Conference report: #ALTC2012, confronting reality

Attending our annual professional conference, the Association for Learning Technology Conference (ALT-C), was special for two reasons this year. For one, this was the first time I was involved in presenting, and secondly, I was co-presenting with Jaye McIsaac, our colleague from Educational Development (see Jaye’s blog entry of the even here).

Venue of ALT-C 2012, University of Manchester
ALT-C at University of Manchester, instagram by sarahhorrigan

Our presentations involved a student evaluation method which we have been using successfully for curriculum and module evaluation for a number of years now. The technological relevance was that we tried a number of technologies to see whether we can improve on the process, called the Nominal Group Technique. (Slideshare links here to our presentation & demonstration.)

One of the most useful aspects of the conference is to be able to chat to other institutions and see what they are up to. Having seen plenty of engaging presentations, credit must go to our academic staff at the University of Liverpool, many of whom who could have been there presenting their innovative e-learning practices at ALT-C. In fact, if you are one of them – do consider presenting at ALT-C in 2013! The eLearning Unit can support you with the process.

Eric Mazur at ALT-C 2012
Eric Mazur at ALT-C 2012

My personal highlights

My highlights included (hard to keep list short):

  • Eric Mazur on active learning – covering how to work the lectures so that they reduce gender bias, ‘confusion’ as a sign of learning (i.e. if students are confused, it is a good sign that they are learning), and the ‘usefulness’ of demonstrations in science lectures.
  • Attending and presenting together with my colleague, Jaye McIsaac, as this brought a fresh perspective on what ALT is and why it’s useful.
  • The Digital Literacies projects presentations, including a session by Helen Beetham and others on ‘Tools of the Digital Trade’.
  • Getting to know the Pecha Kucha format (at ALT, it’s 9 slides with 45 seconds each).
  • A presentation on ‘session capture‘ , with the idea that through extending the naming from ‘lecture capture’ to ‘session capture’, comes the extension possibilities of using recordings in many more settings, such as induction activities, aiding a more institution-wide take-up of the practice. (Loughbourough has Echo360.)
  • The London JISC project, Generation 4.5, which uses virtual patients through multi-branching PBL (problem-based learning) scenarios.

Tools & tips

As usual, there are always tools or tips to pick up. Just out of interest, the trendy tool of the conference was the Instagram app that everyone seem to be using (see first image of this blogpost).

  • ScoopIt – a curation service which colleates content from blogs and other web resources on a given topic, e.g. see a ScoopIt for ALTC2012.
  • Articulate Storyline – an (according to the presenters) exciting e-learning authoring software which has Flash-like capability for animations.
  • Twitter tool – which combines twitter feeds in a PowerPoint.
  • Mobile Xerte
  • Khan Academy: free videos on various topics.
  • Clapometer: a tool that measures the applause level of an audience (one lecturer uses it as a fun alternative to a clicker indicating best response from students).
  • YouTube wraps: a tool that allows you to tailor an existing YouTube resource.

and finally, the awards: 

ALT-C Gala dinner
ALT-C Gala dinner: individual and team awards

I have never made it to the ALT Gala dinner before. It was inspiring to see the best of the profession receiving awards and recognition for their work.

One of the Learning Technologist of 2012 awards went to a close neighbour, Philip Taubman, Lancaster University, for his work on Open Educational Resources and their VLE. The runner up team award (joint second place) was awarded to the SCARLET team at Manchester for ‘their excellent development and implementation of the pioneering SCARLET Augmented Reality (AR) toolkit’ – enhancing learner engagement with artefacts and bring library special collections to life – and for Skills@Library, University of Leeds, for ‘their outstanding development and implementation of internationally recognised open e-learning resources’.

At ALT-C, prizes are also awarded for the Best Proceedings papers, which for the second year in a row was given to Tom Cochrane, this time for his paper on “Secrets of mlearning failures: confronting reality“. The two best Pecha Kucha Presentations were: “Transforming Learning Technologists into Design Researchers“ by Brenda Bannan, and “Engagement by stealth: Can a PG Cert get teachers excited about tech?“ by Lindsay Jordan who dressed as a miner for this: ‘at the coalface’.

So overall, a really good conference – and here at the eLearning Unit we have hatched plans for presenting at ALT-C 2013 as a team.

Tünde (Varga-Atkins)

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How to run a webinar? We have Followed the Sun….

The video recording above is of our second, really successful webinar on using the Nominal Group Technique  that we ran at the wholly online Follow the Sun conference in March 2012, hosted by Leicester in the UK as well as Australia and the US.  (Our first session for the ELESIG group was summarised by one of the participants, Olivia Fox, in her blog.) This blog summarises our experiences and tips for running a webinar, in case you are thinking of trying it out.

