ALT-C 2013

Last week Naomi Fenn and I travelled to Nottingham to attend ALT-C 2013. This was the 20th anniversary of the conference and, true to form, summarised the current issues surrounding Higher Education, and how Technology could be utilised to respond to them.

A key theme for both myself and Naomi was the challenge that the introduction of student-paid fees had been to the sector, with a particular emphasis on how the fees has changed the relationship between HE and the student. Sessions examined the changed dynamic that was now present, and the danger of simply viewing the student as a consumer of a product that the university provides. They examined the importance of true student engagement and partnership working over a relationship where “the customer is always right”.

Sessions focussed on the need to involve the whole student community when beginning a project as a cross-discipline opportunity; rather than a select group of representatives, who will always be driven by their own perspectives / agendas. It was noted that students are bombarded with surveys – therefore workshops work better. An example of where student engagement would prove critical is in learning design. It was put to the community that staff may become disconnected due to a lack of technology or incorrect use of services. Research by VLE giants Desire to Learn found that students feel at least as confident utilising technology as their tutors. How can we gather student learning requirements if we enforce a top down method?

The challenge remains in ensuring that we as HE professionals remember to view our relationship with students as an essential paradox. Although we may embrace them as partners throughout their time at the university, we must also remember how and why they arrived here in the first place. It has never been so important to market our university effectively. iTunesU was seen as a key tool for encouraging applications, with a survey showing that 60% of those students utilising the world’s largest digital catalogue of free education content were likely to use it to help them inform their decision re choice of institution. It was suggested that universities could make better use of Open Educational Resources as a method of attracting applicants, by uploading lectures and plenaries to key International sites such as YouKu, the Chinese version of YouTube.

And how could I create a summary of an ALT conference without mentioning MOOCs?! The overarching point was that no matter what happens from this point on, they have changed the face of Higher Education forever. Return on Investment has never been more important to universities; and it is this that is driving data collection and policy. Are MOOCs attracting
students to continue to study with a particular institution on a paid for basis? What has the culture of openness added to the HE community, or has it become lost within the general message and excitement? One things for sure, it has never been more important for HE leaders to collaborate and communicate on a global scale.

So many other messages from yet another stellar ALT conference… roll on ALT-C 2014!

– Tash Harden

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