Reflections on the 2022 ALT conference

The Association for Learning Technologists (ALT) annual conference took place in Manchester last week. The conference is a good place to find out what’s new in digital education and to catch up with other people doing in similar roles in other universities. After a few years online, it felt strange to be back in a big conference space with so many other people, just doing the normal conference things like listening to presentations, chatting with other conference delegates and comparing stories of our train journeys there. 

A “new normal”

One of the biggest themes that emerged out of the conference was a debate about what the post -pandemic university will look like. In an incredibly short period of time, the pivot to online education in higher education was a swift and dramatic response to the pandemic. As the restrictions have been lifted the big debate is what will the ‘new normal’ look like? Views at the conference were mixed around this issue and I’m not sure if a real consensus has emerged yet. On the one hand, some thought things could and would ‘snapback’ to what had existed before the pandemic, where on-campus education was the dominant mode of delivery. At the other extreme, many where proposing that things would never be the same and that the ‘new normal’ is a place where digital education’s status has risen to new heights and respectability. I suspect the reality will be somewhere in between these two extremes where the new ‘blended’ and ‘hybrid’ reality does look somewhat different than what came before. 

Digital assessment

Right across the HE sector, the enforced pivot to online education really did have an impact on the ways students had to be assessed. During the lockdown it simply wasn’t possible to have campus-based exams, presentations or workshop activities. New and innovative digital assessment activities were devised and implemented at very short notice. There were several presentations on digital assessment systems such as Crowdmark and Gradescope but the resource I was most impressed with was an Open Educational Resource on Digital Asseessment produced by Dublin City University which has produced a bank of digital assessment case studies across a range of disciplines. The aim of this resource is to offer inspiration and guidance for staff new to using digital assessment.

Finding a balance

In the last few years I think there has been a subtle and imperceptible change of attitude to digital education by the people using it. There has been an acceptance that this mode of education has many benefits and that it is here to stay, and there is a developing critical awareness that it also brings new and contestable issues. This new criticality was reflected at the conference. Rob Farrow’s keynote presentation on the ‘Ethics of Learning Technology’ was a good example of this. His talk was an outline of ALTs new Framework for Ethical Learning Technology where he discussed some of the philosophical themes that underpin the guidelines and how they relate to the practical issues and questions that we must understand better. How do we assess learning analytics? Should we be using proctoring software for assessment? How to we build trust and belonging into our teaching spaces? My own presentation on What is Critical Digital Pedagogy and why is it important related closely to these broader ethical and moral issues.

To recap…

Overall the conference was an attempt to understand the lessons of the enforced shift to online learning during the lockdown. There were reflective discussions about what worked and what didn’t and what we can take into the future. There wasn’t total agreement amongst the delegates but at least the right questions were being asked about what the future will be like, not just the learning technology software but for the type and of education we want in the post-pandemic university sector. We will organise similar discussions around these topics at our Digital Learning Practice Sharing Days over the next academic year and these will be open to everyone who works at UAL.

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