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How technological change is shaped by people

Karl Luke
Business Change Officer, University IT
Cardiff University

ALTC 2018 conference reflections

Thanks to the UCISA 2018 bursary scheme, I recently attended the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) Conference 2018 in Manchester.
This post shares some themes and highlights from the conference, together with emerging ideas I am keen to take forward at Cardiff University.

Technological change is… inevitable

A common topic throughout the three day conference concerned technological transformation and how change is managed by organisations, divisions and individuals. In the keynote address on Day Two, Amber Thomas (Head of Academic Technology, University of Warwick) fascinatingly reflected on her personal and professional experiences of using educational technologies over the past two decades. You can read a summary on her blog: Fragments of Amber.
Amber highlighted that throughout history there have been many examples of disruptive technologies and offered parallels to some initiatives involving education (use of virtual learning environments, lecture capture). However, as Amber stressed, change takes time and is not about the technology, but the people. This chimes with my experiences as Business Change Officer at Cardiff University and reinforces the importance that Learning Technologists, and others involved in implementing learning technologies, need to carefully prepare and manage the “people side of change”.
Related to the topic of change management, Jessica Gramp and Tim Neumann offered a captivating insight into how UCL developed, implemented and reinforced an e-learning strategy. Their presentation is available here and highlights some key areas that need to be considered for successful adoption of a change. In supporting a change, the presentation stresses the importance of communities of practice. Intriguingly, UCL have established a Teaching Administrator (TA) Network, whose membership include staff who make a significant contribution to the student experience. The presentation highlighted many helpful change management strategies and I have obtained lots of ideas which I am keen to explore at Cardiff University.

Lecture recording is a popular topic

During the conference I presented on my experiences of working in partnership with students to research how lecture recordings are used by learners.  I have previously written about this subject here and my ALT-C presentation can be viewed here.

The area of lecture capture appears to be a current institutional priority for many UK HE institutions. During the conference I also attended five separate sessions devoted to the subject of lecture recording and capturing educational activities. These included:
Many of the themes arising from the sessions have been documented in Martin Weller’s excellent blog post here. However, any discussions around lecture recording cannot escape the obvious questioning around pedagogical value and possible negative effects on physical attendance. It is therefore essential that those involved in the implementation of technologies, such as lecture capture, maintain critical engagement with emergent case studies and original research. There were plenty of rich case studies presented in the ALT-C sessions and some compelling research which advances discussions. For example, Stuart Phillipson presented data from Manchester University which demonstrates no correlation between the introduction of lecture capture provision and actual occupancy of teaching rooms (using data on room occupancy between 2007 and 2016). You can watch Stuart’s talk here and read more here.
However, lecture recording is a contested area. As Tressie MacMillan Cottom’s keynote from Day One proclaimed, “context matters”. The arena of educational technologies is messy, and Tressie reminded us technological tools are non-neutral; they are socially shaped and negotiated by a range of actors and interests “both in their construction and procurement and in their realization and use in practice” (Selwyn & Facer 2013 p.10). As such, technologies should also be considered in a social, political and commercial light. Moreover, both the domains of “education” and “technology” are intrinsically linked with the social, cultural, economic and political aspects of society.
In the case of lecture recording, context does indeed “matter”. Melissa Highton discussed how recent employment and political issues have manifested itself within the implementation and adoption of widespread lecture recording. Learning technologies do not exist in a vacuum and we have a responsibility to critically unpack the assumptions embodied in technologies and their use.

Reflections on the role of a Learning Technologist

The event was full of insightful sessions. I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and the opportunities to network with professionals involved in using technologies to enhance teaching and learning. There are emerging opportunities for collaborations with other institutions on the subject of lecture recordings, arising from my involvement at the conference. In particular, it was great to connect with fellow UCISA bursary recipient, Marieke Guy. Marieke has written a great reflection of the conference here.
I also have left reflecting on my professional role as both a Change Officer and Learning Technologist. Technology should be viewed in terms of the “process and practices” that unpin the availability and affordances of devices, systems, software etc. Technologies can be the impetus for transformative change; helping human endeavour, agency and progress human activity. Technology should be used to enable us to explore otherwise impossible tasks, or do them more efficiently, however this is not always the case in practice. As mentioned, it is important those involved in implementing or supporting the adoption of learning technologies consider the human side of change.
Moreover, we occupy a unique position within institutions whereby we are not easily pigeon-holed. I could easily relate to Amber Thomas’ reflections that Learning Technologists suffer from imposter syndrome and we operate across many overlapping divisions. However, as Amber argues, we are increasingly occupying roles where we have to balance priorities between embedding technological practices which not only offer pedagogical value, but also offer scalability, sustainability, institutional benefits, and align to strategies and polices.

Amber Thomas ALT-C presentation available at: https://youtu.be/XOPkC311rvY
Finally, there was also personal celebration as I was awarded my CMALT certificate during the conference. If you want to know more about CMALT please read this post.

For further insights into the content of the conference search of #altc on Twitter
Reference
Selwyn, N., & Facer, K. (Eds.) (2013) The politics of education and technology: Conflicts, controversies, and connections Palgrave Macmillan
This blog first appeared in the Cardiff University Learning Technology blog
This blog is also available in Welsh: Myfyrdodau ynghylch Cynhadledd ALTc 2018

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