#ALTC Blog

Geographical Information Systems in the classroom – Digimap for Schools

#ALTC Blog - 24/08/17

The Geography National Curriculum for England states that students should be taught to “use Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to view, analyse and interpret places and data,” (DfE, 2013). While it can be agreed that proficiency in GIS is a valuable skill of Geographers, implementing its effective use in the classroom can be both ambitious and daunting to teachers.

GIS has revolutionised the way in which we view land on Earth and has been noted as one of the 25 most important developments for human impact in the 20th Century due to its powerful analytical abilities. Students who are familiar with its uses not only have a better understanding of their environment but are better equipped to enter the technological business world.

Traditionally, GIS software was quite complex with time-consuming downloads and processing. Indeed, GIS was not initially created for use in the classroom but rather as a decision-making tool to be used by government and business. Unfortunately, such characteristics made the use of GIS unsuitable for the contemporary classroom that is under increasing curriculum and timetabling pressures. So how do teaching practitioners effectively implement GIS in our classrooms in a way that both fulfils the criteria of the National Curriculum and acts as a tool to promote learning among our students?

Digimap for Schools offers a solution to this problem. As a collaborative venture between EDINA and Ordnance Survey, Digimap provides an online mapping service to both students and teachers. The online nature of this service instantly makes it time-effective to implement in the classroom. With no need for downloading software or mobile apps, maps can be accessed at any time and on various platforms (e.g. laptops, iPads or mobile phones) and all that students require is internet access. A far cry to the bulky and time-consuming GIS software that I became familiar with at university!

During a GIS club run by the Geography Department at The Mountbatten School, students were asked to create a proposal to identify the best locations for bins and recycling centres on the school grounds. Using Digimap for Schools, students collected raw data which was uploaded to their own maps. Students then used buffers and their personal understanding of various environmental and human factors to analyse and interpret the data to make justified decisions which would then better inform their proposal. Something that soon became apparent was how Digimap can allow differentiation by outcome in that students had complete control over what went onto their maps and what functions they were going to use to make their decisions. The only premise was that their decision would need to be justified; both an important command word in the new GCSE specification and a skill used throughout personal and professional life.

The user-friendly layout meant that students quickly became familiar with the functions and confident in its uses. As such, students could complete complex GIS functions in a short period of time and view the results instantly, which further motivated them to challenge their data by processing alternative solutions leading to better-informed decisions. Other features that students enjoyed included being able to upload their own images to maps, annotating their choices and using historical maps and aerial images to view their map area in different settings.

From a teacher’s perspective, the service is very simple to use and, as many classrooms and IT suites are now fitted with interactive whiteboards, it is easy to demonstrate to students how to perform functions. Overall, its value is efficient as a tool in promoting geographical inquiry and independent decision-making. Its layout is easily familiar and the outputs of functions are immediate, which allow students time to process and manipulate data as they feel appropriate. It is a service that puts as much emphasis on the process as it does on the output, providing an authentic learning experience for both students and teachers.

Megan Roodt is a Geography teacher @geography_meg

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Video games in higher education: using video games to develop graduate attributes

#ALTC Blog - 20/07/17

Despite a growing body of writing on the subject of game-based learning – Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy remains the most commonly-cited text, and is an inspirational read – there persists a certain snobbery around the use of video games in higher education.

Seymour Papert once suggested that the mating of education and entertainment had resulted in offspring that keep the bad features of both parents and lose the good ones, accurately describing the rise of ‘edutainment’ in the 1990s. More recently, however, we have seen a proliferation of educational games aimed at younger audiences, with public broadcasters such as the BBC and Channel 4 producing many excellent and innovative games for pre-school and school-age children. On the other hand, educational video games aimed at higher education audiences are much less common, possibly reflecting the more complex needs of the sector.

In my article Video games can develop graduate skills in higher education student: a randomised trial, the use of commercial video games – those titles which are created for entertainment, rather than educational, purposes – was explored, with a view to using the games to develop students’ graduate attributes (Barrie, 2006). Using a randomised controlled design, three such attributes were examined: communication skill, adaptability and resourcefulness.

