Finding joy in ethics and criticality: reflections on #altc21

I have to admit I at the start of the conference, I felt pretty jaded. It’s been a long year. I haven’t had a proper break – that’s my own fault – not blaming anyone but me for that. And like everyone else I’ve had, and continue to have, my fair share of challenges this year. Another online conference wasn’t exactly filling me with eager anticipation.

There’s always something of the start of the new term feel about the ALT annual conferences, which is one of its strengths. That is also historically why it’s been a challenge for some people to attend the physical conferences. One positive thing about the move to is a lot more flexible, and accessible for many. Anyway, like I said, I wasn’t really feeling any excitement for anything at the start of the week – online or in the “real” world! I knew I would be dipping in and out of the conference due to work commitments, but as is so often the way with ALT conferences, it and more importantly the ALT community, slowly drew me in.

The keynotes were, as ever, very strong this year. Sonia Livingston’s “the datafication of education: in whose interests?”, focused on her research with in schools around the use and understanding of data (particularly children’s understanding of data and how it is used). The give and take of data in schools (and throughout education) is quite unbalanced. The ‘system’ takes data, often without any really questioning from students or wider society. Schools/colleges/universities, are generally trusted entities, with a (at least here in the UK ) a legal duty of care for their students. However, as more 3rd party systems are integrated in education, and more data is being given to companies, the balance is changing. They take the data and offer it back in ways that they choose. Sonia highlighted that adults often give children a false sense of trust about managing data, without highlighting that once a company has your data, despite GDPR, there is a lot it can do with it without you realising. Just what is Google/Zoom/Microsoft etc actually doing with all the extra data they have collected over lockdown for example? The need for data literacy for us all, not just kids, is increasingly important.

Data literacy was central to Mutale Nkonde’s keynote, based on her 2019 paper “Advancing racial literacy in tech” , Mutale expertly took us through the bias of AI and algorithms, highlighting in particular the racial basis in social platforms (Tiktok was cited here) with their implementation of data proxies for popularity, that clearly have historical racial bias “baked in”. Mutale encouraged us all to question and have more conversations about data, AI, algorithms. To participate in projects such a AI for the people which aims to develop and support the ethical use of data. Mutale also reminded us that algorithms are IP and so have commercial confidentiality on their side. Companies do not need to share the algorithms they use. I for one think that should be challenged more, particularly in education. If we use a AI or any 3rd party company and it is harvesting data, then part of the contract should be full disclosure around how that data is being used, so that there can be informed discussions around what patterns, historical trends, etc algorithms are being built on.

Starting these conversations can be tricky. That’s where the (launched at the conference) ALT Framework for Ethical Learning Technology might come into play too. During its launch John Traxler asked if we need to decolonise educational technology. This sparked off a bit of a debate on the ALT mailing list, so I think the answer is a clear yes! Adapting the statements in the framework to questions would be a good starting point, imho around conversations about the ethics of technology, the ethical use of data, what that actually means in context.

The highlight of the conference for me was the final keynote from Lou Mycroft. Lou is one of the founders of #JoyFE. This really did bring back my #joy. I loved Lou’s explanation of: joy as an intentional practice, of the power of being affirmingly critical, but not cynical, of quiet resistance, of the joyful militancy of embracing “the power of giving away power”. I loved the wave Lou weaved ideas around leadership, around transformation being a start not an end point, of turning values into questions. For example what would assessment look like as a practice of hope? What would timetabling look like as a practice of care? I would encourage you, dear reader to watch all the keynotes, as well as the other sessions.

For me the ALT-C conferences have always been places and spaces of joy, for sharing of ideas, for getting re-energised, and also for getting confidence from the community to continue (or start) some bits of quiet resistance. Lou proposed leadership as being more about co-ordination, not control. On reflection, I think that is strength of ALT too, it can, and does provide co-ordination for the community. The range of special interest/member groups are a living example of that.

