The annual ALT-C conference 2011

 Thriving in a colder and more challenging climate: Part 1

The Annual ALT-C (Association for Learning Technology) is ‘The’ conference for us learning technologists. It is usually a very busy conference with a jam-packed programme and varied presentations. This year the theme was ‘Thriving in a colder and more challenging climate’.

The typical attendees at ALT-C  are learning technologists, or project members from different institutions on JISC-funded programmes, consultants to JISC projects and e-learning researchers. It is always good to look around at the various presentations and observe what technologies are others using. This year, the ubiquity of iPads or tablets (some laptops) and smartphones in the audience was clear: most people used these devices during sessions to take notes, search the internet or for tweeting during sessions. I sat beside a learning technologist, who, annoyed by the bad visi-and-audibility in the room, looked up the presenter’s work on the Internet and decided to read it while she was (inaudibly) speaking / trying to speak through the air conditioning. At first I thought he had just got his laptop out to look at emails… but instead multi-tasking is definitely apparent and takes quite varied forms!

This year, a welcome addition to the conference was the use of CrowdVine, a ‘social networking and timetabling tool. Participants could log on prior to the conference, create a profile, add a bit of information about themselves; we were also able to look through the programme and click on sessions of interest, which we then moved into our own personal timetable. The site was accessible via smartphones, so there was no need to print the programmes; a sample screen as to how it looked is shown in the screenshot below.

Personalised timetable using CrowdVine at ALT-C 2011
Personalised timetable using CrowdVine at ALT-C 2011

The opening keynote was given on ‘Plan Ceibal’, the one laptop per child in Uruguay, an impressive governmental initiative with lots of commitment and the audience couldn’t quite contain some jealousy about the commitment given in Uruguay to improving access to technologies for the purpose of social inclusion. (See also Wikipedia’s entry on Plan Ceibal.)

Demonstrating the significance of JISC‘s commitment to technology-enhanced learning was the fact that about 8 of 12 papers I saw on the first day were reporting on a JISC-funded project. A shift in the kind of papers was also about projects moving from small departmental, one-off projects towards programmes that are at the institutional level with high involvement from senior stakeholders; a recognition that success only comes from this kind of senior-level involvement. The Curriculum Design programme for instance had a number of presentations from JISC, which are very relevant for our own institutional curriculum review, and there is a wealth of resources on the JISC Design Studio that are well worth looking up.

A number of vendors were represented, including Learning Objects (see our Campus wiki, blog tools in VITAL), Turning point, Moodlerooms (hosted Moodle services), and a surprise to me, but maybe not too surprisingly Google with Eduapps who are clearly interested in the education market.

More on ALT-C 2011 to follow soon.

Tünde and Paul

Music study skills session – using wikis

The eLearning Unit has been working with Freya Jarman from the School of Music who runs a study skills module in music. In this module students construct group a website for future first year students using the wiki tool within VITAL/Blackboard. Freya has presented this teaching approach at last year’s Learning and Teaching Conference. This year, the first years students are doing the same with some slight modifications, for instance, groups are now not self-selected, but aligned to the personal tutorial groups.

It is always a pleasure to see Freya’s dynamism when teaching, which I had a chance to do when helping her show students the functionality of the wiki tool.

Screenshot of Polleverywhere, the online and mobile phone voting tool; as you can see it is easy to embed the live voting results in Powerpoint slides.
Screenshot of Polleverywhere, the online and mobile phone voting tool; as you can see it is easy to embed the live voting results in Powerpoint slides.

It was the first time we used the Polleverywhere software in the PC lab, which allowed students to vote on the best wiki sites they looked at as well as entering free-text responses as feedback on the wiki sites. All this feedback was then displayed in a Powerpoint file live (please see the image above). As we were in a PC lab, we did not make use of the mobile phone voting option: students voted via the web – but other staff at the university are already making use of this feature in large lecture classes with great success.

Freya is running a lunchtime session entitled ‘Study Skills Through Collaborative Enquiry: collaborative enquiry through study skills‘ on Thursday, 10th March 2011, you can book on this session via the CLL booking site.

We are always after case studies to show staff in our sessions. If you are using wikis for collaborative group work, please let us know via or contact one of the eLearning Unit team members, we would love to hear from you!


For more information, please contact the eLearning Unit at

Getting interactive in the classroom with technology!

An image of students using clickersTunde and I met with academic colleagues from the School of English and Psychology recently to discuss using interactive ‘clicker’ type technologies in the classroom and for research projects. The eLearning Unit periodically gets requests from staff for support for this technology, and to date this is something we have not been able to do because we lack any centrally managed clickers which staff can borrow etc. However, a few developments and resources in using this type of technology:

Text entry clickers
We are hoping going to purchase a small 16 handset clicker system in the New Year which potentially staff in the University could borrow from the elearning unit. We are intending to buy some clickers from – these are special type of ‘clickers’ which are designed for text entry type of interactions rather than the traditional multiple choice type. We want to use these for student focus groups using the nominal group technique and other research and CPD events.

An image of a mobile phone.

Using mobile phones as clickers
We also have staff around the University starting to use student mobile phones as classroom clickers. For example, staff in Biological Sciences are using the Poll Everywhere web service which enables students to text in using SMS on their normal phones to answer questions in the classroom. This service can be tested for free for up to 30 users.

Traditional clicker companies are also starting to develop mobile phone applications. For example, TurningPoint have developed a version of their software which enables students to use their mobiles to answer questions in the classroom through WiFi (ResponseWare web ) rather than through SMS text messages. Certainly, the use of mobiles for this type of classroom technology looks like growing rapidly in the next few years, especially as more students start to have smart mobile phones.

Learning and teaching resources
Here are a few learning and teaching resources we share with staff interested in developing this type of technology into their teaching:

Strathclyde University
This is a very good video introduction to how you can use this type of technology in the classroom.
(Windows media file video which you will need to download to view.)
Luke Dawson in Dentistry
Luke using clickers with his students to test their diagnostic skills. (You will need to download a ‘Silverlight’ plug-in to get this video working.)

Re-engineering assessment practices (REAP) briefing paper on electronic voting systems.
This is a concise summary of the main educational benefits from their research on the benefits to student learning from using this type of technology.
(PDF document.)
16 suggestions for using clickers in the classroom
Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual
Prof. Eric Mazur. This is a seminal book on using this type of technology in the classroom. Hopefully we will have this in the library next year.
Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments Derek Bruff. Derek is one of the leading researchers into clickers in Higher Education. Hopefully we will have his latest book in the library soon as well!

CPD clicker workshop in the new year?
Once we have our new clickers in the eLearning Unit, we hope to offer staff a lunchtime CPD event which will focus on using clickers and mobile phones in the classroom. Please contact us in the eLearning Unit if you need any more information of support with this issue.

Nick Bunyan