Of politics, China, SpongeBob and OER-chery

ALT-C logo

I arrived in Nottingham with minutes if not seconds to claim a comfy seat at the conference theatre and listen to the opening keynote of ALT-C 2013. Why is it that when they can’t find your conference badge you are immediately suspected of trying to sneak in without having registered? I tried to explain that my surname is often filed under A, or even L, instead of D, which is the obvious first letter of my surname, I think, but to no avail. I should have known better to present myself at the desk with time to spare for the unavoidable computer-says-yes check. Never mind, where was I? Ah yes, the keynote speaker to kick-off ALT-C this year was Rachel Wenstone, Vice-President (Higher Education) of the National Union of Students. I don’t have a problem with presenters reading from a script when they are good communicators and can deliver their talk with style and passion, but to me it felt slightly too ardfheis-y. She promised a political view of the prevailing culture of learning in higher education, and indeed she gave us one, and a model to follow: how learners and educators can shape the development of a new culture of learning through partnership; students don’t want feedback, she said, but a two-way conversation and space to collaborate. Mmmm have things changed that much since my years as a lecturer? I seem to recall (most) students favoured the give-it-to-me-already-chewed-and-piss-off attitude, thanks very much. Apologies if I sound a bit too cynical. You can listen to Rachel here, while the recording is available.

After that, we shuffled for the first of many times. I duly sat through John Traxler and his colleagues’ open debate on how TEL enables a response to “crises arising from the commodification, dehumanisation, corporatisation, globalisation and technologisation of education”; David Kernohan’s apocalyptic views on a broken education, and Paul Gentle’s on how leadership can make technological innovation work. It is always a pleasure to listen to Terese Bird and she didn’t disappoint: ‘China is harvesting your iTunesU’, is this a warning? I thought. Indeed the opposite, OER as ‘soft marketing’ and a piece of advice for those institutions interested in reaching out to Chinese students: upload your best resources to iTunesU!

For me one person stole the show on Wednesday: Sheila MacNeill was by far the most engaging speaker of the day, and probably the whole conference (barring Stephen Downes?).  I’m really sorry that Chris Pegler wasn’t well and her talk had to be cancelled, but delighted that Sheila was asked to move up her slot –had she presented on Thursday, as originally scheduled, our talks would have clashed and I would have missed a warm, funny and inspiring account of her experiences of using her blog, innovation in education and “the need for space for people to connect, reflect and share”. How often have you seen SpongeBob SquarePants make a stellar appearance at a gathering of learning technologists?

A quick note on my own presentation to share some of the evidence for the two hypotheses overarching our project: we already blogged about OER impact on student satisfaction and performance here, and on the meaning of openness here, so let me just refer briefly to our OERchery game. It had already gone very well at OER13, however I was worried that the allocated room on Thursday wouldn’t be the right space to invite people to get up and shoot a pretend dart at a pretend dartboard. The activity consists of asking members of your audience to place a marker on a board according to their view on how important is a particular hypothesis, and how easy it would be to find evidence to prove it.  It’s true that I bribed them with a badge, but this lovely crowd were happy to squeeze up and down the room and jump chairs to reach the wall where I had stuck the boards: I wish I could have recorded their conversations then, it ‘s a great activity to get people thinking and talking, as Chris Rowell tweeted (thanks @Chri5rowell!). Slides with instructions to play OERchery here.

And in fear of writing too long a blog post, I leave you to think of your abstracts for ALT-C 2014, which is to take place in Warwick, 1-3 September. Oh actually, don’t forget to try out Xpert’s tool to embed a CC license on your photos. Easy as  pie.

2 thoughts on “Of politics, China, SpongeBob and OER-chery

  1. sheilmcn

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m so glad you enjoyed my talk and it was so nice that ai could get to come to your session too. And I loved the bribery and badges 🙂


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