Over eight weeks, the game-playing intervention group played specified games for an average of two hours per week. The control group did not play any of the specified games, and both groups were tested using previously-validated instruments for measuring the three attributes at the beginning and the end of the experiment. As it turned out, the average score change was significantly more positive in the game-playing invention group than the control group, on all three skill measures. A relatively small amount of exposure to selected video games – under lab conditions – resulted in gains in communication skill, adaptability and resourcefulness.

The selected games, which included titles such as Team Fortress 2, Portal 2 and Borderlands 2, were mostly multiplayer in nature, requiring students to communicate and collaborate in order to advance. However, a pair of single player titles – Papers, Please and Gone Home – were also included, which the students believed required them to exercise a range of other useful skills. In fact, student participants also suggested that the variety of games played was important, as being asked to play a different title every week or so also required adaptability on their part.

The decision to use commercial games was based on a couple of factors. It is an economic reality that the budgets enjoyed by many commercial video games far exceed any funds available to developers of educational titles. This disparity can be all too evident in the quality of the art and other in-game assets, and in the scope and ambition of the game play. The games used here were high quality titles (one of the game selection criteria was a Metacritic score greater than 80), fine-tuned and carefully polished to offer fun, engaging experiences. The educational benefits, while real, were incidental.

Furthermore, the use of commercial games avoids raising students’ suspicions that we are attempting to force ‘chocolate covered broccoli’ upon them – students can easily spot when an educational activity is masquerading as fun. Learning should be fun, of course, but there is something disingenuous about educational games that can sit uneasily with students.

The work indicates that video games may have a role to play in higher education – in developing important employability skills, no less. At the very least, these results suggest that dismissive or negative attitudes to video games may be outdated and ill-informed. It is also notable that graduate attributes, typically assumed to develop over the course of a three or four-year degree, may be enhanced in just eight weeks.


Barr, M. (2017) Video games can develop graduate skills in higher education students: A randomised trial. Computers & Education. 113, 86–97. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2017.05.016

Barrie, S.C. (2006) Understanding What We Mean by the Generic Attributes of Graduates. Higher Education. 51 (2), 215–241. Available from: doi:10.1007/s10734-004-6384-7.

Gee, J.P. (2007) What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. 2nd edition. New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Matthew Barr

University of Glasgow

Matthew.barr@glasgow.ac.uk @hatii_matt

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Playful Learning: the eLearning@ed Conference 2017

#ALTC Blog - 18/07/17

eLearning@ed is a community of practice at the University of Edinburgh, which brings together learning technologists and academic colleagues through meet ups and events. This year’s annual conference looked at Playful learning.

Opening Keynote Prof Nicola Whitton (Manchester Metropolitan University), introduced playful learning (and her early love of the ZXSpectrum) and the importance of having space to fail. She highlighted three key aspects to build into teaching and learning: freedom to fail – particularly the usefulness of the “micro fail”; lusory attitude – a willingness to play; and intrinsic motivation. Whitton illustrated how playful nudges make failure a productive learning experience – such as the academic book club where you must pretend to read the book (whether or not you ever do). Practical applications of these ideas included collaborative projects to create educational “escape rooms”, where students work together to design and test their room using whatever props and tech is to hand, trying ideas, figuring out what doesn’t work and why, rather than just playing others’ games.

Michael Boyd (UoE) provided tangible examples of collaborative playful projects emerging from the University’s UCreate Studio – a Maker Space with 3D scanning and printing, laser cutting, electronics and virtual reality kit. Attendees played with the kit in workshops featuring fabricated lab parts, innovative medication monitoring for older people, bikes that act as mobile scanners, the IP law of 3D printing, and new ways to use the Internet of Things.

The mobile maker space kit was one of several participant workshops, which included: a 23 Things workshop from Stephanie (Charlie) Farley – exploring social media in teaching and learning; DIY Film School, led by Stephen Donnelly; Gamifying Wikipedia – led by Ewan McAndrew, the University’s Wikimedian in Residence; and an introduction to using World of Warcraft in online distance education from Hamish MacLeod and Clara O’Shea. Attendees also shared visions of the future of teaching – playful, technological, and otherwise – in a series of vox pops by Prof. Sian Bayne and team. A poster session also highlighted Managing Your Digital Footprint best practice, lecture capture, online voting systems, digital reading lists and the University’s programme to support colleagues to obtain CMALT accreditation.

