#ALTC Blog

The development of an accessible Library Management System (LMS)

#ALTC Blog - 16/01/18

In order to support and develop the skills of Independent Living Skills (ILS) students, Gower College Swansea Information Learning Technology team has joined forces with the ILS and Library departments to create a fully accessible Library Management System (LMS). The purpose of the new system is to enable students with specific and complex needs to autonomously run their own library service.

The overarching aim of the project was to develop real life employment and life skill scenarios to support students in developing a range of essential core skills, such as literacy, numeracy, social communication, digital literacy and employability.

The project team evolved the idea of a student-led library service. To support this, the need to develop a bespoke, fully accessible library management system was identified. It was essential that this would be manageable and easily used by students across a broad cognitive and social competence range.

The main objectives were to:

  • Design and develop a fully accessible Library Management System (LMS)
  • Design a LMS that students, across a range of abilities, could manage autonomously
  • Embed library activities in to students’ current curriculum
  • Improve students’ core skills

Staff worked with two groups of students from the ILS department.  The first group of learners were academically able, but had difficulties with social communication and interaction (typically ASD). The second group of learners had a low cognitive ability (typically General Cognitive Ability score of below 70 – putting the students on the bottom 3-8 percentile signifying a borderline extremely low cognitive ability) with very limited literacy, numeracy and communication skills.


The LMS was designed specifically with the students in mind.  The system is simple, accessible and functional.  Students are able to add new stock to the catalogue by scanning the ISBN, which allows them to access the author and title and downloads images.  The students independently add classification (a colour-based taxonomy) and keywords.  For many students, this was the first time they had been asked to analyse the different facets of a book and interpret what each means.  When adding the keywords, students were able to select from a database of predefined words or add their own.  Students also add users to the system, run overdue reports, issue and return stock.

The skills acquired and developed by the students through running the library itself and maintaining the LMS are wide.  They have improved their:

  • communication and social skills through serving their peers when issuing and returning stock;
  • digital literacy skills through managing the LMS and the data it holds
  • literacy skill though cataloguing items and engaging with the books themselves
  • numeracy skills through managing the library’s budget and keeping account of any stock that has been lost

Students and staff love the initiative and have seen improvements in students’ abilities across the core skills.  We have disseminated these activities via Jisc and have been asked to speak at next year’s Wales conference; through Swansea’s ASD network and College’s Wales ILS Manager’s network.  It is hoped that the LMS can be shared across the sector.


Kate Pearce

Gower College Swansea



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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How we scaled professional recognition for staff working with Learning Technology at the University of Edinburgh

#ALTC Blog - 16/01/18
Creating a digital Culture

For the last 18 months I’ve been working on an ongoing project to support the professional development of staff working with learning technology.  The University of Edinburgh has ambitious strategic digital plans  which envision:

“a digital culture that will culminate in a university where:

  • every core service is fully digital;
  • every educator is a digital educator;
  • every student is a digital student;”

Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services Division of Information Services,  saw that growth of a digital education culture would require increasing input from staff working with learning technology. She recognised the value of learning technology staff in this process and the need to supporting their professional development both to retain and attract staff. As a large distributed organisation, building cross institutional connections is also key to realising our institutions digital ambitions.

Professional development with CMALT

We identified Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology (CMALT) as an appropriate professional qualification for staff development (as a CMALT holder herself Mellissa was very familiar with the scheme) and decided that setting up institutional cohort would support the growth of supportive cross institutional networks.

In 2016 I set up the University of Edinburgh CMALT applicants group, which has the aim of:

  • Supporting staff through their CMALT certification from application to pass.
  • Bringing learning technology staff together from across the Schools, Colleges and Central Support Teams, to encourage networking.
  • Supporting  the wider institutional Learning Technology community
  • Promoting the continued professional development (CPD) options available from the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) beyond CMALT.
Staff working with learning technology at the University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh (U of E) is a large institution, it has 3 Colleges, 20 Schools and 3 Support Groups (located across sites across the city). We have 35,000 + Students and 9,000 + Staff (as FTE).

At the start of the project I set out to identify how many staff were working with learning technology at the U of E.  Initial search on our website using terms like ‘learning technologist’ did not yield the numbers I expected. I then worked backwards by identifying staff with a remit in or related to Learning Technology and online distance learning. Following input from colleagues, I had a snap shot of people who might be interested in undertaking accreditation and identified approximately 70 individuals based across the schools, colleges and support groups. One of the reasons they had not been obvious to identify was the range of job titles of the roles they were in – you can see this variety in the wordle below.

Setting a Challenge

We had identified the institutional requirement and the staff development route. But how were we to judge the success of the project?

Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services, framed this as a challenge:

“Can we make University of Edinburgh the employer with the largest number of CMALT accredited staff in the U.K.?”

I took up this challenge and presented it to staff at various events, as I invited them to apply to join our CMALT group. University of Edinburgh staff have really embraced CMALT – in 2016/17 23 joined our cohort and this year another 11 have started their CMALT journey.

What does our CMALT scheme look like?

The University of Edinburgh CMALT Scheme supports staff from across the university to complete their CMALT portfolio by:

  • paying applicant fees
  • holding regular meetings of the CMALT applicants group
  • providing support to put together a portfolio (see sharing initiative page, ALT login required)
  • organising half-day writing retreats

If you would like more details about how the cohort is organised you can watch the recoding of the presentation I gave with and Sarah Sherman, at the ALT Winter Conference: The CMALT “Zumba Class”: managing a cohort scheme for CMALT applicants to build institutional capacity for learning technology [1213]

Session recording available at http://go.alt.ac.uk/2Bj1dNO

I’m really pleased to say that 18 months after we set out on this challenge the University of Edinburgh we have the largest number of current CMALT holders of any Institution (you can check this on the CMALT holders list).

Thirteen people have now been accredited or re-accredited through our group, and you can see what they have to say about it via the University of Edinburgh CMALT Holders page.

