Annual Conference – connections between people and technology reveal new ways of thinking

Every school, college and university student needs to acquire the problem-solving skills and techniques software engineers use to write their programs if they are to succeed in later life, says Aaron Sloman, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Birmingham.

So far the debate around the need for “computational thinking” has focused on the failure of UK education to equip young people with skills for work in IT-related jobs. But Professor Sloman goes much further, as his latest research will reveal at the 19th annual conference of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), A confrontation with reality, in Manchester next week (September 10-12).

“Computational thinking is a requirement, not just for IT professionals,” he insists. “Current discussions about computing education mostly aim to produce high calibre application developers, ignoring the need to educate outstanding scientists and thinkers, including philosophers, who need to learn new, computationally informed, ways of looking at old things, such as behaviours of microbes, insects, toddlers and economies.”

Developing technology to support that learning will not be easy, he says. But in his talk to the conference, he will show how some of the steps can be achieved.

As the conference theme suggests, there is a strong focus this year on improvement and growth in a time of austerity. There are five themes: problem solving, openness and sharing, entrepreneurialism, mainstreaming and sustainability. ALT Conference proceedings will be streamed live online and all materials will be published online. It includes more than 250 research papers, symposia, workshops, and shorter presentations to be debated by over 500 delegates.

In a keynote speech, Eric Mazur,Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University, will challenge educational policy that is too often based on gut feelings. “Our intuition often supplants a systematic, scientific approach to finding out what works and what doesn’t work,” he says. “Yet, research is increasingly demonstrating that our gut feelings about teaching are often wrong.” He will discuss his latest research evidence focusing on gender issues in science courses and on the effectiveness of classroom demonstrations.

James Clay,ILT and Learning Resources Manager, Gloucestershire College, will look at the impact of tablet computers and how they are being used right now for supporting and enhancing learning and teaching. And in a fascinating study of a world where “old technology meets the new”, Steve Bunce,Regional Leader for The Open University, North East, Yorkshire and Humber, will show how teaching school children the ancient craft of knitting can develop programming skills in the computer scientists of the future.

Maren Deepwell, Chief Executive of ALT, said:  “Technology is changing the global learning landscape at a rapid pace. This year's ALT conference will bring together participants from over 20 countries and from across different sectors to confront challenges and share innovative approaches to developing skills and strategies together. The ALT community is growing on the basis of networking, knowledge exchange and sharing of ideas that really work.”

Keynote speakers

  • Eric Mazur, Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University. Mazur is an internationally recognised scientist and researcher;
  • Natasa Milic-Frayling, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge. Milic-Frayling sets research directions for the Integrated Systems group, an inter-disciplinary team focused on the design, prototyping and evaluation of information and communication systems.;
  • Richard Noss, co-director of the London Knowledge Lab and Professor of Mathematics Education at the Institute of Education. Noss directs the Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme, funded jointly by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Invited speakers

  • John Baker President and CEO, Desire2Learn;
  • Steve Bunce Regional Leader for The Open University, North East, Yorkshire and Humber;
  • James Clay ILT and Learning Resources Manager, Gloucestershire College;
  • Elizabeth Hartnell-Young Director of Research and Evaluation at the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), Victoria, Australia;
  • Sarah Porter Head of Innovation at JISC;
  • Seb Schmoller Senior Advisor, The Association for Learning Technology (ALT);
  • Aaron Sloman Honorary Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science, School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham;
  • Mark Stubbs Head of Learning and Research Technology, Manchester Metropolitan University;
  • Daniel Stucke Teacher of Mathematics and ICT; Assistant Headteacher, leading E-Learning & IT Provision, Assessment & Data, and Timetable, Stretford High School, Manchester;
  • Leena Vanio Research Director, and chair of the Finnish eLearning Association.

Conference co-chairs

Jonathan Droriled BBC Education’s groundbreaking digital efforts and became Head of Commissioning for Originally he was a BBC director and executive producer, responsible for dozens of television series on science, education and the arts.

Sarah Shermanhas worked in learning technology for over 10 years. She currently manages the Bloomsbury Learning Environment (a shared e-learning service for five London HE institutions).

Julie Voceis the E-learning Services Manager at Imperial College London. Julie is deputy editor of ALT News Online and a member of the ALT Publications and Membership Services Committees.

The programme is available online now at: Conference materials are available at

Major conference sponsors

The following twelve organisations are sponsoring the 2012 ALT conference:

BIS, Blackboard, Desire2learn, Echo, Google, Intellect, LSIS, Mediacore, Mediasite, Microsoft, Pearson, The Positive Internet Company, ULCC (University of London Computer Centre) and the University of Manchester.

For details on attendance, visit or email


- Ends -

Notes to Editors

About ALT

1) ALT (the Association for Learning Technology) is a professional and scholarly association

which brings together those with an interest in the use of learning technology. As the UK’s leading membership organisation in the learning technology field, we work to improve practice, promote research, and influence policy.

2) Over 1000 individuals belong to ALT, as do over 220 universities, colleges, other learning providers, Government Agencies, and businesses.

3) If you are writing about, blogging or sharing images and videos about ALT-C 2012 using

tools that support tagging, please use the tag 'altc2012' - without the quotes. On Twitter,

please use the '#altc2012' hashtag - again, without the quotes. Thank you.

Association for Learning Technology (ALT), Gipsy Lane, Headington, Oxford, OX3 0BP Tel: +44

(0)1865 484 125 Fax: +44 (0)1865 484 165 Email: URL:

ALT is a Registered Charity in the UK, number: 1063519

4) For media information on ALT, images, or to apply for a press pass for ALT-C 2012, please contact


For further information contact

Ian Nash

Nash&Jones Partnership

Journalism and Media Consultancy

01992 587949

07812 996209