The conference also saw the launch of the ALT/ITN co production “The Future of Learning “. Lots of “shiny” tech stuff there and worth a watch not to see the future, but to see what is happening now. Not a lot of critique of technology/AI/ data so I wonder if there were to be another episode if a theme of the ethical use of technology would be apt? That would give a space for the new framework and the work of the ALT community in this area to be highlighted. It could help raise wider awareness of the need to question how, where, why, when and with/by whom data is collected and shared. That might provide a way to show some joyful resistance and coordinated leadership can allow for more equitable, ethical, caring and joyful future for learning.

Many thanks to the conference co-chairs, the conference committee, the ALT team, and everyone who participated in the conference.

ALTC delegate open badge image

Guest post for #OERxDomains21 : Being in the OER x Domains Space

As part of the build up to the OERxDomains21 conference next week, members of the conference committee have been writing a series of guest blog posts. My post has just been published and you can read it over on the conference blog here.

In the post I share some of my thoughts about time and conferences. Why it’s hard to find time to “conference” (particularly during lock-down), why it’s important to find the time to “conference” and a little secret about some of my best times at conferences.

Open leadership: legacy and succession and a farewell to my time as #altc Chair

This is my final contribution to this series of posts where I have tried to share some of what I consider to be the key aspects of leadership in my role as Chair of ALT. You can read the other posts, here, here here and here.

My tenure of Chair comes to an end at the AGM on 24th June. This is slightly earlier that I had anticipated at the beginning of this year. Normally our AGMs occur during our annual conference in September, but of course due to the current global pandemic we have had to cancel all our face to face events for the rest of this year.  Moving the AGM online and to an early date is another in a series of rapid changes ALT has had to adopt over the past few months.

However, this move could actually set another precedent for the AGM as it might actually make more sense to keep it decoupled from any conference/event, and run it online. We are hoping that it might actually be easier for more of our members to join online. And of course the AGM is open to all – not just our members.

When Martin Weller ( current President) and I wrote this blog post as part of the recruitment for the new Chair, we could never have anticipated the enormous changes the world has gone through in the last few months. However, as I say in our annual report which will formally be presented at the AGM,  ALT has managed to negotiate these unprecedented times in, what I consider, a positive and agile way.  I would love to say that this was all down to me and my leadership – but of course it’s not just down to me 😉  Our CEO Maren and our CIO Martin as well as all the core ALT staff have risen to the challenge of almost completely rewriting work plans and adapting core business in response the changing times.

One, if not the, key reasons they were able to do that successfully was due to the changes the organisation has gone through over the past three years. When I took over as Chair, ALT was in the process of changing its charitable status, its governance structure ( I am the first Chair to serve a 3 year, as opposed to 1 year term), and crucially becoming an independent, virtual, distributed organisation.   ALT staff didn’t have to pivot to online – they were already there.  No zoom revolution needed.  The speed of decision making over the past three months has been rapid to say the least.  

Our governance structures have allowed us to react in a timely, yet considered manner. Ensuring that the interests of our community are continued to be served and our finances are still in a positive position.  That is no mean feat. The commitment of all our Trustees who have attended extra meetings in the midst of their own challenging and changing contexts has allowed us to ensure the stability of the Association and support our core staff. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to lead and work with all the Trustees during my time as Chair.

It has also been a pleasure and a privilege to work with all the ALT core staff – not just over the past three years but over the six years I have been on the Board.  Maren and Martin are of course the faces most members know (and love), but they are supported by Jane, Fiona, Debbie, Emma Jane and Jane (currently on maternity leave). They really are a great team.  One of the things I was really keen to during my time as Chair was to connect the Board and the staff more, so there wasn’t a such a gulf between “the Board” and “the staff”. As I see it, we are all part of the core team and I have particularly enjoyed joining team meetings.  Once again I want to thank all the ALT staff I have worked with over the past three years.