Would I be disappointed if another institution were to set themselves the same goal? Absolutely not – I’d love to see other institutions supporting their staff in their professional development in this way. If ‘numbers’ can be used to help provide focus for strategic goals I’m all for it – because behind those numbers are excellent, talented hardworking colleagues who deserve the support and recognition for their ongoing hard work and professionalism.

University of Edinburgh CMALT Holders and Applicants with Maren Deepwell CEO of ALT at our November Award Ceremony.

Susan Greig, The University of Edinburgh, s.greig@ed.ac.uk

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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Book Review: Design of Technology Enhanced Learning Integrating research and Practice.

#ALTC Blog - 08/01/18
Time to read. Pixabay. CC0.

In this book, the author Matt Bower sets out to examine research findings relating to the use of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) which can be used to enhance our design thinking.

Bower begins by offering a set of motivations for integrating technology within education, noting in particular an intrinsic desire to improve learning outcomes for the student. He asks the reader to reject simplistic and ‘mythical’ ideas that can undermine TEL design, offering the examples of digital natives and technological determinism, instead imploring us to adopt a critical approach to TEL design.

In the early part of the book, Bower lays the conceptual foundations of pedagogy, technological affordances, content, and learning design. We are introduced to the TPACK (Technology, Pedagogy And Content Knowledge) framework which is characterised as a “useful conceptual tool” rather than a learning theory; “the what, not how”.

In chapter three, Bower gives an overview of a range of pedagogic perspectives, including; behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, social-constructivism, and connectivism. These are summarised in a table rating their attributes across several dimensions which is a useful reference point. The chapter concludes by underlining the point that the choice of pedagogy will influence the type of technology used in TEL design.

Chapter four is split into two halves; the first examining the ‘affordances’ of technology in the selection-process, and the second discussing the principles of multimedia learning, and how these two areas mutually influence each other. These are presented as further conceptual foundations for the use and design of TEL by the critical educator; one who can take a range of factors into account for their context rather than taking a mechanistic approach.

Chapter five includes an interesting overview and discussion of open educational practice – professional educational activity shared through the social web – including OER, MOOCs and CC licensing, and how open education is changing the role of the educator from designing educational content, to designing the learning environment through “structure, sequence and scaffolding” for their students.

Chapter six introduces the reader to the field of learning design and the concept of “design thinking”, which is defined as a “focus on the fundamental thinking skills that underpin design”. The chapter summarises research on design thinking in 10 points, and discusses how we, as educators, can develop design thinking. Bower describes three ‘educational design models’ and offers a critical reflection on these, and of the “intractable problem” of creating learning design models that are either so inclusive that they become unmanageable, or so general that they are of no use. We are given an evolutionary journey through the ways in which educators have sought to share learning design and descriptions, with accompanying examples (e.g. visualisation tools [Compendium LD]). This is again followed by a critical reflection and a strategy for the future development of learning design; that is to take a reflective approach, to collaborate, and to adopt a ‘design mindset’.

The middle part of the book (chapters 7 – 10) is given to a detailed overview of current educational research in four key areas: web 2.0, social networking, mobile learning and virtual worlds. This overview includes a discussion of the benefits and constraints of each of the technologies, including case-studies and examples throughout.

The final part of the book follows this examination of current educational research by abstracting 20 principles of TEL design. These principles, along with related benefits and constraints are mapped into 13 ‘clusters’ to effectively organise the relationships contained within. Bower completes the book with the conclusion that learning design is both an art and a science; one that requires creativity and flair, but that should be grounded and informed by empirical evidence – “a creative application of design knowledge.” Bower ends with a personal reflection of his enjoyment of being an educator, and about the importance of practicing design.

Overall this is a book which is written to bridge the perceived gap between educational researchers and practitioners, and it succeeds by being extensively researched and referenced whilst providing real-world examples and case-studies throughout. I found this book to be an enjoyable read, with the structure, layout and aesthetics making each section very accessible despite some of the complex ideas being discussed. I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in learning design and the design of TEL as a practising educator or educational researcher.

Craig Dooley, King’s College London. ALT Northern Ireland Members Group. craig.dooley@kcl.ac.uk (ALTNI)





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Book review: Assessment, feedback and technology: contexts and case studies in Bloomsbury

#ALTC Blog - 02/01/18


The e-book Assessment, feedback and technology: contexts and case studies in Bloomsbury, co-edited by Leo Havermann and Sarah Sherman, shared through a Creative Commons licence and available for download online, explores the findings of a wide-ranging two-year research and dissemination project. The editors, experienced technology-enhanced learning practitioners, address a fundamental and important problem that requires fuller discussion in the sector. Assessment and feedback, fundamental core processes in learning, are increasingly mediated through technology as this is often cited as more efficient. However, promises of increased ease of administration, savings in staff time and an improved student experience are rarely delivered if student satisfaction surveys are to be believed. Using the Bloomsbury context as a microcosm of the sector that could inform this issue, the editors provide a useful analysis of the domain and illustrate this with a wide range of brief case studies of existing assessment and feedback and practices taken from the Bloomsbury consortium.

The three research papers that open the book provide a helpful context for this contribution to a wider discussion, focussing on:

  • The use of technology across the assessment lifecycle
  • The roles played by administrative staff in assessment processes
  • Technology-supported assessment in distance learning

They draw upon existing research published by Jisc and the HEA into assessment and feedback processes. In order to investigate in a holistic manner the existing practices at Bloomsbury colleges the editors undertook a mapping process and discovered that it provided a useful analytical tool to increase understanding of what is a complex and often discipline specific domain.

Their work in the first of these papers provides a useful insight for all stakeholders into the complexity of assessment design and is a welcome contribution to raising the level of assessment literacy for all stakeholders. The second paper explores the workflows for assessment and is informed by event participants from different institutions, thus widening the evidence base for the study. As contributors come from a range of institutional roles and contexts, the captured conversations throw light on the multi-factorial issues that make technology choices challenging for learning technologists. The interactive nature of this event is exemplary, showing how such opportunities can help dispel assumptions and bring greater clarity and mutual understanding to a complex and important area of activity. The third paper deals with assessment and feedback in distance learning courses at Bloomsbury, providing examples of a range of technological tools deployed. This reveals the importance of attention to the ergonomics of learning design. It is clear that technical tool selection for key processes such as assessment should be reviewed through collaborative investigation with students and staff if it is to keep pace with the rapidly changing realities of learning in the 21st century and be fit for purpose. This section of the book is a “must read” for all those who care about the quality of the educational experiences in UK HEIs and provides an excellent starting point for a better understanding of our own contexts.

