I did get to get to the ball [ALDinHE Conference 2021]. Kinda.

The journey to ALDcon

My journey to the ALDinHE Conference (ALDcon) was a bit different this year. In any normal year I’d have been using public transport to travel cross-country to visit another university for three or four days, staying in the nearest Premier Inn. COVID-19 put a stop to any such business travel for everyone. ALDcon, however, was not to be defeated and returned in a fully-online format for 2021. Despite that, this opportunity was not assured.

I didn’t think I’d make it to ALDinHE this year. The time of year I would usually submit a proposal and make my intention to attend known was overtaken by life. As me and my partner were in the process of adopting, we had no idea what 2021 would hold or how the timeline would work. As it turns out it was February and March that I took my mix of paternity and adoption leave. ALDcon was a possibility.

Had this year’s event been face:face, I probably wouldn’t have made it. The booking would have been closed, the train tickets would have been expensive and I may have struggled to get accommodation. None of this was an issue with an online conference. I didn’t sign up until the week before. The only pang of regret I had was not presenting on something myself – or at least submitting a poster. I think it might be my first ALDcon without at least taking a poster.

So how was the online conference?

The sharing of ideas, gaining of inspiration and abundance of LD love were all very much there. I’ve come away energised – particularly regarding work to make LD practice more inclusive. I’ve also gained some valuable insight into how we may support reading and have already committed to deliver a new workshop at Hull based on what I have learned. By committed – I mean it’s bookable by our students now. Now that is instant conference impact!

As for the other conference elements, sadly, much like any other online conference it lacked the casual talk. The conference was not socially lacking by any means. Sessions were active. There were lots of social events too! However, none of those small conversations over coffee or a pint happened. I often find these are the most impactful to my thought processes and learning.

I also didn’t realise how valuable conferences are for time away. As a parent, I was mobbed every lunchtime and at the end of the day. I never realised how valuable conferences are for thought, reflection and writing. The journey there and back, the breakfasts, the time alone in the hotel room – all chances for me to type or pen my thoughts and make firm actions from what I have learned. This isn’t to say the conference had no impact. Not by any means. But I didn’t get as much time to process it all as I would like. I also had the inevitable creep of meeting and emails over the conference now allowing me to commit 100%.

So what did I learn?

This year I decided to approach my note creation and synthesis a bit differently. I continued to write notes in each session – handwritten, typed or mind mapped as I felt appropriate. However, I added an additional step – journaling each day to reflect on what these sessions taught me and how I would take it forward. Here are my thoughts:

  • It’s possible for professional services to share space, if not line management (Northampton).
  • I really dislike the work ‘skill’. I’ve not liked it for some time, but have been able to cope. Now, I wonder how much longer I can put up with it.
  • It is possible to run a reading ‘bootcamp’ in a short, two-hour session. I’ve already written the plan for the Hull version and made it bookable. (Sandra Eyakware)
  • A ‘resource in a box’ may be a manageable way forward for us to offer some engagement with local schools in a way that is realistic and scalable. (Amy West)
  • Magic and teaching have a lot more in common than you would think. (Will Houstoun)
  • Community, narrative, interaction, and journey is a beautiful way, to sum up the literacies of online learning (Carina Buckley).
  • I was not ready to talk about lockdown 1. I had honesty buried in my mind just how stressful and depressing the whole thing was. Admittedly, I was writing up my doctorate and was chained to my home desk for 16 hours a day which made things worse.
  • ALDinHE has revolutionized its web presence. A newly designed website, a dedicated conference website, the relaunch of LearnHigher – wow!

Did you say magic?

Yup! The day two keynote was delivered by Dr Will Houstoun. The session was titled Pedagogical Prestidigitation: Magic in Educational Contexts and beautifully drew comparisons between magic and teaching. Oh! And there was magic. Of course…

Magic is about an interaction. It is a performance. It has a narrative. There is a need to direct (not necessarily misdirect) attention. The parallels to teaching were beautiful. You can check out my notes on this one below:

And then there was decolonisation

This is a hot (but not uncontested) issue in higher education right now. There is some real concern that LD practice can propagate dominant ideas and structures if left unchecked. If LD is there to help students adapt to HE, are we not civilising students into higher education – reducing their cultural identity to make them confirm?

Difficult stuff.

Uncomfortable stuff.

I’ve spoken about this a fair bit at Hull. Higher education is generally too old, male, western and stale. I’m always cautious of decolonisation itself. Not because it isn’t important – but because a general approach of inclusive education is a better goal. While much of this is subsumed into decolonisation, I think an inclusive approach is distinct. We should teach in a way to ensure everyone is included and successful, no matter their race, religion, class, gender, sexuality, background – and so on.

There was some interesting stuff from Liverpool John Moors on this, and I’m happy to share my notes again!

That’s a wrap!

Well. It’s almost midnight now. I’ve only been able to write as everyone is in bed asleep – but even for a ‘normal’ ALDcon my train would have gotten me home by now. Definitely time to turn in for the night. ?

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