It’s hard, actually almost impossible, to pick  highlights from the past three years, there have been so many. But the 2018 Annual conference which marked the 25th anniversary of the Association was special as I was one of the co-chairs and we took the opportunity to focus in on ALT itself a bit more. However, every ALT conference is special each one holds a special place for me.  I remember going to my first ALT conference (a long, long time ago now);  it never crossed my mind that I would ever be on a stage as a co-chair of an ALT  conference or indeed be the Chair of the  Association – just shows you kids – dreams can come true!  Over the past few years, being able to present new CMALT holders with their certificates at the conference has also been a highlight. It’s great to see so many people taking the time to get professional recognition for their work and of course, become part of the CMALT community as well as the wider ALT community too. 

The ALT values are very dear to me, particularly community. ALT is, and always has, been more than the sum of its parts. If I leave any legacy I would like it to be that clear focus community. Without our community we are nothing. If it’s not clear how what we do serves our community we shouldn’t be doing it.  Of course sustaining and growing a community is a constant challenge – particularly when you have a such a diverse membership as we do in  ALT.  

However, our steadily growing membership over the past 3 years is testament to our focus on supporting the needs of our community by the work of our core ALT team, and of course all voluntary work the members who run and contribute to our range of special interest groups ALT supports.  

Over the past 3 years I believe our communication about what we do continues to  improve.  The launch of the 2017 – 2020  Impact Report earlier this year was a particularly highlight for me as I believe it so clearly illustrated the huge range of work ALT has supported over the past 3 years, and the robustness of our last strategy. I hope this is the first of many such reports.

Although we have a diverse community in the sense of the range of job descriptions our members hold, we of course can do much more to support wider diversity and equality. We are making inroads, but there is a still  a way to go.  I am acutely aware of how our membership reflects the imbalance of ethnicity and gender that is prevalent across the UK eduction sector – particularly HE. I believe that ALT community is an inclusive one, and has a place for everyone involved in promoting the use and impact of learning technology. I also know that it is easy for me to say that from my position of white privilege. That said,  I do believe that the work ALT does to support open education, research and reflective professional development does provide multiple platforms for our community to critically reflect on its context and, help to promote and support increasing diversity and inclusion. If there is more we can do or a different way we can do things, then there is an open door to anyone with ideas.

So as I end my time as Chair, I am very optimistic about the future of ALT. The sense of community has shone through over the past few months, with so many resources and so much advice being shared openly. We were able to rapidly provide spaces for much needed community support in a time of confusion and crisis for all.

So whilst I’m obviously a bit sad about leaving the role which has been such a large part of my life for the past 3 years I do feel it is a good time for me to hand over to someone else.  I have no doubt that the incoming Chair, Helen O’Sullivan will be able to lead the Association and bring so much of her experience and knowledge to the role as ALT implements its new new strategy.  I know Helen is committed to our community and all of our core values, and will be supported by a very able Board.

A key part of leadership is knowing when to move on, and feeling confident about doing that – which I do. Of course I won’t be disappearing completely, I will still be an active member of the ALT community – particularly,  as part of the ALT Scotland team, and as a CMALT assessor.  

I have always felt a huge sense of privilege and gratitude to the ALT community, firstly for voting me onto the Board and then for supporting my nomination as Chair. I hope over the last three years, that trust in me and my leadership has been fulfilled. It’s been an amazing experience. To paraphrase the words of Benny and Bjorn; I’m nothing special, but leading ALT has been one of the most special and rewarding experiences of my professional life. So thank you for the music ALT, and so, so much more. 

Open leadership – reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT (5): Strategy Development

In this, the 5th post in my in my series reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT, I am going to focus on strategy development.  

ALTs new strategy launched last week.  It has been the culmination of nearly 9 months of work, led by our CEO Maren Deepwell, al the ALT staff, the Board and most importantly our members.  Maren has written an excellent overview of the process and the CEO perspective but I want to take a couple of minutes to reflect on it from Chair’s point of view.

Strategy can often feel quite removed from the reality of an organisation. I believe that any strategy has to be a relevant, useful, living document. Our last strategy was developed at the point where ALT transitioned into an independent, distributed organisation.  At that time the Board were committed to ensuring that the strategy document would reflect the values of our new structure and most importantly the values of our members.   