The ensuing case studies illustrate the points raised in section 1, offering disciplinary detail through worked examples of assessment and feedback practices. They cover examples of innovative assessment approaches such as the use of blogging and e-portfolios. They also illustrate student involvement in assessment through peer feedback and the use of multimedia such as telecollaborative presentations and audio feedback. Such practices are often tricky to implement within the standard affordances of VLE tools. The template format of the case studies makes them easily accessible and provides practical information that exemplifies practice both in small group settings and at scale. These are useful scenarios ad will inspire and inform practitioners and those who support them. Contact details can easily be located from each case study making it easier for follow up discussions, a practical tool for learning technologists who may be approached about available assessment techniques.

This collection is a timely read if UK HEIs are to embrace the challenges of increasing digital mediation of assessment and feedback. The increased emphasis on the role of assessment for learning (AfL) and the need for greater assessment literacy in all educational contexts require more holistic discussions, working in silos will not achieve the result needed. This collection provides a very practical starting point that could improve the quality of teaching and learning for all involved.

Teresa MacKinnon, University of Warwick


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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It’s time for the next generation of leadership

#ALTC Blog - 16/12/17


A reflection by Dr. Ebba Ossiannilsson (Swedish Association for Distance Education) on her current research

In this blog post, I discuss some aspects of my latest research on next-generation leadership for education for all, 2030.

Next-generation leadership for education

Education and learning should, according to the UNESCO SDG 4 for 2030, be available for all, at anytime, from everywhere, and through any device in a global, lifelong, and lifewide perspective, where learners take the lead, and orchestrate their own learning in both process and manner to choose their personal learning journey in its widest interpretation. There are calls for modern governance arrangements and dynamic, proactive leadership and management. The Director-General of UNESCO argues that:

[A] fundamental change is needed in the way we think about education’s role in global development because it has a catalytic impact on the well-being of individuals and the future of our planet…. Now, more than ever, education has a responsibility to be in gear with 21st-century challenges and aspirations and foster the right types of values and skills that will lead to sustainable and inclusive growth and peaceful living together.

The fourth industrial revolution has changed the way we act, perform, live, work and learn today. The digital transition encompasses all levels of an institution. Therefore, rethinking leadership and management is needed at all levels.

Learning technologists and instructional designers have often single-handedly taken responsibility for development, and merging technology and pedagogy to enrich each other, putting these individuals in an ideal position to influence institutional strategy. However, this often self-imposed role has not always been supported or recognized, and is not even always understood by senior leaders. Next-generation leadership involves staff at all levels in the institution playing a strategic role in enabling, supporting and facilitating effective institutional change. In open education too, leadership is a shared responsibility – as illustrated by the Opening up Education framework, in which it is one of the four core dimensions of open educational practices in higher education institutions (Inamorato dos Santos, et al., 2016), see Figure 1.

Fig 1. The Opening up Education framework (Inamorato dos Santos et al., 2016)

Leaders at all levels can foster sustainable open education activities and initiatives through both top-down and bottom-up transparent approaches. They can pave the way for creating openness by inspiring and empowering people. Probably, the largest challenges relate to mindset and attitudes, as systemic changes are required. Hence, the human capital for cultural change is crucial, and this includes ownership, inclusiveness and participation. A key issue for leaders is thus to promote a culture which allows people to grow, take responsibility, and build trust throughout the organization, but also to promote a culture of passion, and persistence (Ossiannilsson, submitted).

The cultivation of a culture of quality is critical, and has to be in the interests of everyone, but also encouraged by leaders (Ossiannilsson, 2017, 2018). Rethinking the culture of quality as it applies to open pedagogy, situated learning and self-directed learning also includes rethinking quality assurance. Recognized international quality models of open online education take a holistic approach, focusing not only on the learning and teaching processes but also on policy, strategies, curriculum, course design, course delivery, infrastructure, and support for staff and students. Quality dimensions also relate to efficiency, learners and faculty satisfaction and engagement, and short- and long-term impact. In addition, work and study conditions for learners and staff have to be considered. Gulliksen (2015) argued that consequences of competitive advantages, meeting student expectations, reorganizations, continuing professional capacity building for staff, often are neglected. Digital tools are often not incorporated in a well-planned manner. Many problems could be minimized or prevented if leaders and managers had insights and knowledge concerning benefits and what can cause problems.


It is becoming clear from my current research on next-generation leadership for education for all 2030, that there is an urgent need for modernization of not just the approach to education, but also for effective organizational leadership in the digital era. Leaders and managers can make a difference to higher education’s offers, services, processes, quality and impact. There is a need for people who have the knowledge, abilities, competences, and attitudes to lead this process and analyze and evaluate digital work environments, using appropriate methods used to analyze complex digital environments.


Gulliksen, J., Ann Lantz, A., Walldius. Å., Sandblad, B., and Åborg, C. (2015). Digital arbetsmiljö (Digital Work Environment). Report 2015:17: Stockholm (Arbetsmiljöverket). Retrieved from https://www.av.se/globalassets/filer/publikationer/rapporter/digital_arbetsmiljo-rap-2015-17.pdf

Inamorato dos Santos, A., Punie, Y., Castaño-Muñoz, J. (2016) Opening up Education: A Support Framework for Higher Education Institutions. JRC Science for Policy Report, EUR 27938 EN; doi:10.2791/293408. Retrieved from http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC101436/jrc101436.pdf

Ossiannilsson, E. (2017). Leadership in Global Open, Online, and Distance Learning. In: Keengwe, J. & P H Bull (Eds.). Handbook of Research on Transformative Digital Content and Learning Technologies, pp 345-373. IGI Global.