Tom Boylston, Sihan Zhou and Cinzia Pusceddu-Gangarosa all provided examples of playful interventions in teaching. At the least technological end of the spectrum Tom talked about his use of Dungeons & Dragons in teaching anthropology – getting students to develop a fictional character to give them an understanding of inhabiting another role and perspective. Whilst he engaged them in a similar online roleplay, Tom reported finding the lower barriers to participation and creative freedom of a low tech D&D roleplay more effective with his students.

Sihan described a research-based language teaching platform, Tornado English, aimed at Chinese children learning English. Sihan demonstrated some vocabulary and grammar games, explaining how gamification has to strike the right balance of play and impactful learning. She also shared the successes and challenges of trialling mobile games as a teaching tool in an education context that can be intense and quite traditional – indeed many of the children playing these games only do so at the weekend when other studies have been completed.

Cinzia provided a short history of the use of AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) in teaching and learning and its development from bulky pricy kit to highly convincing and inexpensive headsets. Cinzia emphasised the value of VR as a tool for situations where cost, geographical distance, safety etc. are limiting factors and where student engagement is key. That combination of providing something safe, possible and engaging echoed some of the key themes across the day of experimentation and safety to explore and create.

Dr Hamish MacLeod (University of Edinburgh), drew on a wide range of theorists to examine the importance of play in learning, and of the space to experiment without judgement. He highlighted notable colleagues work, including Jen Ross’s recent Digital Provocations talk for the UoE Digital Day of Ideas; and Alan Murray’s playful teaching methods – including using an electric guitar as a teaching tool for undergraduate engineers.

Hamish talked about the challenge for teachers to find problems that cannot be Googled; and the importance of students having a “lusory attitude” – entering into the playful spirit of learning to problem-solve, discover for themselves, and take risks rather than just search for an easy answer. He touched on the power of conceptual learning experiences and simulations for introducing threshold concepts, and touched on gamification, including the benefits of authoring (and answering) Peerwise questions, and of using TopHat and similar voting systems in the classroom – tools that again work well as students discuss their thinking from reflection.

Areti Manataki presented on her experience of teaching coding in playful ways. This began with a bilingual (English and Spanish) MOOC created by University of Edinburgh and University of Uruguay aimed at teenagers. Tasks included designing an algorithm to make a sandwich; and creating games in Scratch, with visual silliness (flying dinosaurs). The team are continuing to use these approaches to introduce kids (and adults) to coding – and the MOOC is still available.

Find out more about the event, and access recordings and slides (coming soon) here: https://www.wiki.ed.ac.uk/display/eLPP/eLearning@ed+2017

The day was also liveblogged here: http://nicolaosborne.blogs.edina.ac.uk/2017/06/28/elearninged-2017/. Tweets can also be found – and added to – on the #elearninged hashtag.


Nicola Osborne Digital Education Manager at the University of Edinburgh

e: nicola.osborne@ed.ac.uk

Images: CC-BY to Nicola Osborne/eLearning@ed 2017

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

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Chief Executive’s Report, 29th June 2017

#ALTC Blog - 29/06/17

Dear Members

I’d like to start this report with a warm welcome to everyone who’s joined ALT this year. It’s great to see the number of Learning Technology professionals growing across sectors and we are pleased to have you on board!

As a Member we’d like to encourage you to get involved and we are currently inviting expressions of interest for a range of different roles, including our governance, events, publications, professional development and accreditation. Following the launch of our strategy for 2017-2020 earlier this year, there are a lot of new initiatives getting underway as well, so whether you have just joined or are an established member there is, I hope, a rewarding way for you to engage.

Further particulars are available on ALT’s website and you can also to sign up specifically for Pathways to CMALT, expanding the accreditation framework .

I’d also like to use this opportunity to give particular thanks to Members who edit and run this blog. Since its transition from newsletter to blog the readership and output has increased significantly and from event reports to case studies and reports the blog is going from strength to strength. I invite you to meet the editors and consider joining the editorial team or to write for the blog.

