Strategic decisions

I’m not attending ALT-C this year for pretty much the same reasons that I often ‘don’t go’.  It’s also a lot of money to pay out at this time, when the income stream looks bleakish. Luckily, I have a fair bit of residual work (work that is either paid for or wraps up the odd contract) during September so I have enough to occupy me anyway, without having to traipse off to Nottingham.

One of the main reasons I’m not going is that I went last year and last year’s visit reminded me of why I don’t need to attend ALT-C every year. On the plus side, there is a lot of networking which is for me the main benefit of attending and number one reason TO go. But, apart from the odd break-through, the sessions seemed to be pretty much updates to what was said the year before or extracts from someone’s Doctoral Thesis process being delivered to sympathetic audiences. There will often be the outcomes of projects too, but as the submission date is way back in winter, many of these (given the nature of emerging technologies) are out of date by the time ALT-C attendees get to hear them.

This does not mean that any of this is has no value, it definitely has great value and to those attending (in the main) any one session could be the spark that ignites a change in their teaching and learning practice.

However, despite the fact that many of those attending and delivering sessions are THE experts in their field, gurus even; I’m not altogether sure that the ‘talk’ is being translated into ‘action’ in the field. Certainly not universally.

Not in F.E. anyway.

Over the last five years my role has taken me into many colleges of further education (F.E.) and allowed me to meet many more practitioners at a variety of events and workshops. During those years, practice HAS changed as more and more practitioners become aware of the difference well thought out and delivered, pedagogically based e-Learning can make. But as I’ve stated, this is not universal.


Last week I asked the Twittersphere the following question:

“Why do strategic decisions made by college SMT rarely make their way down to the troops to be coordinated? In fact do troops ever get a say?”
It received one reply:
“..coz what the top wants is often very different from what the bottom needs? And Nope.”

Why is that so true? Whatever happened to effective communication?

A number of things prompted my question. For example, the institutional rollout of a new operating system must surely be a strategic decision. Surely it is not one that is made by any one party. Therefore, if strategically dictated, proper information, advice and guidance must have been set in place. One assumes (hopes?) so.  I wonder how often the strategy includes pre-installation information to key stakeholders such as departmental managers and course leaders? And how much effort is made to inform them of the consequences (unusable ‘specialist’ software originally supplied with ‘project’ money or development, similar software needing updates). Where this information is supplied, how much support does the stakeholder get?

And (this is probably the crux of my post), how much thought is given to the strategic development of effective delivery via technology. During these straightened times, when institutions could save money by implementing well thought out, pedagogically based blended learning solutions – how much thought has been given to an appropriate staff development strategy? I suspect that many teaching colleagues will have been told that they must have their year planners and induction materials on the VLE – job done.

But the job isn’t done and every year, this is underlined at conferences like ALT-C. Yet …

Despite everything, I suspect that I will be watching ALT-C events via Twitter and checking out any recommendations from trusted friends. I will not be following via Twitterfall though!

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ALT-C 2009

I’ve just cleared the decks after returning from an interesting week at ALT-C. Well, when I say ‘cleared the decks’, I mean that I’ve caught up on as many emails as I can and have phoned as many people as I’d promised or needed to. And, when I say ‘an interesting week’ – I mean it’s been an all-absorbing, full-on, learning, networking and interesting three days, not quite a week.

The last time I attended an ALT conference was back in 2006, in Edinburgh and I blogged throughout that conference: http://dsugden.googlepages.com/alt-c. This time I haven’t, I just didn’t seem to have the energy to blog. Instead – I Twittered (Twitted?) http://twitter.com/dsugden #altc2009 and learned about Twitterfall. I’d left the Edinburgh conference disillusioned and dispirited and purposely avoided the next two in Nottingham and Leeds (although I now wish I’d managed Leeds if only for the conference dinner which was apparently a great success by Thomas Danby College students).  It costs me a lot of money to attend and I can’t afford to come away feeling like that. This year though, Lilian Soon [www.xlearn.co.uk] and I had been accepted for our delivery of a workshop called: Active Learning with mobile and Web 2.0 Technologies: http://altc2009.alt.ac.uk/talks/show/6854.

Since my return, it has been interesting to review my comments from last time and to match them against this year’s reflections (both Twittered and not). I’m not sure that Twitter was around in 2006, it might just have been, but this year has seen an explosion of comment on the #altc2009 Twitterfall. Similarities?

  • People are still talking about blogs – one speaker promoting them to her learners said ” I wouldn’t blog in a thousand years”!!
  • Talk of using the Social Networking giants (Facebook wasn’t around in 2006 either – much) as disappeared
  • There is still a lot of angst about how ‘it’ will affect the institution (and copyright and IPP and – so on) ‘it’ being anything new, unresearched or disruptive (i.e. everything I like)
  • PowerPoints are still badly made. The final keynote – Terry Anderson (whilst interesting) had very wordy slides – no change there then, since 2006. Another guy in a workshop I attended had red text on a black background – poo-er! Teacher Trainers seemed to have the worst PPT slides. Some of the best were just images (2nd keynote Martin Bean – VC OU elect – was a good example of an entertaining, informative talk with imagery and very few words on screen)
  • There is still a poor F.E. showing (% wise not quality wise)

On the first night (for me and Lilian) we went with James Clay and Ron Mitchell (their second night) to el Rincon de Rafa Tapas bar just off Deansgate in Manchester. We had a great time in this comfortable and very Spanish restaurant. I really can’t remember everything we had to eat but whatever it was plentiful and very tasty. I do like the beer here.

The second night was gala dinner night and this was presented in the magnificent Town Hall (Manchester) by a joint team of students from Sheffield and Manchester Colleges. Once again I can’t remember exactly what we had for every course (James saved me a menu, but I forgot to get it from him) but it was delightful; spoiled only by the awards having to be interspersed with the courses – instead of at the end. The petit fours were a bit extravagant!

Once again it was great to re-meet so many friends and colleagues from up and down the country and to reaffirm friendships and relationships. AND – it was great to go up on stage with Ron, James and Lils to pick up a ‘highly commended’ award from ALT on behalf of the MoLeNET team. Well done Elaine, Mick, John and Di.