Ossiannilsson. E. (2018). Leadership: In a time when learners take ownership of their own learning. In: K. Buyuk, S, Kocdar, and A. Bozkurt (Eds.). Administrative Leadership in Open and Distance Learning Programs, (pp.1-33). IGI Global.

Ossiannilsson. E. (submitted). Leadership in a Digital Era: The Ecology of Ubiquitous Inclusive Learning. Distance Education in China, An International Forum.



Dr. Ebba Ossiannilsson is an international independent researcher and consultant, in the areas of open online and flexible learning including OER, MOOCs, and TEL (OOFAT). For more information, see her homepage, or you can find her on LinkedIn or on ResearchGate.



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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MozFest Reflections

#ALTC Blog - 13/11/17

A conference review from Anne-Marie Scott, Head of Digital Learning Applications and Media, Edinburgh University.

This year was my fourth trip to MozFest – the annual global gathering of the Mozilla Foundation. The event has been held in Ravensbourne College in London for the last 7 years and is a nine stories high extravaganza of participatory sessions and speaker talks covering hacking, making, data, digital art and culture, ethics and privacy, the open web, open science, data journalism, social justice, access and inclusion and many other things too numerous to list. This year there were 338 sessions spread across two days. The programme is available online to browse for a flavour of the sessions on offer.

Sessions take place in themed areas within the venue, with each space aligning with an area of strategic focus for Mozilla: Decentralization, Digital Inclusion, Open Innovation, Privacy and Security, Web Literacy and a Youth Zone.

Photo by Erik Westra / Westra & Co. CC BY 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/mozfest/24140497258/

MozFest isn’t heavily marketed to the HE sector, and so I suspect a number of colleagues aren’t aware of it. However this event is the one that breaks me out of my Higher Education bubble and into thinking about open and the impact of the web in the broadest sense. I leave fired up and excited having learned completely new things and collected practical ideas and information that I can I contribute back into my own institution.

MozFest is also the most diverse event that I attend. Participants come from across the world and can be all ages and all languages. Although the event is conducted in English, participants are actively encouraged to flag other languages that they speak via stickers on their badges or in their session descriptions. Travel to London is surely prohibitive for many still, but there is usually better representation from the global south at this event than at any other I go to.

Each year there’s a slightly different emphasis, and this year the overall theme was about what makes a healthy internet.

“Today, the concept of Internet health reaches far beyond the realm of open source code: it’s linked to civil liberties and public policy, free expression and inclusion. Discussions about the state of the web include engineers, but now also teachers, lawmakers, community organizers and artists”. (Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation)

It was noticeable this year that there were more sessions on data sovereignty and combatting fake news. Online privacy and web literacy have been a strong focus of MozFest since the start, but it felt like this year there was a bit of an inflection point – the events of the past 12 months have brought these issues into sharp focus perhaps, making it clear that they are societal challenges and not niche issues. Developing information literacy skills has been a core part of learning in an Higher Education environment and digital literacy is probably in all our graduate attributes in some form or another. These talks and sessions brought into sharp relief how much more quickly we need to move on developing these skills within our institutions, particularly as we consider new areas of activity such as learning analytics.

There is so much choice in terms of sessions that it can be overwhelming, so on Saturday after an excellent first session crowd-sourcing ideas for pathways and career tracks into civic technology, I spent a couple of hours exploring each of the spaces. I picked up a copy of the Mozilla Internet Health Report and had an interesting conversation about how one goes about trying to measure such a thing and the feedback that they are using to develop the next iteration of it.

Photo by Erik Westra / Westra & Co. CC BY-NC 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/mozfest/37991479381/

I also picked up a Data Detox kit developed by the Tactical Technology Collective at a Data Detox Bar (part of the larger “The Glass Room” project – a series of interactive exhibits that pose questions about our relationships with technology). The kit is an 8 day program, beautifully designed, printed onto cards and packaged in a small box. Chatting to the “barrista” at the Detox Bar he explained that the kit is designed to tap into our emotional response to technology products, in particular the sort of “unboxing” pleasure that comes with something like a brand new Apple product. Part of the problem they had identified was the inaccessibility of many existing online InfoSec and privacy resources both in terms of language and design. In this case they had found that a well designed physical resource was getting more traction with less technical audiences. They also had a great tips sheet outlining how to run Data Detox sessions in libraries, based on some experience within the Swedish public library system.

I visited the Meme Lab (exploring how memes are made and a little about the relationship of memes to social movements) and the Humans of the Internet podcast lounge and then it was pretty much time to run my own session “Wikipedia Games” along with Alice White, the Wikimedian in Residence from the Wellcome Library.

Saturday was rounded off with a Virtually Connecting session featuring Josie Fraser, along with ALT’s very own Maren Deepwell and Martin Hawksey – both themselves fresh from running a session on professional development for learning technologists.

Sunday started (for me) with a series of short talks by Audrey Tang, Emily May and Nighat Dad covering topics around using technology for civic engagement, practical tips for combating online harassment, and a sobering reminder that access to the web is not available without consequence for everyone.

My next session choice was NefertitiBot – exploring the possibilities for museum artefacts to curate themselves via chatbots, rather than being constrained to the interpretation given to them by museum curators. We had a lively discussion about the extent to which bots could break free of being scripted and the potential for them to develop in ways that we might not like. With an increasing interest in chatbots in Higher Education in student support roles it was a useful and practical discussion and left me wondering about the extent to which we need to ‘perfect’ such bots versus be open about exactly what they are.

Photo by Erik Westra. CC BY 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/mozfest/26245741439/in/album-72157686681997682/


The final speakers session that I went to on Sunday was opened by Gillian Crampton Smith who talked about the emotional elements of technology design and where artists fit into the technology development process. It reminded me again of the Data Detox conversation the day before. She was followed by Sarah Jeong and Emily Gorcenski in conversation with each other talking about fake news and fake data.

It served to remind me once again of how vital events like this are, where not only are the issues discussed, but solutions are crowd-sourced, discussed and hacked out across various sessions.