Another important development in the last month has been around ALT’s journal, Research in Learning Technology, and our new partnership with Open Academia.

As a Member you also have the right to vote in the elections run by the Electoral Reform Services which determine who becomes a Trustee of ALT and joins the Central Executive, the committee that governs the Association. Look out for an email with details of who is standing for election and how to vote. The results will be announced at the AGM on 6 September.

As I am writing this we are also preparing for what looks like a busy Annual Conference in Liverpool in September. The largest of our three annual events, with the OER Conference in April and the online conference in December, has received a record number of submissions this year, 230 in total, which is the biggest number in five years. Full information, the programme and registration is on the conference platform.

As a staff team we look forward to supporting the conference this year and since my last report we have welcomed our new Events Manager, Jane Marsh, who will be running the event this year. We are also pleased to be supporting one of our senior staff, Martin Hawksey, through a period of research leave, and you can read more about what Martin will be doing on his blog.

Together with my colleagues and Trustees I am heartened to see our work make a difference and our community grow despite the significant challenges we are facing as individuals, within institutions and on a national scale. I look forward to meeting many of you in Liverpool and more online as we gather, discuss and critically reflect on the role of Learning Technology in our future – ‘beyond islands of innovation’.

 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

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Can teaching excellence be promoted through the development of digital capabilities?

#ALTC Blog - 26/06/17



The question in the title of this blog post was raised by the QAA commissioned research report “Digital capability and teaching excellence: an integrative review exploring what infrastructure and strategies are necessary to support effective use of technology enabled learning (TEL)” (QAA, 2016).

Issues raised in the summary report prompted my colleague Sue Pears and I to reflect on our own practices supporting the effective use of TEL. To gain guidance and ideas we attended the SEDA Spring Conference in Manchester between May 11th and May 12th this year. One of the main conference themes was the current use of metrics, such as those offered by the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), and how fit-for-purpose they were. While opinions varied, there was general consensus that “metrics must be augmented with peer review, case studies and high-quality education and training for teaching” (Ashwin and McLean, 2016: 84), something that was the core to our own thinking.

Throughout the conference, there was a shared concern that if more inquiry-generated knowledge was not generated, it would see development strategies emerging which reacted to the perceived needs of the metrics; strategies which could prove to be irrelevant to the needs of academics in their own institutional contexts. While most saw the benefits in taking a more ‘localised’ approach to knowledge generation, it was with the caveat that is did not lead to a sense of isolated parochialism. To counter any threat of this happening some colleagues stressed the importance of developing professional networks so to share experiences and knowledge.

In an effort to contribute to discussions around the themes raised in the QAA report which prompted our thoughts, we facilitated a session at the conference entitled, “Promoting teaching excellence through the development of digital capabilities: can it be done?” Through our workshop, we set out to prompt participants to develop potential action-orientated inquiries, which could be used to explore the extent to which teaching excellence could be promoted by developing digital capabilities. We wanted to work with people to identify potential inquiry approaches and methods to develop practice-based knowledge which could be used to inform professional development practices. In retrospect, this was a big topic to get to grips with in a 45-minute session. However, it was clear that there was an appetite for such approaches given the level of discussion and feedback we received.

We left the conference buoyed we were on the right track with our action-orientated inquiry approach. However, we left without a clear answer to our workshop question: ‘Can teaching excellence be promoted through the development of digital capabilities?’ Therefore, as part of this blog post, our call to action would be to ask you whether or not this question can be answered in a way which generates practice-based knowledge to inform professional development initiatives.



McLean, M. and Ashwin, P.W.H., 2016. The quality of learning, teaching, and curriculum. In P Scott, J Gallacher & G Parry (eds), New languages and landscapes of higher education. Oxford University Press, pp. 84-102.

QAA, 2016 . Subscriber Research Series 2016-17: Digital Capability and Teaching Excellence. [online].Available at http://www.qaa.ac.uk/publications/information-and-guidance/publication?PubID=3115#.WBNTwS0rLcu [Accessed 19 May 2017].



Charlie Davis, Senior Digital Practice Advisor, Organisational Development, Nottingham Trent University. Charlie.Davis@ntu.ac.uk @CharlieJJDavis.