So what is a webinar? A webinarweb-based seminar. It has all the elements of the face-to-face seminar but it is running completely online, with participants logging on at a distance, and is usually conducted through a web-conferencing platform, like Blackboard Collaborate (nee Elluminate) or Adobe Connect. Webinars can also be recorded for reviewing, or for those who miss the session.

Our first session, back in Feb 2012, was facilitated by the ELESIG committee members, Helen Whitehead and Carol Higgison, who spent two occasions with our four-member team to help us get to know the software, Blackboard Collaborate, and its features and layout so that we could plan the interactivity used in the session. We were quite ambitious in that we  not only delivered the one-hour session with four presenters (where you normally only have one or two), but we also planned to run a real Nominal Group Technique session online. The Nominal Group Technique is a useful  student evaluation technique of learning experiences. Our focus was on evaluation for the purpose of curriculum design or review.

The 3 stages of the Nominal Group Technique
The 3 stages of the Nominal Group Technique

We had set ourselves the task of finding an online way to mimic the ‘real world’ process of people writing ideas on post-it notes, then clarifying and consolidating the different post-it-note items and then finally ranking them, as in the pictures to the right.  We devised a system where participants wrote their entries on a virtual whiteboard, then one of our team organised them as we were clarifying, by grouping the same items together, and then the voting stage was simulated by drawing circles next to the vote items (the above video is of our second session which was shorter and did not include this step). The process was a bit clunky but it worked as it did get the idea of each of the stages of the Nominal Group Technique across to the participants. We also made use of other interactive features such as polling. Participants followed the webinar using their headphones, and asked questions using the chat text entry box as we went along. So it was good fun and we were very happy with the interactions during the session.

Finally, we just wanted to share some of the tips we have learnt about running webinars.

What do you need for running a webinar?

  • A web-conferencing system e.g. Blackboard Collaborate. At the University of Liverpool we currently have Adobe Connect available for web-conferencing.
  • Headphones and microphone for each team member.
  • Powerpoint slides (optional) or other resources.

So what did we learn about conducting a webinar?

  • Set up time: practice with the same PC, same sound equipment that you will be using for your final, live session, (make sure you won’t have interruptions like phone calls or colleagues)
  • Don’t use speakers, use headphones, as speakers may echo.
  • Show video or not to show (of presenters)? Advice here can be event-specific; some say it looks more professional if you don’t show video, just sound; others like showing video. We used screenshots of ourselves on the slides.
  • Interactivity is key.
  • Use of smiley icons or hands up for questions, or quick yes/no button to clarify e.g. if participants hear or understood something.
  • Ask participants’ prior experiences as a quick poll (see about 8 mins in the above video).
  • Moderator: one of their roles is to welcome participants, and ensure all is working with their audio.
  • Practice practice practice – especially the interactive bits! And timings.
  • Switch sound off if you are not presenting.
  • Think about how to manage silence (when participants are engaged in a task or waiting for responses).
  • Someone needs to monitor chat.
  • Lack of non-verbal cues: keep having slots for questions, clarification + at the end – ask about how they may use it in their practice?
  • Ask some experienced colleagues, if available, to run it with you to practise and offer feedback about session interactivity.

and finally,

  • Be brave. Have a go!

Tünde, Jaye, Nick and Ray

ps: If you have experience of running or participating in/attending a webinar before, please share your tips and reflections in the comment box below.

For more information and advice, contact Tunde elearning @ liv ac  uk

The ELESIG project team was:

  • Tünde Varga-Atkins, eLearning Unit, University of Liverpool
  • Jaye McIsaac, Educational Development Division, University of Liverpool
  • Nick Bunyan, eLearning Unit, University of Liverpool
  • Ray Fewtrell, School of Medicine, University of Liverpool
Project outputs:

Project report: Varga-Atkins, T. with contributions from Bunyan, N; McIsaac, J and Fewtrell, R. (2011) Using the nominal group technique with clickers to research student experiences of e-learning. Project Report written for the ELESIG Small Grants Scheme. Liverpool: University of Liverpool. Available from slideshare.net at http://slidesha.re/sc8gwT

Practical guide: Varga-Atkins, T., with contributions from Bunyan, N; McIsaac, J; Fewtrell J. (2011) The Nominal Group Technique: a practical guide for facilitators. Written for the ELESIG Small Grants Scheme. Liverpool: University of Liverpool. October. Version 1.0. Available at http://slidesha.re/s5KPUr