Anne-Marie Scott, Head of Digital Learning Applications and Media, Edinburgh University. Email: anne-marie.scott@ed.ac.uk, twitter profile





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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Lived Open Educational Practices at #EuroCALL2017

#ALTC Blog - 07/11/17
The EuroCALL 2017 organising team caught on camera by @warwicklanguage CC0

The annual Computer-Assisted Language Learning conference, Eurocall took place this year in Southampton. Participant Martina Emke reflects on the role of openness to the success of this event:

When I decide to go to a conference, the key question for me is always: “What can I do to make this conference more accessible for people who cannot attend it in person?”. My first choice is always Twitter, mainly because the 140-character limit works well for me for conference coverage and for connecting during conferences. For many people blogs work well, too, but blogging doesn’t come naturally to me. So blogging now about the Eurocall 2017 conference is my deliberate attempt at trying a new medium to open up this conference to a wider public.

As a first time presenter and enthusiastic networker I didn’t know what to expect from #EuroCALL2017 in terms of openness, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that that openness played an important role before, during and after this conference. Before the conference, Parisa Mehran, a Japan-based ELT teacher and doctoral researcher of Iranian origin, made the EuroCALL community aware that she couldn’t attend the conference because her visa had been denied three times. This led to a number of initiatives, both by the conference organisers and by individuals to provide her and other people, who couldn’t attend, with opportunities for remote participation. Parisa’s blog post shows the variety of measures that were taken, as well as the positive effects they had.

Openness also played a role in the three excellent keynotes, which were streamed during the conference. In his keynote ‘Language, learning, the wild and rewilding’ Steven Thorne, called for ‘structured unpredictability’ as a way to open up the classroom to embrace language diversity. He later explained his key ideas very comprehensively in a Virtually Connecting session. The second keynote speaker, David Millard, traced the well-intended origins of an open Internet, presented the unintended consequences and argued for Internet users to take back control over their data. The third keynote, Shannon Sauro, tweeted her slides so that they were available to both on-site and remote participants. In her lively presentation “Looking for Fandom in a Time of Change” Shannon argued for teaching as activism and for learning to address current challenges of different forms of closure. Her understanding of learning as a way to challenge predominant discourses reminded me strongly of this year’s #OER17 conference theme “The Politics of Open”, which focused on the political elements that are central to openeness in education.

Shannon Sauro and friends preparing to Virtually Connect. Image: CC0 @warwicklanguage

In our own symposium on Twitter for language learning, teaching and professional development, Alessia Plutino, Eleanor Quince and I sought to connect on-site and remote participants with the help of a padlet, which will continue to be available as a resource. The posts from remote participants on the padlet and tweet feedback show that even a relatively simple tool like a poster wall can be a very effective tool for opening up conferences.

A more powerful tool for opening up conferences is certainly provided through Virtually Connecting sessions. The Eurocall 2017 conference saw two online sessions, which connected on-site and remote participants and provided an opportunity to discuss topics of interest around the two keynotes by Steven Thorpe and Shannon Sauro.


The next EuroCALL conference takes place in Jyväskylä/Finland. While I will probably not be able to attend, I hope for many ways to participate remotely. At a time when travel budgets are shrinking and travel bans and restrictions becoming more prevalent, the languages community is showing how it values diversity, enabling participation through lived open educational practice. This recent tweet gives me hope that EuroCALL 2018 will take place in this spirit.


Martina Emke, Doctoral researcher at the OU.,
email: Martina.Emke@arcor.de , teacher trainer, twitter profile





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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#HEBlogSwap – Sharing Practice and Building Community in Cyberspace

#ALTC Blog - 17/10/17

The idea of the #HEblogswap arose in September 2016 when Santanu Vasant approached me via Twitter to do a blog swap, where I would write for the Learning at City blog and he would write a blog post for QMUL’s ADEPT blog (ADEPT stands for Academic Development, Education and the Promotion of Teaching). I wrote a piece on social media in higher education and Santanu wrote one on the ‘peculiar practice’ of educational development. Having a guest writer brought a different perspective to both our blogs, and we thought: why not do this as an annual event, in mid-September, before term starts for universities? That way we could share practice, get our writing out to a wider audience and build a community in the process.

This year, we decided to open up the blog swap via Twitter, by asking people to find a writing partner, write a blog post for each other on a topic of educational development and to either send over the document or to have an account on the blog they were swapping with and post on 13th September, with the hashtag #HEblogswap. We also advertised it via the SEDA (Staff and Educational Development Association) mailing list, the ALT-Weekly newsletter and using the #altc during the annual Association for Learning Technology Conference in Manchester this year, as well as on both our personal and institutional Twitter accounts.


Blog swap! Find a blog partner, write for each other, post on 13 Sept! Tweet #HEblogswap (and find a partner on the hashtag!) pic.twitter.com/T8IYVALvsy

— Ed Dev team at QMUL (@Ed_Dev_QMUL) August 29, 2017


The blog swaps that occured Chris Jobling (@cpjobling)and Rebecca Jackson (@chasing_ling)

Rebecca’s post for Chris’s blog: The Importance of Showing Your Enthusiasm in Large Group Maths Sessions

Chris’s blog for Rebecca’s blog: Transferring Enthusiasm

Chrissi Nerantzi (@chrissinerantzi)and Sue Watling (@suewatling)

Chrissi’s post for Sue’s blog: My PhD Journey

Sue’s post for Chrissi’s blog: Anyone for T?

Emma Kennedy (@EmmaKEdDev) and Santanu Vasant (@santanuvasant)

Emma’s post for the Learning at City blog: Stress-Free September? Starting the New Academic Year

Santanu’s post for the ADEPT at QMUL blog: Pedagogy First During Learn Time

We also received a lot interest from individuals and departments up and down the country who wanted to take part, some of which can be seen via the #HEblogswap hashtag on Twitter, but didn’t have a public blog or a person to swap with. We hope to run this again next year, so if you don’t have a blog, then either set one up or ask to be a guest on someone else’s. You could use this as an opportunity to either start your own blog, restart a dormant one, or bring more interest to your own.