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.

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Technology Enhanced Learning – a literature of hope of hope or despair?

#ALTC Blog - 20/06/17

It was a wet and cold Friday morning in February when I posted this request to ALT-MEMBERS@JISCMAIL.AC.UK

‘End of week TEL challenge!  During my research I’ve found a host of reports critical of the claims of TEL and the quality of TEL research. Calling on Surowiecki’s ‘wisdom of crowds’ I wondered who on the list could point me towards evidence of TEL enhancing learning/teaching.’

The variety of responses reinforced how the question is relevant to everyone working within the technology enhanced learning field. If you aren’t already discussing or considering evidence of TEL impact, maybe this will change your mind!

Firstly here are some examples of ‘go-to’ research. Richard Mayer’s Multimedia Learning and Diana Laurillard’s Rethinking University Teaching were suggested as investigations which have stood the test of time. TEL-related journals (BJET, JIME, ALT etc) with ‘articles demonstrating the positive effects TEL has had on learning’ were cited, as was the recent HEPI report Rebooting learning for the digital age: What next for technology- enhanced higher education? and Improving Learning and Reducing Costs: Fifteen Years of Course Description by Carol Twigg.

As an advocate for inclusion, I was pleased to the benefits of TEL linked to inclusive practice, albeit with the caveat of ‘teasing apart the pedagogical, cultural, technical and competency issues’.  References to weak technology infrastructures which limited positive impact included running sessions where wifi connectivity fails, VLEs take too long to log into or features like audio have been disabled or are otherwise unavailable.

Another disadvantage cited was the slowness of traditional publication processes which risked research findings being obsolete by the time they were published. Should this affect the way TEL research is designed and disseminated in the future? Maybe an issue for ALT to pick up on?

A number of analogies took the conversation into unanticipated places. I didn’t expect the appearance of horse drawn stagecoaches versus railways, the state of roads in Nigeria or drowning in a swimming pool of paperwork! The power of metaphor was discussed as either problematising TEL or becoming a valuable way to communicate the ‘messy reality of things’.

Jisc’s James Clay suggested when an academic asks ‘for the evidence to show technology can make a difference’ it’s a symptom of ‘resistance to change, culture, rhetoric and motivation’. For more on this viewpoint see ‘Show me the evidence’.

Former-colleague Kerry Pinny was also inspired to write a post entitled ‘In defence of technology’. Kerry argued it was the role of digital education developers and learning technologists ‘to question, to be critical of and more importantly think impartially about educational technologies’ as well as be realistic about what technology can actually do. Technological recommendations which are evidence-based appear more authentic than personal (and maybe biased) opinions. After reading Kerry’s post I was left wondering how many job descriptions contain the relevant criteria for candidates to demonstrate their possession of critical digital attitudes and practices. Do the CMALT portfolio guidelines stress this sufficiently?

Halfway through the week and the discussion showed no signs of slowing down.

It was suggested strategic and operational rationales for large scale organisational implementation of technology were rarely backed up by research. Where the evidence was offered this could be less about the ability to enhance learning and more about comparisons with competitors or issues around student satisfaction.

The need for evidence itself was questioned when ‘revolutionary enhancements to our relationship with knowledge/skills that online technology has brought about are surely blindingly obvious.’ For this contributor, having access to all the content on the internet via google was on it’s own a demonstration of impact. It was an interesting point although I’m not sure a browser is enough. It’s a bit like calling all students digital natives and assuming they have effective digital capabilities. The reality is students might appear avid users of social media, permanently attached to their mobile devices, but it’s risky to assume they’re all critically digitally literate as well.

The debate lasted a week, which is a long time in mail list terms. It offered a snapshot of opinions which I hope was useful for fellow subscribers. Positive outcomes for myself included a chat with Jisc’s Sarah Davies about their project looking into evidence bases for TEL in HE (I’m not alone!) and in April my colleague Patrick Lynch and I hosted the #LTHEchat82 Evidencing practice for TEL which was triggered by this discussion.

