'Becoming President when everything is online'...a blog post from ALT's new President, David White

‘President’ is a loaded term, but my Tweets are of a higher standard than that American one, so I think it’s ok. My first ALT conference was in 2004. I remember it was at Exeter University and that I didn’t know what I was doing. Since then I’ve learnt a few things and the ALT community and events have been an extremely important to me. The conference was where I connected with the first people outside of my office. They became the kernel of a network I still rely on today, including Martin Weller who I pick up the President’s baton from (There isn’t an actual baton but I might try to get one instated).

The opportunity ALT gave me via and invited talk at ALT-C in 2010 was a turning point for me. The positive response to that talk gave me a lot of confidence, especially in the Visitors and Residents idea which was very new back then. Since 2010 I’ve seen ‘edtech’ and ‘elearning’ rapidly move from the fringes of institutions to become central to how they run – even if some institutions still haven’t quite realised this yet. 

Advocating for the community

I applied to the President role because I had to admit that was no longer one of the ‘new’ people in Digital Learning. Having managed, and advocated for, people in Digital Learning roles for 17 years I can clearly see that it can be a bumpy ride and, even today, institutions do not always recognise the valuable expertise Digital Learning folk contribute on a day-to-day basis. I’m looking forward to helping ALT provide events, advice and opportunities for the growing Digital Learning community in the same way it has supported me over the years.

Since applying for the role COVID has hit, and I find myself President at a time where online is the sole location of the institution for just about all of us. It has been an exhilarating, stressful and occasionally frustrating time. Suddenly everyone is interested in what we have to offer in terms of technology, if not always expertise. Educational institutions have been walking a difficult line between pedagogy, safety, politics and student expectations. I have seen some academics and journalists discussing approaches to online learning which we have been developing for circa 20 years as if the topic hadn’t existed pre-COVID. We have also seen standard-issue entrepreneurial proclamations about ‘revolutionising’ education by attempting to remove teaching as a practice, or by simply being as exclusive as our most retrenched institutions, but this time online…

It’s been busy…

The one thing that I’m most certain about during COVID is that ALT and everyone in Digital Learning has been working harder than ever before doing what we do best, including:

  1. Making sure the wheels don’t come off

  2. Supporting colleagues in developing their digital teaching practices 

  3. Supporting students in developing their learning and getting the most out of what is available

  4. Developing all the ways in which we can make digital spaces safe and inclusive 

That is why I so pleased that ALT is planning the community award, which goes to all those working in the field as an acknowledgment of the community’s labour and commitment over 2020. Personally, I deeply miss being co-present in physical spaces. Materiality and embodied discourse are just a couple of the reasons I chose to work at the University of the Arts London. What I found over Lockdown is that it’s important to remind people that we are where we are not because digital has taken over but because it’s the only safe option.

As to the future, I’m hoping that physical co-presence for teaching is treated with respect, in that we most-often use those rarefied moments for that which doesn’t have a close equivalence online. That will involve a significant culture-shift, but I am certain that our institutions will continue to operate significantly online even as COVID becomes part of history because students will not want to lose the positive aspects of teaching during Lockdown. Given that, I’ll be working with ALT to create spaces where we can discuss the value and direction of Digital Learning not as a process of ‘solving’ or erasing teaching but as a context with it’s own practices and opportunities.


You can find out more about David, by visiting his website.