Over the 4 years, it has been a constant touch point for not only the developing work of the organisation but also as a means to evaluate and measure the work and progress that has been made. So when it came round to thinking about the next strategy I didn’t have sleepless nights about the need to change our values or overall direction of our strategic aims.  These have proved meaningful and relevant as our Impact Report illustrates. Being able to publish an impact report alongside a new strategy document is another tangible way that ALT is now able to show value and progress to our members and wider community.

As Chair I was relieved that the strategy development was not bound up with major direction changes and the inevitable “politics” that would have involved. Rather, this time we are building and extending from the secure foundation provided by our existing values of open-ness, independence, collaboration and participation. This ensures a continuity of development and progress.

Ensuring strategic continuity and consensus is, I believe, a major part of successful leadership and a key part of my role as Chair to ensure and lead the Board to consensus. But when you have shared, realistic and meaningful values, that task is much easier. 

I am particularly pleased that there will be a focus on developing an ethical framework for professional practice in Learning Technology across all sectors. In our current context of increased datafication of education it is vital that the ALT community can take a leading role in the development of ethical practice around the use of data. We need to continue to provide spaces for rich discussion, debate, research and practice, to critique and question the role of data, increased surveillance on students (and staff), and challenge the bias that is inherent in so many systems.

Again, it was heartening to hear from the community that the many webinars and connection opportunities that ALT provide are really valued and what they want to see continue and develop.  I have already written about how pleasing it was to see how open-ness has permeated all the work of ALT.  

Building from the success of the last document, we have kept our strategy document short, and have used the services of Bryan Mather’s Visual Thinkery to provide a set of open licensed images. These images encapsulate the essence of the strategy and provide a shared visual language for all our members.

The strategy document itself I believe is the embodiment of our values, and was only made possible by a huge amount of open collaboration and participation.  Given what was achieved over the last strategic life cycle, I can’ wait to see how much progress the association is going to make over the next five years.  Of course I won’t be Chair after September but I do believe that this strategy will provide the new Chair with the continuity that they will need to take the Association to even more success and growth.

Seeking a new Chair for ALT – a personal perspective

This September after 3 fantastic years of being at the helm, I step down from my role as Chair of ALT. The formal selection process for my successor has begun with an open invitation for any interested parties to apply. To augment the “official” information, Martin Weller (former Chair and current President of ALT) and I have written a post for the ALT blog with a more personal insight into our experiences of the role.

I have thoroughly enjoyed (and will do so until this September) my time as Chair and encourage anyone with a commitment to supporting and promoting the use of learning technology to read the post and get that application in.

Photo ALT Board meeting, November 2019

Open leadership – reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT (4) – The strategic role of open #altc

In this, my 5th in the my reflections on my role as Chair of ALT , I wanted to share some of my reflections as we develop our new strategy.

This week I chaired another quarterly meeting of the ALT Board. The meeting took a slightly different format as the main focus of it was the development of our new strategy.

screen shot of strategy development timeline

The development of the new strategy started in September at our annual conference (add links) and we have had lots of community feedback through the Assembly meetings and our online suggestion box ( feel free to add your suggestions).

In preparing for the meeting, Maren Deepwell (CEO of ALT) and the staff team have been collating and mapping what has been achieved in the last three years.  As I have been reviewing the progress that has been made, it really struck me how openness has impacted on our core values from open licensing to open governance to open participation.

This openness has in turn proved to be a very successful way for us to grow as an an association and also to measure progress. Now, perhaps because the board were very “open” to the idea of open and open practice there wasn’t a huge debate about including open as one of our core values. ALT had already been openly licencing many of its outputs and had just incorporated the OER conference into our conference portfolio. So, we didn’t have to spend a large part of the last three years developing any new open procedures, or policies. Instead the last three years have focused on ALT becoming a fully independent charitable organisation. That is no mean feat in and of itself which I’m sure I will reflect more on too as part of this series.

Rather, taking an open approach first allowed our work from our governance structures and reporting to our openly available conference recordings, to be open and accessible in the most relevant way. 

