Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


A story of connection and disconnection around #ALTC

I was very aware of the ALT-C conference on 8-10 September even though I was not a registered delegate. For a start, it was in Manchester, just down the road from me. I used to be a regular attender at ALT-C and over the years have given workshops, organised symposia, reviewed abstracts and research papers and promoted the new format in the weeks leading up to the abstract submission date. I even made a short ‘Introduction to Manchester’ speech on crutches at ALT-C 2009 🙂

I thought about submitting for ALT-C 2015 but since I have retired and have to fund my rare conference attendances from my own pocket, I couldn’t justify the expense. I am saving up for Networked Learning 2016 and will hope to attend ALT-C at some time in the future.

Maha Bali whom I ‘met’ on Rhizo14 kindly invited me to meet for coffee on Tuesday 8 September, and I was lucky enough to meet Ash Shaw, Suzan Koseoglu and Rebecca Hogue (all of whom I had previously known online) in a hotel café. Whilst I was there Maha and Rebecca ran one of their ‘Virtually Connecting’ sessions. I didn’t join in (except to wave at the end). I was in the background playing with Maha’s lovely daughter and chatting with Susan and Ash when they weren’t in the session. Susan and I then travelled together to Manchester Piccadilly on the hopper bus (the long route) and had a lovely talk before we each got our trains home. Another Rhizo14er Sarah Honeychurch who was at ALT-C took exception to the Virtually Connecting sessions as they intruded on the ‘real connections’ of their group meeting at ALT-C in person.

John Rylands Reading Room by Gillie Rhodes CC BY-NC 2.0

John Rylands Reading Room by
Gillie Rhodes
CC BY-NC 2.0

Because I was already coming into Manchester for this meetup, I arranged to meet up earlier with Peter Shukie at the John Rylands Library. We sorted out various things over coffee and lunch, gossiped , and then Peter interviewed me as part of his PhD research. In between coffee and lunch we went into the magnificent reading room in John Rylands. We sat quietly opposite each other (no Internet) at this lovely table, Peter reading and writing, me with scissors and sticky tape, reconstructing an overlong article. So I missed Steve Wheeler’s keynote on Tuesday morning.

On Wednesday morning, I was working on the reconstructed paper and dropped into #altc on Twitter where I came across a rather odd conversation between Fred Garnett and Bob Harrison. I think that Bob was joking but his comments did leave rather a sour taste, as he seemed to imply that contribution to ALT was about attending ALT-C as a delegate.

Bob Harrison tweet

Bob Harrison tweet

I am not sure that ALT see it entirely like that though I realise that ALT-C must be a significant income stream, as well as an excellent networking event. Bob’s comments gave me pause for thought as I wondered what ALT and I do for each other. ALT give generously with webinars, seminars, SIGs and make the conference accessible at some level to hashtag attenders like me, with streamed and recorded keynotes and other talks. I loved Jonathan Worth’s keynote and having caught the tail end of Laura Czerniewycz’s, I now want to start at the beginning and watch it through.

I pay my annual subscription to ALT and review articles for Research in Learning Technology; I have served as journal co-editor and on committees so I do think that contribution to ALT is about more than attending the conference in person.

I have watched over the years as ALT have experimented with conference amplification and I am pretty impressed with the balance they have achieved of giving conference delegates a good experience whilst including the wider ALT diaspora as they can.

So I disagree with Bob – I think I can play a part in ‘shaping the future’ even if I don’t attend ALT-C every year.

As I was writing this story, I was thinking about my recent reading and writing on theorising ‘disconnective practice’:

we have to disconnect in some way in order to make the connections we want to emphasise at a particular point in time feasible Light(2014).

Disconnection and connection are implied in each other even though connection seems to get all the props.

