, and it reminds me of the saying that ‘work is love made visible’ by Khalil Gibran. OER18 seemed to bring out a lot of that this week.

All of the images included below have been captured from the OER media site, the Visual Thinkery Gallery or the #OER18 Twitter conversation. If you are keen to find out more about what OER18 was about and its impact, head to the conference news section and explore from there, in particular the growing list of blog posts.


It all started with a shoe tweet … and like the insightful and thought-provoking narrative that Lorna presented in her opening keynote, the red ribbons on her shoes started to wind themselves through our conversations over the following two days. The anchors and the nautical theme that reflected both Lorna’s research interest and the conference location reflect a thoughtfulness that was part of every aspect of Lorna’s talk and I was grateful to be able to sit back and listen as her vision took shape. 

Possibly my best conference shoes ever #OER18 #shoetweet by @LornaMCampbell
Possibly my best conference shoes ever #OER18 #shoetweet by @LornaMCampbell


VHS Video

But even before the first keynote or welcome got underway, it all started with a VHS World Premiere… from the generous folk at Reclaim Video from Fredericksburg, Virginia. If you spot someone wearing a Reclaim Video shirt, ask them about the membership offers and upcoming movie premieres. I hear the Atari 5200 in particular will be big… .

I admire how much thought, care and humour went into this launch. As well as being a video rental store, Reclaim Video is an inspired, playful project led by a small team with a big vision. It reflects the working culture and ethos of an organisation that cares about its mission to empower students and faculty with a domain of their own, to use technology in an informed way and to take control. As part of a similarly small team myself, I can feel the power such a shared endeavour has, for the wider community or customer base, but also for the team behind it. The renaissance of video (and a domain of one’s own for everyone) starts here…

OER… remixed

One of the strongest visuals of the conference was remixed by participants themselves over and over again using the sandbox and gallery set up by Bryan Mathers. Bryan shared his (visual) thinking behind this project himself in a blog post and during the conference he also shared his own genius creations with participants – but what I thought was so powerful about this particular process was that it enabled everyone to create like Bryan can! You went to the site, adjusted colours and sizes, added your own text and BANG: out came perfectly beautiful visual thinkery like magic. Like all the most effective OERs there were no barriers to re-using it. This was so easy to remix that it generated a lot of activity and adoption. You could be confident and playful from the very beginning. Yes, this was OER remixed – but it was also a really empowering sandbox to play in!


Stickers, badges, gifts, shirts…

There is a strong component of gift giving and exchange at OER Conferences as people who have never or only rarely meet in person exchange tokens that express and develop their digitally conducted relationships. It’s an opportunity to show what you stand for, what you believe in, to share and show your colours.

Drawings and doodles

Putting pen to paper or screen is a powerful way of capturing your thinking and there were many drawings and doodles shared at OER18. I often learn the most from these visual records of sessions I was not able to participate in myself, and I am grateful to everyone who takes the time and makes the effort to disseminate the different voices and perspectives, ideas and thoughts in this way. Please keep drawing and doodling in your own inspirational ways.

Learning, looking, listening…

Far beyond the swag was a boat tour, sunshine (the weather gods are definitely on the side of openness), music, walking tours and apprenticeship – OER18 brought people together to learn from each other, see the world from a new perspective and to listen to the other voices in our community.



There were many hugs exchanged and those moments are hard to capture. But some things just stay with you regardless. Like a dodo that made it’s way from Mauritius to OER18 travelling with one of our research student contributors and which I will treasure (thank you, Pritee!). This photo of the heart shaped padlock, shared by Dan Harding, was a nice symbol for me at the end of the event, and a fitting destination for the red ribbon of narrative that wound itself from the opening #shoetweet through our time in Bristol.

If ‘You don’t stand for something, you fall for anything’ from Harder than you think by Public Enemy is one of my favourite lyrics. It reminds me that when people make an effort to show and make what they stand for, they contribute to change in the world. So I stand back and look at the people power reflected in the material and visual culture of OER18.

#femedtech #OER18 #OER17… because equality matters for all of us

#femedtech #oer18

If you have been following the reporting on the gender pay gap in the UK, then this has been a sobering week indeed. You can search for the reports from different employers here. I have had a look through many of the education providers and sector bodies that I work with and the scale of the ‘gaps’ highlighted in some of the reports is staggering. Not a surprise, given my day to day experience of the sector, but still – staggering.

As a chief executive I have reflected much during this week on how we can change things across the system. There are so many aspects to the problem that there is definitely no shortage of things we should tackle and there is much to do in relation to the professionalisation of Learning Technology.

But on a more personal note this has also reminded me of how important it is that we continue to work towards achieving greater equality – in all its forms. So with a large international conference on openness in education just around the corner I hope that there’ll be much to learn and discuss from different, global perspectives. I also want to help give a voice to this conversation together with colleagues, and make sure that we consider equality in the context of openness.

Powerfully, Catherine Cronin spoke of criticality, equality and social justice at OER17 in London last year. In the closing plenary we were asked to respond to a call to action… #Iwill #OER17 and many participants in the room and on social media joined in, making their voices heard and sharing their aspirations, making a commitment to taking action. I think it’s time to renew our vows to take action #OER18.

Openness: a practical value #OER18


In a few weeks, many colleagues from across the world will convene in Bristol for the OER18 Conference and from an active conference committee, and a inspiring line up of keynote speakers to a full programme of sessions about the politics and practice of openness in education there is so much to look forward to. I have been following the blog posts published on the conference site, thinking along with the debate about how open practice is being embedded in institutions, how advocates are winning over policy makers and funders and how our perspective on OER is changing. Inspiring stuff – and many difficult questions facing us, too.