Maha Bali recently wrote a really powerful post about openness and permissions. It’s really rich post but the notion of permissions really resonated, particularly technical permissions such as copyright versus the human aspect of open educational practice.

Open Educational Practices as a human endeavor is so much more than a technical permission. And I wish we would push this aspect of it to the background of details and instead foreground the other aspects relating to social justice, connection, and co-construction of knowledge in potentially equitable ways, for the interests of diverse people, and on their terms.”

I see the human endeavour, the connections and co-construction of knowledge as something ALT is really getting to grips with and succeeding with. Fundamentally we are all about supporting people, and developing our community. Whilst we endeavour to be as equitable as possible, there is still a lot work to be done. Part of that work is to recognise the cultural context of any UK based organisation, our colonial history, and our current realities in relation to discrimination, lack of diversity, that is part of our educational landscape.  That said, over the past three years I think the diversity of our conference keynote speakers speaks for itself.   

screen shot of ALT  conference keynote speakers

Our members are at the heart of what we do. That may seem like “stating the bleedin’ obvious”, but in many membership organisations there can be a gulf between members and management.  One of my key drivers as Chair is to make sure we keep that value at the forefront of all our work, so that everything we do shows value and supports the work of our (paying) members.   

Having open-ness as one of our core values has allowed us to operate and report really  effectively over the past three years.  We are sharing an ever growing set of resources with our members and beyond. At the same time the human aspect of our community continues to thrive through the work of our member groups, now working so well together through the ALT Assembly, and of course our conferences/events, blog, journal and mailing list. 

What is particular satisfying for me is that our open business model is something that has evolved and grown without us ever having to debate the value or risk of openness.  Through our working openly our staff benefit, our community benefits and it is providing us with a really secure foundation layer for our next strategy, the next 3 years and beyond.   

#altc 2019 – reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT (5)

Picture by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology \r\rALT conference 2019 , Edinburgh.\rDay two – Wednesday 4th September.\r\

This is my second post reflecting on ALTs annual conference which was held last week at the University of Edinburgh. It is also the fifth in my open leadership series, where I share and reflect on my role of Chair of the Association.

Our annual conference is, as they say, quite a big deal. It’s the largest event we put on every year.  It is our main income generator and more importantly it is the point in the year where our community come together to share their research and practice. It’s a place for celebration for inspiration, for conversation, questions, critique and reflection.  Although the conference co-chairs provide the main leadership for the actual conference, the Board of Trustees has a role in selecting the successful bids for co-chairs and ensuring that the planning of the conference goes to plan. 

In terms of formal leadership and Association business, the conference is where we hold our AGM (the link takes you to all papers and reports from the AGM which are openly available). During the AGM here Board, led by myself, our President (Martin Weller) and Honorary Treasurer ( Daniel Clark) report back to our community through our annual report on the work and finances of the Association. Once again the Association has made great progress over the past year which is detailed in our annual report, and our finances are in a healthy position. Part of the role of the Chair is to take a lead in the writing of the annual report and support our CEO in ensuring that our annual report and finances meet our strategic objectives. Thanks to clear strategic objectives, a very hard working team, and in particular Maren’s leadership as CEO, and a supportive community, the writing of the annual report is actually one of the highlights of year. This year, following our keynote Jessie Stommel’s lead Martin, Daniel and I decided just to sit on the stage – despite appearances we didn’t break into song!

Picture by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology \r\rALT conference 2019 , Edinburgh.\rDay two – Wednesday 4th September.\r\

Our AGM is also where we announce the results of our Trustee elections. This year I was delighted to welcome Sharon Flynn and Natalie Lafferty to the Board of Trustees and to announce that Keith Smyth is our new Vice Chair.  I also want to thank outgoing Trustees Sarah Sherman and Nic Whitton for their valuable contribution to the Association.

Our CMALT ceremony is now becoming a regular, celebratory end to the AGM. I was delighted to be able to personally congratulate 20 new CMALT holders.  It is fantastic to see our CPD scheme continuing to grow and our new pathways of Associate and Senior CMALT gain traction.

