Event round-up: ALT Conference 2017 and the meaning of openness in learning spaces

Friday, September 15, 2017 08:00

Valentina Martinelli by Valentina Martinelli

From the three day ALT conference 2017, a number of ideas, discussions and research findings were shared to explore and promote the intelligent use of Learning Technology.  

As we have largely seen in our previous blog posts, digital learning is becoming more and more central to education. Institutions are increasingly embracing a more innovative and technological approach to education by creating digital campuses and boosting their technology for distance learning. However, conference's talks, presentations and workshops, were not just about presenting latest developments in EdTech; the main purpose of the discussion was to explore how Learning Technology became the "new norm(al)" and learning spaces.

The three keynotes offered different perspectives on learning space, with a key running theme being on the meaning of open: open and closed digital and physical spaces, open practice and open learning space, open learning technologies, and being able to share knowledge openly. 

READ MORE: How open e-learning is making a difference in the global south 

Openness in the higher education 

The first conference keynote was Bonnie Stewart's thought-provoking talk on what open means for higher education. She argued that students do not always fit the norm, and therefore can be excluded falling outside the bell curve of learning ability. Learning Technology can disrupt this rigid structures behind what we consider the norm. However, adopting disrupting innovation won't necessarily result in improved learning. 

In this context, open is neither a problem nor a solution: it can be seen as adaptive change that is able to break down boundaries and binaries, giving less focus on gatekeeping and enhancing learning to engage beyond our silos.


Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/picsfromalt/36874552062/

Identity issues in open learning environments

As the concept of open learning spaces is becoming more widespread, so do identity issues and ethical data implications. Digital technology can support and encourage existing and new forms of classroom dialogue; however, open networks based on user identification can be deemed more uncomfortable as participating to a physical classroom discussions, and can thus create a barrier to sharing.

In her keynote, Siân Bayne spoke about data privacy and anonymity on campus through the usage of the geosocial app Yik Yak. The popularity of this app consisted in the opportunity for students to talk about all things student life, including academic issues, politics and mental health issues anonymously. The anonymity aspect encouraged students to break down barriers and be more open to joining the conversation. This effectively helped students develop knowledge in and outside the classroom. When anonymity was removed, the app experienced a plunge in usage.

Beyond different views on benefits and downsides of anonymity, the topic raised some questions around whether an open education community means being open as in being identifiable and reachable (serving data capitalism), moral panics about anonymous and ephemeral space in an age of data profiling, or being open as in facilitating the dialogue and making it easier for everyone to participate while respecting data privacy and protecting the identity of users.   

READ MORE: What is the GDPR? An explanation of the changes with regards to higher education 

Learning spaces were explored also through a physical perspective. The final keynote on shaping spaces by Peter Goodyear talked us through how learning technology affects physical spaces, inviting us to re-think the way we design learning spaces. A key point of the presentation was about reducing complexity by focusing on what students actually do in the spaces when they learn and supporting them there.

Another point was the relationship between the different worlds in which education operates: the physical, material, digital or hybrid world. Human activity exists via a shared set of actionable concepts, and these activities can be influenced but not determined as we shape our places and our places shape us.


We were also proud to present and sponsor the ALT conference 2017 learning technologist awards, which you can watch a stream of on our Twitter account. 

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Posted in Fairs and Events, Higher Education, IT and Digital