Light, B., 2014. Disconnecting with social networking sites.


francesbell • September 14, 2015

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  1. Nomad War Machine September 14, 2015 - 5:55 pm Reply

    Hi Frances

    It was not just being stopped from spending time with my small group that I objected to – I object to the whole idea of attending a conference and spending the time talking to folk virtually rather than using the opportunity to actually meet attendees. It’s a matter of timing – the online stuff can happen any time, the physical can’t. I think it’s daft not to try and take as much advantage of that as I can. So I managed to meet with a whole lot of folk who I previously only knew virtually – something I felt that the vConnecting stuff was trying to pull me away from. I was also pretty (very) upset that I kept hearing that there was going to be a vConnecting session which I was expected to be part of – although nobody had bothered to tell me about it and it clashed with a meeting that I could not miss. As well as networking and meeting a lot of my “virtual” friends, I had work commitments to fulfil at the conference – such as attending an official ALT meeting while you and the others were meeting at the hotel, and other meetings I had arranged with delegates to talk about work related stuff. So I don’t think that I was being petty to not want to be part of vConnecting.

    (In fact I did attend one session, because the presentation I had promised to attend (by a work colleague) was so busy that I left the room in order that others could squeeze in. Well, when I say attended, actually I sat on the sofa knitting – it was not possible to join in as there were too many folk on site trying to crowd round a small screen – and it was the keynote that the online folk were there to talk to. But that’s by the by.)

  2. francesbell September 14, 2015 - 6:10 pm Reply

    I don’t think I said you were being petty Sarah. I included a link to your post because I read it for the first time today – and I was interested in the different approaches that people take – a multiplicity:)
    I met Maha at her invitation at a time when I don’t think she was even registered for the conference, and it was a bonus to meet the others.
    It was interesting for me to reflect on the different online and face to face (dis)connections I experienced around ALTC without even attending it.

  3. Sheila MacNeill (@sheilmcn) September 14, 2015 - 6:27 pm Reply

    Hi Frances. Love this post as it illustrates so clearly the increasing fuzziness between online and face 2 face connections, contributions and inclusion. The conference is as you point out a significant income generator for the self funded member organisation and I agree the streaming and tweets do help lots of people who can’t attend and even those of us lucky enough to be there in person. You’ll always be a part of this community to me.


  4. francesbell September 14, 2015 - 6:37 pm Reply

    Awww! thanks Sheila. I do feel part of ALT and that’s why Bob’s comment gave me pause for thought. I have been thinking more about this since I read the post, and I feel quite strongly about ALT’s reach. I know how hard it is for lecturers and teachers to get funding and leave to attend ALT – it always clashed with exam boards for me and my HoD never paid my fee – I had to pay it from money I brought in. So one of the impacts of the amplified conference is extension of reach. I passed on a link to Jonathan Worth’s keynote to a Oz academic today as I could see that her students were working on media ethics.

  5. CogDog September 14, 2015 - 9:31 pm Reply

    As much as it is for newspapers and publishers, membership organizations are needing to evolve new dorsal fin (bad analogy). Years ago, when we were both more spry, these organizations provided a needed element missing in the work we did, connecting us to colleagues. In my formative years in edtech, there was almost no one in my work organization doing work like I did.

    But the ability to connect with like minded colleagues is something we do now through so many other means, so the primary purpose of a membership organization ought to be shifting. To what, I do not know, but the primary benefit of being able to connect with like colleagues is a thin one at best. And I say this at having worked for 5 years at a membership organization, often feeling like the benefit was a tad oversold.

    Being in a similar position of making conference attendance done as either via an invite to speak or the one a year I may choose to self fund, I have to say that the pricing is completely upside down if you want to be able to have a larger body of attendees than dues payers.

    I laid it out before as “Conferences by the Numbers” (there are chicken references for some reason)

    but as you know well, being self employed beings underwriting travel, lodging, non-member registration AND time spent away where you are not doing billable work. As opposed to your employer paying the fees, and collecting a salary, the costs o attending are some inconvenience not time away from home, almost nothing is paid out of pocket.

    I’ve little expectation this would change, but I’d say most people who get this benefit have no clue as to how good a perk it is. I will commend conferences like the Modern Language Association I attended last year as having a sliding registration fee scale for students and not employed.

    If the purpose of the conference is to also bring in money for the organization, that’s one thing. If it is to advance the field, it’s certainly another.