We also held a face to face meeting of the ALT Assembly, which will be a staple part of the conference from now on. During the Assembly meeting we launched the consultation phase for our new strategy, and shared the many ways we are encouraging participation from our members and the wider community. So if you have any thoughts on where and what areas ALT should be developing and supporting please share them here.

The conference lasts 3 days, however the planning for it really does take 362 days. A huge amount of work is done by our core team (which I have to remind people is very, very small –  just 6 people – not all full time). Working with the venue to ensure we have the right space, tech, catering, accommodation and working with our sponsors takes up a lot of time.

Thanks also need to go to our conference co-chairs who ensured that their decisions around the conference themes and their choice of  keynote speakers set just the right tone for the event.  Of course, we need to thank our volunteer conference committee (100+ members this year), who once  again put in a huge amount of time reviewing papers and during the conference chairing sessions. Again, being involved in the conference committee is not only really fun and interesting, it is a great way to support the community and your own personal development.

This post is a very public way for me to to say a huge thank you to everyone who was part of the organisation of this year’s conference, as well as to all the delegates, presenters and keynotes who once again made the event such a success.

As well as the formal business of the Association, the conference is a point for celebration of our community. This culminates in our Learning Technologist of the Year Awards. This year we once again had a superb quality of entries across all the categories. And once again, huge congratulations to all our winners, they really do exemplify the diversity and richness of research and practice carried out by everyone involved in supporting learning technology. If you are involved in a great project, or a great team, then get working on your application for next year. Remember lots of senior managers love award winners!

This year we also awarded an honorary life membership to Frances Bell who has, and continues to, make a huge contribution to the ALT community and many other communities including FemEdTech

Picture by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology \r\rALT conference 2019 , Edinburgh.\rDay two – Wednesday 4th September.\r\

For me, the conference is where I get to meet our members, I have so many good friends in the community, it does really feel like coming home wherever the conference is being held. It’s also really important for me to speak to members and delegates I don’t know and I had many really engaging conversations with delegates. 

Picture by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology

As well as my formal ALT role, the conference is a key place for me to share my current work and practice. I was involved in 2 sessions this year, one with Keith Smyth around our recent book, and one with Stuart Nicol on the staff development resource for supporting online teaching we are developing for the University of Edinburgh. I’ve always found ALT conferences a really useful place to share my work and get honest feedback from my peers. It’s a really supportive atmosphere, and I think a really good space for those who are new to conference presentations to share their work.  

Community is at the heart of ALT, and really at the heart of my leadership of the organisation, so being part of the conference and being with so many members of our community really is a very special time for me.   It’s exhilarating but also quite exhausting – in a good way of course. As I enter the final year of my time as Chair, I’m already looking forward to next year in London. 

#altc 2019 – data, dialogue, doing and lining up our ducks . . .

image: Sheila MacNeill

Another year, another successful ALT-C.  Last week 471 congregated at the magnificent McEwen Hall at the University of Edinburgh for our annual conference. With all the keynotes, and all the sessions in McEwen Hall being lived streamed many more were able to openly join the conference, and you can still catch up with the sessions here

This is the first of two posts I hope to write about the conference. This is more a personal reflection of my reactions to the dialogue over the conference.

It’s always tricky, if not impossible to summarise a conference – particularly one as large as ALT-C. However, for me, there were some key themes that weaved in and out of the keynote, the presentations (tales of doing)  the dialogue at the conference and online. 

There was a focus on data from the first two keynotes, particularly around our access to it and our attitudes towards the perceived payback/usefulness of just accepting terms and conditions (mea culpa, more often than not I do not read them – so a bit note to self for me was to try and not blindly accept them) .  

We as a community also need to be better at informing and leading the sector in developing relevant procurement procedures that ensure that the systems we use in our institutions are transparent about their data use.  All of the keynotes all gave us some hope about the positive aspects of technology around joy, curiosity and the power of play and networking.   Hats off to Ollie Bray for raising the level of interactivity in a keynote and getting c400 people building lego ducks in 40 seconds. But I want to reflect on another aspect of metaphorically lining our our ducks.

