ALDinHE Conference 2016 – Herriot Watt

It is with great sadness that I depart on the 17:00 train back home from the ALDinHE Annual Conference. It has been a fantastic three days in Edinburgh and I am already planning my return visit. I seem to fall into the nasty habit of always being here on business and I am determined to come back for leisure.

I fully intend to post a few blog posts spawned from the conference and in particular, a few more details about my presentation from today. I wanted to make this very quick post to solidify that commitment as I often tend to find myself *busy* after such an event. I do however believe that no matter how busy I am, it is important to make these reflections, ideas and thoughts a bit more concrete. At least, in the digital sense.

One thing that strikes me surrounds the reoccurring themes through the conference. This in itself is not surprising as the conference had four key themes: professional identities, social justice, students as partners and diversity. I was however surprised by the reoccurrance of freedom, civil liberties and belonging. This has linked to a lot of the conversations at the Freedom to Learn Conference in Hull, The Liberal Democrat Spring Conference and general discussions with my peers on the Hull EdD. I think this gives a real feel for some of the genuine concerns people have about education, freedom and government policy. There is every chance I am working hard to find these themes as they are important to me, but I feel their prominence is real. Let’s keep this conversation going!

I really appreciate the energy, enthusiasm and ideas from my loosely related learning development buddies at ALDcon. I am looking forward to getting back to Hull and working on some new ideas based on what I have heard. I also can’t wait to write up my own paper and look forward to trying to get it published. A big thank you to our ALDinHE Steering Group and to Andy for his hard work with the conference.

ALDinHE: 23 things for digital literacy

Helen Webster (@scholastic_rat) ran an excellent workshop on ’23 things for digital literacy’, a project she has been working on to help support PhD students and early career researchers. Like Emma, Helen hails from the University of Cambridge, source of the 23 Things Cambridge blog – “the online home of the Web 2.0 programme for University of Cambridge departmental and college librarians”. The essence of ’23 things’ is simple. You start a blog, updating it weekly. The updates are structured around a ‘thing’ of the week, introduced by the programme leader. This could be something like using wikis, twitter, LinkedIn or RSS feeds. As it is done in the individuals own time, the discovery and use of the ‘thing’ is within their own context.

What Helen has done with the project however, is to adapt it to work with research student support. Digital literacy is of great importance for any researchers and ’23 things’ is a brilliant way to break away from ICT training sessions that simply force all the students to sit at machines while some tools are dictated to them. Breaking out of this classroom, 23 things enables students to use their own equipment, helps them to learn by doing and ensures what they are doing is within the context of their own research. The crucial element is NOT the ‘thing’ itself. It is the process of engaging with a ‘thing’ and the confidence to try something new. This is important as any given tool could quickly become defunct, obsolete or even closed – as is the case with Google Reader.

To ensure interactivity, launch workshops were help so students could meet each other. More importantly, they are encouraged to comment on each others blogs. When approaching a ‘thing’ they are told to be skeptical. Just because the ‘thing’ is introduced by the programme leader, it does not mean it is a tool to be used. It is something to be investigated. Only they can decide if it is of use to their own context. An example of the discourse around each topic could be Dropbox. It can be argued it is an excellent tool for preserving historical documents but an inappropriate tool for storing confidential and sensitive interviews.
See it in action here:
See Helen’s website here

ALDinHE: Supporting and developing the digital literacy of staff

I was very interested to hear from Daniel Clark, a learning technologist from the University of Kent and wanted reflect on his ALDinHE session. It was based on the  E-Learning Summer School at the University of Kent. This is perhaps best described by their website:

The Summer School is a two-day event offering an immersive environment for staff to experience all of the tools and technologies available to them at the University and to engage in wider discussions about Technology Enhanced Learning in Higher Education.

The Summer School operates like a mini conference with invited guest speakers, parallel workshop sessions and interactive discussion groups. Attendees have plenty of opportunity to network with their colleagues and to share their own practice.

This event is open to all staff, regardless of whether you currently use technology in your teaching or not. It may also be of interest to staff who are new to the University of Kent. (University of Kent, 2013)

From the conference presentation, what they achieved seemed to have worked. I think the peer-based elements went a long way to securing this success as, from experience, involving academics helps to show the practical implications for technology. This was also seen with the use of guest presenters to provide tangible examples. Sometimes learning technologists are too abstract and this seemed a really good way to make the sessions practical.

I particularly liked the use of parallel workshops to enable staff to choose strands depending on their ability and interests. I think this is brilliant as it avoids patronising staff familiar with tools while providing those comfortable with technology the opportunity to look at more advanced stuff. I think this model has a lot of potential to break the cycle of dull workshops that no one has time to attend. Running this in summer gives staff the real potential to embed ideas into their teaching.

If you are interested and want to learn more:



ALDinHE: Of jigsaws and shape-sorters: visualising common ground in integrated information literacy and learning development provision

Emma Conan, from the University of Cambridge ran a great session on visualising common ground in integrated information literacy and learning development provision. It comes down to the following visual representation Emma developed below:


The diagram is great as it breaks the idea that skills development is sequential – students can follow any path through this diagram. I also liked that Emma argued the jigsaw suggests students need every piece. Perfect analogy! I do think it has great potential, especially for linking to development frameworks. Are we ensuring our students have all the pieces?

There was a great deal of discussion over the question mark in the session. The idea was that it could literally be whatever the student wants it to be. I guess this starts to hint at personalisation. Could this be made into an interactive jigsaw where students can supplement this with additional pieces? Could students arrange the pieces to make their own whole? Definitely some options for linking to PDP here. Another element of the question mark:

“There should not be an authority figure you don’t question”.

Part of the heart of academia. Just a shame that so many staff fear students who would question them…

I will leave it there for now – If you’re interested in reading more, check out Emma on twitter @LibGoddess or check out her blog.