In both instances, I found it really enjoyable and intellectually stimulating to write for Learning at City. I had to consider the slightly different audience (Learning at City covers more issues of learning technology than ADEPT) as well as making sure that my blog was explicitly aimed at a cross-institutional audience. It was also an opportunity to select a topic on which I wanted to showcase my thoughts and write for a wider audience.

I’m planning to extend this among my colleagues next year, encouraging them to write a guest blog post for another site. Many of my colleagues are theoretically enthusiastic about blogging, but their participation is limited to ADEPT – which although outward-facing, is still run from within QMUL. This means that writing for ADEPT feels like yet another internal job, rather than a chance to really connect with people in the wider educational community. The HE Blog Swap offers a chance to reach beyond one’s own institutional network, swapping ideas and connecting with a wide range of other educators.

One thing I’m also considering is extending beyond the binary of the ‘swap’ and allowing people to host multiple guest blogs on their site – this would help accommodate guest bloggers who didn’t have anyone to swap with. I considered it this year, but didn’t have a number of posts to give in exchange for guest posts. I felt it would be unfair to have multiple guest posts on ADEPT without giving guest posts back to those who had taken the time to write theirs. However, this may be a chance for us to swap multiple posts: the colleagues I mentioned above, for instance, might be willing to write guest posts on behalf of ADEPT that we could give out in exchange for multiple guest posts from others. However, it’s important to maintain the element of reciprocity and fairness that was present in the original. The blog swap is about extending networks and strengthening relationships within the wider educational community, and we can only do that with equal give and take.



Dr. Emma Kennedy, Education Advisor, Academic Practice, QMUL. Email. @EmmaKEdDev. Blog





Santanu Vasant, Senior Learning Technology Adviser, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). Email. @santanuvasant. Blog





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

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

How and why should Learning Technologists engage with start-ups?

#ALTC Blog - 09/10/17

A conversation between Anders Krohn, CEO at Aula Education, and Dr Maren Deepwell, CEO at ALT.

At the recent ALT Annual Conference in Liverpool we started a conversation about how Learning Technologists can engage with start-ups and we quickly came across a whole range of barriers that stand in the way. The way in which colleges and universities procure, implement and develop their use of technology for learning, teaching and assessment doesn’t easily align with working with small, agile businesses just getting started at the cutting edge of innovation.

Anders suggested that together, with contributions from ALT Members, we could draw up a guide that helps bridge the gap and provide a starting point for working together. Here is what we are thinking we’d like to achieve:

MD: Anders, tell us what are the key reasons why ALT Members should engage with start-ups? What in your experience are some of the biggest benefits?

AK: The main reason educational institutions in general can benefit from working with startups is that startups are defined by their ability to have a laser sharp focus on solving a specific problem and quickly iterate to ensure the product fits the reality of the first users/partners/clients. That means the first adopters can have a huge influence on ensuring that a product adapts to their specific needs and problems.

For the learning technologist community this is an interesting opportunity because there are clear synergies in terms of startups giving e-learning/TEL teams ‘digital super powers’ and e-learning/TEL teams providing startups with pedagogical knowledge and feedback from years of experience working with educators.

MD:  We have been working with start ups in a number of ways in recent years including having a launchpad exhibition zone for start ups at our Annual Conference, we promote initiatives like Bett Futures and we also have active engagement with consortia like Edmix. In my view professional bodies like ALT form an important network via which innovators and developers can engage with professionals who have a wealth of experience in research and practice. What made you engage with the ALT community?

AK: Most of the institutions we have been in touch with or are working with are very active in the ALT community, so it was a natural place for us to get product feedback, learn more about institution-specific innovation initiatives and find partner institutions.

I think what is particularly interesting about ALT is that it bridges the ‘human’ part with the ‘tech’ part and enables us to understand the actual problems educational institutions have (funnily enough writing ‘innovation’ into their education strategies is not one of them :-) ). For example, I participated in Dave White, Peter Bryant and Donna Lanclos’ session “Hack your way to influencing pedagogical and technological strategy” at the ALT conference. When you spend all your waking hours thinking about how to place the buttons in the right position (the most exciting part of my job) in order to enable people to drive pedagogical change, engaging in those communities is very rewarding.

MD:  It was your idea that we could produce a guide for how Learning Technologists can engage with start-ups. Tell us more about what you’ll be contributing and your thinking behind it?

AK: Over the past year I’ve had some fantastic experiences working with educators, learning technologists, CIOs and decision-makers at universities. However, I’ve also had some surprising experiences where it is clear that there’s a disconnect between educational institutions and startups.

I think learning technologists can play an important role in bridging the disconnect and I think building that bridge starts with being more transparent and having some very very practical guidelines on ‘how universities can get to work with startups’ and ‘how universities should work with startups’ as well as the other way around.

For example I imagine the guide(s):Covering specific advice such as: If you want to work with startups ensure that your institution doesn’t put prohibitively high revenue requirements into the procurement documents.

Covering general strategic advice to enhance the strategic position of e-learning/TEL teams in working with startups such as: Raising to the PVC/DVC/Dean that it would make sense to allocate discretionary funds and approve a standard set of data requirement terms that allows learning technologists to run small pilots without having to go through the full procurement shabang. There’s sometimes a tendency to make small decisions big and big decisions small, which is a barrier to innovation. “We definitely need a Shanghai campus ASAP because Coursera, but God forbid that that browser extension doesn’t pass through our SSO-accessed bicentennial HEFCE-reviewed third party security assessment brand review committee.”

And then topped up with all the cute examples that make all of it worth it:

  • Like that time they asked for support tiers and all the teachers just got the phone numbers to the entire team
  • Like that time a CIO helped me edit our framework agreement
  • Like that time a teacher said in front of hundreds of students: “Today we will use this super visionary product that will probably not work, because, well, that’s how great products are built.” So much for risk management.

MD:  One of the ways I hope ALT Members will contribute is by posing questions they have and sharing examples of their own experiences. Our community brings together professionals from across sectors and it’ll be valuable to have a dialogue to inform the guide and collaborate on it.