Ensuring our staff and students really understand about data use is an increasingly important and urgent issue.  Whilst the education sector does have a duty of care in terms of the technology systems it uses, it also needs to ensure that the curriculum(s) it supports also include opportunities for students and staff jointly to critique and understand how data is used and often abused.  GDPR alone will not “solve” this.  In many ways I think it can just make institutions more risk averse.

 Unsurprisingly Turnitin data did create quite a bit of dialogue, particularly in Jessie Stommel’s keynote.  I think this just exemplifies the problems we have with technology. leadership, decision making and linking educational technology purchases back to learning and teaching.  Turnitin has (and still is to an extent) perceived as the solution to plagiarism. Having that perception of a solution I am sure continues to ensure that many institutions pay for it. However that security is based on a totally false premise. Technology will not/can not solve plagiarism – changing human behaviour (through changing modes of assessment) just might.   But the realities, and media hype around essay mills, education being broken, grade inflation all work towards the perceived need for a technological solution.

Conference co-chair Melissa Highton and ALT CEO Maren Deepwell published a post on WonkHE entitled Educational technology is political and we need professionals to make it work. Whilst agreeing with the articles premise of needing to support learning technology professionals to be at the heart of educational technology decision making, there is a wider political context that we need to address. 

The myths and realities around education – learning styles, plagiarism, exams getting easier etc emerge and are perpetuated by our political and Political contexts.  During the conference Lorna Campbell highlighted Carole Cadwalladr’s excellent TedTalk around the abuse of data and the scale of misinformation channelled through Facebook in the Brexit referendum. I’m not sure how I missed seeing this when it came out. I’m tempted to blame biased algorithms but my own social media censorship may also have played a part.

The talk describes the destruction of democratic rules through the lack of accountability of spending, of content ( much of which was downright lies) that the campaign got away with. There is no openly available trace of the adverts or the accounting of the actual cost of them. Mark Zuckerberg refuses to face UK parliamentary Committee questioning (and many other similar situations across Europe).  

The normalisation of this type of social media manipulation continues with the current UK government. Boris Johnston talks to “the people” directly via Facebook – with no right to reply or clarity on how questions are chosen. The “liberal elite”, and investigative journalists are seen as an inconvenience, a threat to democracy but our Prime Minister and his special advisor. The wheels within wheels of power, funding stretch across the globe with frighteningly right wing shared values and ambitions. 

This context has a huge impact on education.  This weekend Joi Ito resigned from the MIT Media Lab in the wake of the Jeffery Epstein sex scandal. It turns out there was knowledge of Mr Epstein’s criminal behaviour, but when a white man has lots of money there does seem to be a tendency not to ask to many questions and just look the other way.  Ah, dear reader, it was ever thus, I hear you say . . . that doesn’t make it right, or mean that it has to continue to be like that.

There was a quite a bit of dialogue around justice in the conference, social justice in education in particular.  The whole Epstein MIT Media lab scandal leads me to think about decolonising the curriculum and the “reparative justice” that the University of Glasgow took a lead in last year. Only 200 or so years later the University is finally addressing the fact that much of its funding came directly from the slave trade – despite many alumni of the time fighting to make it illegal.  

We can’t take 200 years to address the political context we are living in.  Quoting  Paulo Friere we all need to ensure that we are challenging and changing what needs to be challenged and changed. We, in education need to  ensure that our students, our colleagues, our leaders are doing just that. We also need communities like ALT to continue to provide spaces for community dialogue to continue, to allow us to line our ducks up to address these challenges. Particularly when you see quotes from commercial educational providers like this.

Open Leadership – reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT (4) #altc

In this, the fourth post sharing my reflections and experiences of being the Chair of ALT I’m going share a bit more around strategy development.

alt strategy graphic - greater than the sum of our parts

Having a clear, meaningful and attainable strategy is key to the success of any organisation. However, I’m sure we have all at time experienced the gap between visions outlined in strategies and the realities of day to day practice. Some strategic aims can be so vague in aspiration that they are almost meaningless.