The diversity of responses reinforced the need for discussion around evidencing the impact of TEL. The association between technology and transformative learning continues to promise revolutionary change but there are also critiques of both the technology and of existing TEL research.  In between the two poles are a thousand other publications citing a literature of hope and despair. Digital Developers, Learning Technologists and other TEL-People associated with TEL, or supporting the future development of online educational policy and practice, should all be aware of both sides of the debate.

Sue Watling, Academic TEL Advisor, University of Hull, s.watling@hull.ac.uk, @suewatling


Image used from https://pixabay.com

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

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TEL in an Age of Supercomplexity: the 18th EdTech conference organised by the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA)

#ALTC Blog - 15/06/17

Colin McLean, Registrar at IT Sligo, and Paul Gormley, Chair of ILTA, got the conference off to an inspiring start. In Ireland, like in other countries across the globe, Learning Technology is increasingly used to address some of the biggest challenges we are facing in learning and teaching: from serving a diverse, dispersed community of learners to upskilling the workforce to building strategy and policy fit for meeting the challenges ahead.

The theme this year, TEL in an Age of Supercomplexity, was addressed by three keynote speakers: Prof Grainne Conole, Independent e-learning consultant/Visiting Professor Dublin City University, Prof Paul J. LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and Prof Meg Benke, Empire State College’s School of Graduate Studies.

In the opening keynote, Grainne explored work in Open Educational Resources including the OER Hub, OpenLearn and the Global Open Education Graduate Network at the Open University as well as different models for thinking about learning such as work by Dave Cormier on rhizomatic learning with a particular focus on how to better integrate OER in pedagogy. Under the heading ‘Education for All” Grainne also discussed a new EU strategy on education and the need for re-thinking what future generations need to prepare for the workplace. It was a wide-ranging and thought-provoking talk that shared a wealth of research at the start of two packed days.

The second keynote in the afternoon was in a conversation format, in which Paul presented examples from Southern New Hampshire University that contrasted how harnessing the power of technology can support scaling up provision of training and assessment with the value of human interaction to support and guide learners, in particular learners returning to education after being in the workplace. Participants joined in the conversation and reflected on the future of employment, the increasing automation of different industries and the future of education in that context.

On the second day, the third keynote speaker, Meg, drew together the strands of the conference from a perspective of working in adult and further education before really getting to grips with the conference theme of supercomplexity. Meg discussed the role of scholarship, drawing on the work of Boyer, get us to think about: “the scholarship of discovery, the scholarship of integration, the scholarship of application and the scholarship of teaching (Boyer, E. 1990)”. Further into the talk, Meg reflected on the importance of education, giving learners the opportunity to become part of a different kind of community of practice, of opening up new ways of learning, thinking and connecting. Meg closed her keynote with the following thought:

“we are no longer in as much control of learner pathways …  we have a role in shaping lives and communities and control is invested with the student. So how do we as innovators … support creative transitions for lifelong learning?”

Meanwhile, one of the break out sessions that was a real highlight of the conference for me was led by Mark Glynn (DCU), Geraldine Gray (DCU) and Lee O’Farrell (National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning) about ORLA – Ireland’s Online Library for Learning Analytics (full abstract). One of the gaps identified by this project is the lack of practical guidance for the use of Learning Analytics including “What is Learning Analytics?”, “I have all this data; what can I do with it?” and “How can we design an effective implementation at our institution?”. Reporting from different working groups including one on data aggregation and modeling we explored questions around quality of data, data stories and making data usable as well as ethical implications.

With a focus on CPD, another really interesting session was about Adopting a Non Traditional Model of Continuing Professional Development, presented by Tracey McKillen (University of Limerick). The session discussed the 12 Apps of Christmas initiative which was run for staff in December 2016 at the University of Limerick into an Hour of Code event related to the mobile app was incorporated into the 12 Apps course at the midpoint. It was interesting to see feedback from staff and the course leaders.

With any learning technology conference it is always interesting to see different approaches to supporting learning. There are some interesting nuances with terminology, for example, in work presented by Dublin City University (DCU) they refer to their work with ePortfolios as ‘Learning Portfolios’, talking to one of the exhibitors they are now talking about ‘Lecture Recording’ rather that ‘Lecture Capture’.