What we plan to do is to share a draft Google doc of the guide, work in progress, and invite the community to contribute. We’ll have a dedicated session at ALT’s Online Winter conference, 12-13 December 2017, at which we will have a final opportunity to get input and after which we will finalise the guide for its publication under a Creative Commons licence.

Keen to contribute? Tweet us #altc or email us enquiries@alt.ac.uk or anders@aula.education and look out for more information coming out soon.


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

The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) represents individual and organisational Members from all sectors and parts of the UK. The ALT community is made up of people who are actively involved in understanding, managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of Learning Technology.

Anders Krohn, Co-founder and CEO of Aula, @anders_krohn

Aula is a communication platform for education – a ‘conversational’ alternative to traditional Virtual Learning Environments.

Anders founded Aula during his studies at University of Oxford. In addition to working on Aula, Anders is advisor to the educational non-profits Project Access and Young Global Pioneers and a member of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

ALT contributes to the world’s leading festival for the open Internet movement … #MozFest

#ALTC Blog - 06/10/17

From 27-29 October, the Mozilla Festival or Mozfest, the world’s leading festival for the open Internet movement takes place at Ravensbourne College, London and this year we are looking forward to taking part.

Members might recall that earlier this year, Chad Sansing (@chadsansing), who works as a curriculum developer for the Mozilla Foundation and contributes to teaching and learning projects across the organisation led an ALT webinar on Developing communities and curriculum around web literacy and internet health (access the recording and slides here). The webinar enabled Members to discover some of the work the Mozilla Foundation are doing developing curriculum for web literacy as well as privacy and security on the internet. This work Chad was focusing on is being conducted as part of Mozilla Learning, which rallies and connects leaders who want to advance the promise of the internet for learning in a networked world.

Now, in the eighth year of celebrating Mozfest, Mozilla’s Executive Director, Mark Surman, describes how the event has grown: ‘Since that 2010 gathering, MozFest has grown significantly. In size, yes — but more importantly, in scope. … In 2013, we focused on web literacy, inviting educators from around the world to craft tools and curricula for teaching the web. And in 2016, we talked about digital inclusion: who isn’t unlocking opportunity online, why that is, and what we can do to fix it.’

If you are interested in finding out more about what’s happening at Mozfest, explore the spaces and themes, read about the speakers and find out what to expect on the festival website.

With over 800 proposals being submitted (you can read more about the triumphs and tribulations of mozfest curation here), we are delighted that we are contributing some of the work of the ALT community to the programme, in a session about putting professionals at the heart of education in the internet age (read about the session on the Mozfest Github page). Lead jointly by Maren Deepwell (@marendeepwell) and Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey), and with a contribution from Bryan Mathers (@BryanMMathers), this interactive session we will be exploring how we can put people, and more specifically educators, at the heart of learning, teaching and assessment with technology. As part of this we will introduce the work of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) to the Mozfest audience, share our strategy and talk about how our members have a space to contribute to the development of edtech. An important aspect of this is recognizing our members contributions. We will share work on our expanding accreditation scheme for participate discussion and contribution. We want to practically explore how we empower professionals who work in education to make use of the internet and technology more broadly to help meet some of the biggest challenges in education.

In addition to this session, Martin Hawksey will also be running a workshop “Machina a machina: An introduction to APIs through Google Sheets” as part of the web literacies space. An API is an interface that can be used to retrieve or interact with other applications. This workshop is designed to let participants see the usefulness and the empowerment of APIs, gaining practical skills in API wrangling. As well as the opportunities of APIs this session will hopefully also highlight privacy and security issues such as the availability of data from services like Twitter, see how much data is easily accessible from APIs will hopefully let people make more informed decisions about the type of information they share on the web.

Are you a Member of ALT taking part in or contributing to Mozfest this year?

Then we invite you to share your experience with us via the blog or by tagging posts with #altc on social media. Two years ago we had ‘MozFest is our bonfire’ which was contributed by J Gregory McVerry, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Southern Connecticut State University (@jgmac1106) and we are looking for posts again this year to help share the outcomes and insights from Mozfest with the ALT community.






Authors: Maren Deepwell is the chief executive of ALT and leads its work on professional recognition and development. Martin Hawksey leads on innovation, community engagement and technology for ALT. 

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

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

BYOD Digital Exams at Brunel University

#ALTC Blog - 04/10/17

Since 2015 Brunel University London has been running a pilot programme testing the feasibility of digital written exams.  The approach we have taken is a “Bring your own device” (BYOD) model where students bring their own laptops etc to the examination venue.  We are fortunate to have received HEFCE Catalyst funding to help support our project and share our experiences with the UK sector.

In the first year of the pilot we identified a potential technology supplier WISEflow and ran one digital exam to test the system.  This was an interesting exercise where we discovered what support the university would need to put in place to make digital exams a success.  Following on from this in winter 2016/17 we ran a further four digital exams, giving us a chance to refine our procedures. In our most recent exam period of May 2017 we ran nearly all of the exams for the department of Computer Science digitally, a total of 18 exams with over 1500 submissions.  Our plan is to continue to scale up until we reach the full capacity of our current venue (250 seats x 30 exam sessions), and to investigate what would be required to scale up into our larger venue (1000+ seats).

IT and Estates Support

There were a number of infrastructure issues we needed to overcome to transform our Sports Hall into a venue capable of supporting digital exams.  All solutions needed to be temporary so that the venue could return to its original use for the rest of the year.


Relying on students own devices means having to cater for a variety of makes/models and ages/conditions of laptops being brought in on the day.   New laptops are currently being advertised with batteries that can hold a charge for up to 17 hours[1] but battery life deteriorates over time and students might not bring the laptop fully charged. Based on reports from Norway and Denmark (where digital examination is used extensively) we originally catered for additional power on 20% of the desks.  In practice we noticed on 3hr exams we were trending closer to 30% of students needing to plug-in their laptops.  To accommodate this, our Estates team added more temporary power.  We suspect that the percentage of students needing power may reduce as new cohorts arrive with newer laptops, but we will continue to cater to this ratio for now.