With ALT having such a small core team it is vital that our strategic goals are really SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timebased). It is the job of the Board and the Chair in particular to ensure that the organisational strategy does actually represent and meanigfully articulate the needs and aspirations of the membership as well as provide realistic targets for development.

Our current 3 year strategy lifecycle ends in 2020, so we are now making plans for the development of a new strategy. I was Vice Chair when the current strategy was developed. At that time the Board were very keen that the strategy represented the views of the membership. So the Association created multiple ways for members to contribute to its development. I co-led with the then Chair (and now President), Martin Weller, a series of community webinars to get views and feedback from our members. I found these sessions, and all the other inputs shared by members, invaluable as a way of really understanding members views and needs. Some of them we could easily integrate into the strategy, others were out of scope.

These sessions were followed by a facilitated session for the Board of Trustees by Bryan Mathers (Visual Thinkery). In this session we discussed the findings from the community consultations, our own views and those of ALT staff. The visual record of the session was invaluable in terms of bringing focus and a distillation to the wide ranging discussions. It made the writing of the strategy that bit easier, and also allowed an opportunity for us to work with Bryan to develop a really strong visual identity for the strategy, which has we have used to create an open resource that clearly explains who we are, what we do and why we do it

The current strategy has been a really active and useful document that all the work of the association is measured by and related to. As Chair, I cannot stress how important it has been in terms of guiding my leadership. It has been incredibly satisfying to see the Association grow and flourish over the past 3 years, and that has largely been down to having such a strong, concise strategy that all our work directly relates to, and stems from.

Developing the new ALT strategy will very much be my legacy, as my term as Chair will end in September 2020. The process will start at our annual conference in September this year. Of course with the ALT Assembly up and running now, it will play a core role the consultation process this time around. I am really looking forward to developing our next strategy with our members firmly at the heart of the process.

Open Leadership – reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT (3) #altc

In this my third post sharing my reflections on being the Chair of ALT I’m going to look at one of the most important governance functions of any Board of Trustees – finance, audits and accountability.  

Last week I chaired the second Board meeting of the year, and for part of it we were joined by our external auditor, Nicola Cadwallader, who ran us through the findings of her interim audit.  

Meeting with Nicola and having the opportunity to discuss in more detail her role as auditor and the wider obligations ALT has as part of its charitable status was a really worthwhile experience for all the Trustees.

Although Daniel Clark our Honorary Treasurer has considerable accounting experience, it is key responsibility for any Board, and particularly the Chair, to ensure that they understand fully the financial environment in which their organisations operates. As the Chair,  I need to ensure the financial integrity of the Association on behalf of our members.  

An interim audit is not necessary for an organisation the size  of ALT, however I think that it is a very worthwhile exercise.  As we have recently moved all our key financial systems online we need to ensure that everything is working and our process are robust. This year’s interim audit has clearly illustrated that ALT is on a sound financial footing. 

Nicola also explained to us the role of any auditor in terms of their wider commitment around reporting any issues to the Charity Commission. Given ALTs turnover, we aren’t  legally bound  to undertake an external financial audit. However, all of the Board agreed that it was essential that we did continue with regular audits to give our members reassurance that their money is being used wisely and appropriately to support the mission and values of the Association.

It was pleasing to see from the draft report that in our first year of operations as an independent virtual organisation our financial procedures are robust and our projected income and expenditure are firmly on track.  

There are small areas for improvement, which with Nicola’s advice we will be able to implement.  The accounts  will be submitted as part of our annual report during the AGM at our annual conference in September and then will be openly available via our website.

ALT, like all organisations with charitable statues abides by the rules of the UK Charity Commission, and every year our accounts are uploaded onto the Charity Commission website.

screen shot from Charity commision website

From the visualisations on the site (which btw are in flash, so maybe that needs to be updated!) you can see that ALTs finance have been very stable for the past three years, and long may that continue.