There were also interesting approaches in the tools to support learning. Chris Meudec (IT Carlow) presented the work (see slides)  he has undertaken using a Google Doc as a key classroom resource, updating it with class announcements and assignments and allowing students an opportunity to discuss and see previous discussions with the comments feature (an example).

Ever the magpie Martin Hawksey also was intrigued by these tools mentioned at the conference:

https://t.co/eFmLN50EBq looks interesting like powerpoint broadcast mode with built-in voting #altc #iltaedtech17

— Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey) June 1, 2017

Some more interesting tools showed by @dubdonaldson https://t.co/PRN4KwiKD2 – video setting and video response capture #iltaedtech17 #altc

— Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey) June 1, 2017

one more from @dubdonaldson https://t.co/MvDx4m0Rlc -integrating polls into Youtube videos download to google sheets #iltaedtech17 #altc

— Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey) June 1, 2017

Contributing to EdTech2017

We enjoyed listening to all the inspiring talks in Sligo, and also contributed through short talks and working in partnership with ILTA.

On the first day Maren Deepwell presented a short talk on ‘Promoting equality in Learning Technology through openness’ (slides) using examples including ALT Members Groups, the femedtech network and the voices of the OER17 conference.

One day two, Martin Hawksey gave a short talk on ‘Making the complex less complicated: An introduction to social network analysis’ (slides/post) introducing network analysis and enabling delegates to understand the underlying structure of the graph as well as some of the tools that can be used to construct them.

In partnership with Paul Gormley, Chair of ILTA, we also announced a new joint CMALT initiative between ILTA and ALT to evaluate the CMALT programme in terms of personal professional development and appropriateness for the Irish TEL community.

We are looking forward to welcoming colleagues from ILTA to ALT’s forthcoming Annual Conference, with the theme “Beyond islands of innovation – how Learning Technology became the new norm(al)” in Liverpool in September. For more information about the conference, go to https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2017/.

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

Martin Hawksey, Chief Innovation, Community and Technology Officer, Association for Learning Technology (ALT), @mhawksey

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

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Three Spotlights from the UCISA Digital Capabilities Conference.

#ALTC Blog - 12/06/17



The UCISA DCG Spotlight on digital capabilities conference on ‘Student futures – equipping students to thrive in the digital era’ was held at The Spark at Southampton Solent University in May 2017. This conference did not disappoint as with the previous two conferences I attended I came away with loads of notes and ideas to take back to colleagues.

I could not possibly include all of my notes and ideas in this blog post but I will include three things (or spotlights) that really stuck out for me.

Spotlight number one shone in a parallel session I attended ‘Student eXperience Journey Mapping (SXJM): where can digital really make a difference?’ delivered by Gill Ferrell. This session really put the student at the centre, getting us in small groups to find solutions to some of the more negative experiences that the students were having during their journey at University.

It is very difficult not to go into too much detail how we did this but I strongly recommend you visit the Padlet that accompanied the workshop which contains lots of resources to run a session like that I attended in your own institution.

Spotlight number two shone on two presentations. I have always been interested in the idea of students mentoring other students with digital literacy, so was interested to hear the outcomes of two presentations at the conference. The first was the ‘DigiBuds – a peer mentoring scheme to improve the digital confidence of students and staff’ by Osama Khan and Fiona Cooksley from Southampton Solent University and the second ‘A student led digital literacy project’ by Phil Jones from Coventry University.

Both the presentations brought up issues around the recruitment of students which should definitely be thought through carefully before embarking on a project ourselves. This did not put me of exploring the idea of having student digital mentors. The presentations helped to raise lots of questions which would need to be thought through carefully before embarking on a new Student Mentoring scheme ourselves such us: should we pay the students? What about safe guarding the students? Or what skills would the students need to be digital mentors?

Spotlight number three came from a parallel session that I attended ‘Developing digital capability at a distance’ by Beccy Dresden from the Open University. I took a lot of notes during the session but the one thing that caught my eye was a skills check that was available to students before signing up to a science course. Once submitted it links to resources to help the student with any areas they may need to know more about. I thought this was a great idea and actually thought this could be something to take back to my team.