WiFi connection is needed as the exam system is hosted in the cloud. The laptops need to be connected throughout the exams as the WISEflow system frequently saves exam progress. Our Sports Hall usually hosts basketball games etc. so on an average day it does not require much WiFi capacity. To ensure a good connection for 200+ students our Information Services team installed 2 temporary WiFi boosters giving capacity for over 600 internet connections. Over capacity is required to allow for devices automatically connecting as people pass by the venue and for additional connections in the room e.g. invigilators and devices in bags.

Preparing Students

It is essential to provide students with opportunities to try the exam system and pre-install the lock-down browser used for making the exam secure.  We provided a number of opportunities for this including: visiting lectures for briefings, drop-in sessions and an online resource within our VLE. What we have discovered is that prepping students before their exams increases their confidence and speeds up the process of starting the exam on the day.

Examinations and Timetabling

Successful implementation of digital exams requires effort from across the university. Our examinations team were included from the early stages of the project to ensure the correct venues were booked for the main cohort and for students with additional needs.  They also assisted with training invigilators on new procedures.  As we increase the number of digital exams we will work closely with the examinations team to create more automation of the system.

Technical support during exams

Our Information Services team were on hand to support the use of university owned laptops (for students without devices) and were on-call in case of any WiFi issues.  We also used a team of graduate students hired as assistant learning technologists.  This team were responsible for guiding students through the exam start-up process and troubleshooting any issues along the way.  During the exam they helped students to move desks if their battery was running low, answered any technical queries and helped monitor the hand-in process at the end.

Future plans

We have now chosen WISEflow as the university’s digital assessment platform.  We will be carrying out a staged implementation over the next three years, after which time we expect most of our coursework and exams will be handled through the WISEflow system with complete end-to-end digitisation of our assessment processes.

Additional information

On March 17th 2017 we hosted a sector wide digital examinations event where colleagues from 20 different HE institutions came together to hear about our experiences and discuss the opportunities and challenges digital exams pose.  Here are some outputs from the day:


Intro to the day by Professor Mariann Rand-Weaver – Pro-Vice Chancellor (Quality Affairs):


Keynote by Rasmus Blok – Executive Director UNIwise (Download PowerPoint slides here):


Keynote by Dr Simon Kent – Director of Teaching and Learning Brunel dept. of Computer Science:

To keep up to date with our progress take a look at our pages on the Brunel University website.  http://www.brunel.ac.uk/about/education-innovation

Alice La Rooy, Head of Digital Education @Alice_LaRooy
Prof Mariann Rand-Weaver, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Quality Affairs)
Dr Simon Kent, Director of Teaching and Learning (Department of Computer Science)
Brunel University London

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

[1] Source: https://www.laptopmag.com/articles/all-day-strong-longest-lasting-notebooks

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Chief Executive Officer’s Report (Q3 2017)

#ALTC Blog - 03/10/17
Dear Members

I’m starting this report by looking back briefly at the 2017 Annual Conference which took place in Liverpool in early September. If you haven’t already, I’d like to encourage you to explore the inspiring list of posts and resources shared by participants to get a flavour of this year’s highlights and read posts about the conference by keynote speakers and award winners. Equally recommended reading is ALT’s Annual Report which was approved by Members at the Annual General Meeting and this year contains a new report written jointly by Trustees reporting on progress made delivering ALT’s 2017-2020 strategy. I am proud to see how much progress we have made in the last twelve months.

A personal highlight for me was the Honorary Life Membership awarded to Josie Fraser, a richly deserved honour for an outstanding member of our community. As always, I am grateful that alongside the hard work and time contributed by everyone involved, my colleagues, Martin, Jane, Kristina, Tom and Jane, were recognised for their efforts making it all happen. You can read my personal take on organising the conference on my blog.

The Annual Conference sets the tone for the next few months at ALT and one of the outcomes of this year’s event is a renewed focus on policy, which was reflected in David Kernohan’s Wonkhe article ‘Edtech? It’s all about policy’ and my keynote contribution to the FELTAG 2017 Forum, on workforce development to maximise Learning Technology impact . Also this month, ALT Trustee Lorna Campbell and Ambassador Joe Wilson alongside others took part in the 2nd World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress in Ljubljana, Slovenia, sharing their insights via social media and reporting back to the wider community. This focus on policy across sectors will continue in the run up to this year’s ALT Annual Survey and the now established Winter Online Conference in December.

The work of ALT is largely led by Members who give up their time to get actively involved and lead ALT’s governance and activities across sectors. It is always important to acknowledge how much Members contribute, but sometimes a special thank you is in order. That is why I’d like to join the Trustees of the Association led by Prof Neil Morris, Chair of the Editorial Board, would now take this opportunity to say a thank you to the Editors of the journal, Lesley Diack, Amanda Jefferies, Peter Reed, Fiona Smart and Gail Wilson. Throughout the unprecedented difficulties with the journal the Editors as a group have played a key part in supporting the journal during this year of transition and their tireless efforts have ensured that we have weathered the transition as well as possible and supporting authors and readers throughout. Having published eight articles since July and processed dozens of new submissions I am glad to say that the journal is now operating fully.

In October we convene ALT’s Operational Committees and the Editorial Board of the journal as we begin the work of the new academic year. More Members are now actively engaged in the work of the Association, taking part not only in our governance, but leading activities and establishing new Members Groups across the UK, most recently in the North East of England.

This year’s Annual Report reflects that alongside our efforts to meet our strategic aims, we must continue to put our values into practice. In addition to what we set out in our strategy, that we value participation, collaboration, openness and independence, we also work to achieve greater equality and diversity in our community of Members and helping us champion this are this year’s winners of the Learning Technologist of the Year Awards .

Leading professionalisation in Learning Technology is about setting standards and recognising achievement on a national scale. It is also an opportunity to shape our professional identity and this year’s conference really brought home to me how powerful an example our Members are setting.

 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

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT
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