Yesterday I was talking to a group of UK policy makers and one of the things I spoke about is how openness is a practical value to me. It’s not a lofty concept or a hopeful, idealistic vision, it’s a practical measure to be implemented, a yardstick against which new proposals can be evaluated.

From Open Access publishing to open licences, from shared content to open governance, it’s not a value that is easy to put into practice at any time. In her #OER18 post, Lorna Campbell reflects on this when she writes:

To my mind, the success of the OER Conference has always been founded on its willingness to examine and renegotiate what “OER” means, and this is one of the themes I’ll be exploring in my keynote.  And by that, I don’t mean defining the specific attributes of what constitutes an Open Educational Resource, I mean critically reflecting on what openness means in relation to education at different points in time and from different perspectives, because as Catherine Cronin reminds us in Open Education, Open Questions, “openness is a constantly negotiated space”. Open education looks very different to each and every one of us, and our perspective will depend entirely on where we are standing and the privilege of our vantage point.  And of course it is inevitable that our perspective will change as our roles and careers develop over time.

Outside of the OER community, most audiences that I speak to seem to think that openness means not generating revenue. It means taking a risk to give away something of one’s competitive advantage. It is for those who are privileged, those who can afford to spend time, to dedicate resources to something besides their core business. And so the work of advocates, individuals and organisations, is crucial to making business cases, to convincing governments and providers of the practical advantages, the bottom line, the success that can be achieved if a particular open model or platform is adopted. Open textbooks, for example.

And yet despite the many signs of progress, there are many instances of what was once open, for example a repository, a course or a platform, turning into something else once it becomes valuable. That’s when economic imperatives take over openness as a value and turn it into a marketing strategy.

For me, that is one of the reasons why it’s difficult to demonstrate that doing, being, leading ‘open’ is a practical value you can turn into success without betraying the principles involved. Openness has draw backs, just as every other approach, and sometimes these are difficult to negotiate. Which is why it is so powerful when you see people do just that. And that is what I am looking forward to learning about at OER18. How we can make openness work for all, warts and all.

So if you are there in person, joining in on Twitter, watching the live stream or coming along to Virtually Connecting, blog, lurk or otherwise take part – as one of the organisers I hope you’ll find the welcome and the inspiration you are looking for.

Openness in education: a call to action for policy makers (cross-posted from Wonke)

Article on Wonke

I gratefully acknowledge the work of Lorna Campbell together with whom I wrote this article, and to David Kernohan for his editorial input. Read the full article on Wonke. 

This week is Open Education Week, a global initiative led by the Open Education Consortium to raise awareness about free and open educational opportunities.

This year it is particularly important 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 the full article on Wonke. 

Big challenge ahead: talking about equality #iltaedtech17 #femedtech #oer17 #altc

Talk cover image "Equality"

This week I am looking forward to giving a short talk at the EdTech 2017 Conference, the annual conference organised by the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA). This year’s theme is TEL in an Age of Supercomplexity: Challenges, Opportunities and Strategies. 

The event has what looks like a great programme. My own focus is on exploring how openness can be a tool for Learning Technology professionals to promote equality. I am going to look at three specific examples of this, starting with work that’s happening close to home in the ALT Member Community and in particular our local Member Groups – illustrating this with the visual thinkery created for ALT by Bryan Mathers. The other two examples I want to talk about are the emerging FemEdTech network and the voices still echoing from the OER17 conference. I’ve shared my slides below and I look forward to the conversations and feedback in response to my contribution – and a special thanks to Catherine Cronin who has already provided me with some very helpful comments!

Below is the full transcript of my talk:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share with you how individuals are taking action to promote equality in Learning Technology, equality in our profession and across sectors – equality for individuals and within institutions.

Equality. We are facing a big challenge. Looking around this room everyone among us has witnessed inequality in some form. On a global scale policy and strategy are necessary to address some of the most fundamental challenges that stand in the way of greater equality for all – but what I’d like to explore is how taking action on a personal basis, taking action as part of our professional practice, can make a difference. Make a difference through openness – openness as in for example sharing OERs, using open licencing, through open governance and open practice at all levels.

The first example is the work of ALT’s Member Groups, and also Special Interest Groups who share their practice and collaborate openly, all across the UK and beyond. Aligned to ALT’s aims the Learning Technology professionals who are active in these groups share the values we have set out as a community and sharing their experiences, both failures and success. These groups, by being inclusive and community-led, have contributed to making our membership more diverse and their work continues to contribute to strengthen equality in our profession.

Now, the emerging femedtech network is a new initiative that is led by Learning Technology professionals who are taking personal action to promote equality and to do so through open practice, conversations and events. It’s an important effort to create a safe space that is also open and inclusive. We want to celebrate and extend the opportunities offered by education in/and/with technology – to women, and to all people who might otherwise be disadvantaged or excluded. If you haven’t already, I urge you to look at the work that this network is beginning to undertake.

My last example are the voices still echo-ing from the OER17 conference convened earlier this year by Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski. Josie, Alek and the organising committee made a concerted effort this year to create a more diverse, inclusive programme with a distinctive all female keynote line up and a programme that inspired a lot of critical reflection and conversation long after the event – and indeed that conversation is still going on. Catherine Cronin, who was part of the closing plenary at the conference, later reflected that the themes of criticality, equality and social justice were at the heart of OER17. It was a powerful example of many individuals taking action together – through openness – and making a difference.

Days like today give us that opportunity, to reflect on how we, as individuals, as a professional community, can take action to achieve greater equality through openness, to harness technology to do so – and then to go and make a difference.