As with the previous two conferences I came away from the third DCG Spotlight on digital capabilities conference with loads of notes and ideas. My thanks goes out to those who organised the event who did such a great job of it all.

Storify of the event by Kerry Pinny, University of Warwick

Recordings of the presentations are available from the video catalogue page.

URLs referenced during the presentations

Anna Williams, Regent’s University London. williamsa@regents.ac.uk

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Assignments as Controversies

#ALTC Blog - 06/06/17


Ibrar Bhatt’s book ‘Assignments as Controversies: Digital Literacy and Writing in Classroom Practice’ explores the practices of learners in college classrooms. This monograph is a development of Ibrar Bhatt’s PhD research, published in the Routledge Research in Literacy Series. Prior to reading the book, I wondered about its audience and potential usefulness for classroom practitioners but reading it has revealed a well-designed structure and engaging writing style that renders it useful to a variety of audiences and purposes.

The book has an introduction and three parts that, although interrelated, can be read independently. The controversies in the title are the relationships between the human and non-human actors that occur in the doing of assignments in classrooms. “This book is not necessarily about how teachers teach, learners learn, or how these relate to the digital evolution of classrooms, though these things are related to its topic. It is about dissecting the plot to see how student work actually gets done in modern college classrooms.

The first part, ‘Literacy, Technology and Society’, lays out the concepts for the ideas developed in the book, and Actor Network Theory that guides the research. The review is written in such a way that it is not only essential for researchers in digital literacies, but also very useful for practitioners writing assignments or planning lessons in digital environments. The focus on practice and the relationships between human and non-human actors makes a refreshing change from some of the approaches to digital literacy offered to teachers and learners.

In Part II there are three cases of the practices of students doing assignments: Sara’s Assignment on Childcare, Anne’s Digital Portfolio, and Paolo’s Report on Social Media. Between them, the cases achieve breadth and depth of the topic. The research method has a firm focus on the practices of the learner, with close personal observation by the researcher, supplemented by video footage that is subject to later annotation using the ELAN software, and related data such as college policies and details of the technology offered in the classroom and brought by the students. In Sara’s case, ELAN annotation was used to explore the interruptions to her work by the Google algorithm.

Upon repeated viewing of the data clip, slowed down and expanded by the transcription of gesture and bodily movement, we observe that pauses occur between turns during web searching and the ensuing discussion about class work”  

This deep and rich approach to exploring learner practices in digital environments reveals not only learners actions, but also shed some light on the broader set of actors such as the teacher, algorithms, acceptable use and other college policies, the assignment brief, the Moodle VLE, previous assignments written by the student, and relations between these actors.

The choice of learners for the case also managed to deliver breadth of learner practices to the research. Sara’s brief required her to contextualise the assignment in her workplace, as well as use educational resources. Anne is a college teacher taking the Technology for Learning and Delivery course, who is producing a digital portfolio created on different technology platforms. Paolo, a Portuguese student who is studying English as a Speaker of Other Languages (ESOL) does a social media report. Ibrar Bhatt used an innovative method of facilitating learners’ construction of Venn Diagrams to map their digital literacy practices across Home, Work and College contexts.

Each case is interspersed with vignettes of learner practice into a narrative that builds the emergent concepts: the ‘nested dolls’ effect of assembling assignments, curation as a digital literacy practice, and irruption (rather than disruption). Curation may be the pre-curation that happens in lesson plans, handouts and assignments and also the curation done by algorithms and by learner themselves. Irruption focuses on the actual displacing practices in digital contexts rather than the technology that might be involved in disruption. These concepts are explored in detail in Part III of the book.

It is in Part III of the book that the concepts that emerge from the research, though based on the localised contexts of the three cases, become available to inform other contexts. In reading them I saw parallels in Higher Education and informal education. Sara, Anne and Paolo’s stories reveal how they work around the constraints imposed (often with good intent) by college policies, instructions on how to use technology, and sometimes by the technology itself. When we know more about learners’ literacy skills in other contexts, we are in a better position to support their development (rather than suppression) of critical thinking. We can also learn how to write ‘better’ assignments.

Frances Bell is an itinerant scholar

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