    Pass me a plate of that chicken, please (and wow, that is one gorgeous work table)

    • francesbell September 17, 2015 - 12:08 pm Reply

      It is a gorgeous work table isn’t it and it helped me to reconstruct my article.
      I can’t speak for ALT but I do respect its work in delivering value to members and more broadly by the open access elements such as webinars like and the journal It also benefits from free labour and support from many who contribute reviews, articles in the journal and newsletter, contributions to webinars, serve on committees, etc. Having said all of that, I think that face to face networking is important at conferences, and I feel privilege to have attended many different conferences over the years. One of things they can do so powerfully is expose delegates to new ideas that they may have never encountered through talking to ‘like-minded people’. ALT Conferences have always been a spawning ground for different and self-organised events like F-ALT a fringe event that took place at several conferences and now vconnecting. Sometimes the best networking is done by missing a session and exploring ideas over coffee.

  6. catherinecronin September 14, 2015 - 10:26 pm Reply

    I love this post, Frances – thanks for highlighting some things that need sunlight! Like many of us, it’s not easy for me to get to all-the-conferences. I am very often a virtual participant and make the most of those experiences, like you, via Twitter, live streams, blogs, etc. I view this kind of participation (on all of our parts) as a contribution to conferences rather than taking something away. When we amplify and broaden the conversation, increase the reach, ask more questions, doesn’t that improve the discourse? I think so. You and I had a few connections during ALTC last week that simply made my afternoon — I’m so glad you were there, in that space. So thank you 🙂

    Due to my own financial and time constraints, I only attended 2 of the 3 days of the conference. I’m sorry I didn’t have an extra day to visit you this time — I won’t let that happen again! (I hope we can visit the John Rylands Reading Room.) I’m trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to write my own blog post tonight, but I’m enjoying reading and responding to your post here, and to Alan’s post earlier, and, and… I suspect I’ll need to disconnect for an hour or so to finish my writing. The connect/disconnect dialectic, perhaps? I always enjoy your thoughts on this.

    In any case, the ALTC experience continues… and it’s free 😉 Thanks to you and to all.

    • francesbell September 17, 2015 - 12:21 pm Reply

      Thanks for your comment Catherine. I am getting a bit obsessed with the power of disconnection:) I think we first met face to face at Digifest at Salford a few years (or maybe ECE!! but I do think that interspersed face to face and network encounters are a good goal. I acknowledge the ‘realness’ of online connection but I would hate to see face to face events eliminated. I suppose you could argue that they are increasingly accessible only to the ‘privileged’ but am uneasy about a wholesale move to online. Many babies could be thrown out with the bathwater and I can guess who might gain and who might lose.
      Re John Rylands – watch out for my next post – you might like it.

  7. sensor63 September 14, 2015 - 10:42 pm Reply

    Hi Frances fortunately the shapes of the future don’t all depend on altc attendance. Look forward to a chat over tea 🙂 PS thanks for popping your head in to hangout in hotel – that was part of my altc experience 🙂

    • francesbell September 14, 2015 - 10:49 pm Reply

      You are easily pleased Simon! I’d love a chat over tea – could even bring my darling knitted tea cosy. Let’s make it happen:) let’s face it the Clavier Picnic I attended was not a huge success:)

  8. Taking a broader view at #ALTC | catherinecronin
  9. Rebecca J. Hogue September 16, 2015 - 1:07 am Reply

    Hi Frances,
    It was great to meet you in person. I like how your post talked about all the additional “connections” that happened as a result of your trip to Manchester to see Maha.
    Having not read or seen any of this before, we actually brought up the whole idea of ALTC not having an adjunct/underemployed or student rate for the conference. The expense was a real challenge for me – but then I’m not exactly the target audience for ALT. It is very UK centric, so my opinion is only worth what it costs, which is freely given!

    • Rebecca J. Hogue September 16, 2015 - 1:08 am Reply

      PS: Your website isn’t displaying right (sidebar is overlapping text) on Chrome or on mobile devices …

      • francesbell September 16, 2015 - 11:20 am Reply

        Thanks for that Rebecca. It looks OK on Chrome on my desktop and on Firefox on my Android phone. Off now to check the Android tablet – what tangled webs we weave:)

    • francesbell September 16, 2015 - 11:28 am Reply

      Thanks Rebecca;) ALT has already made a big commitment by making Research in Learning Technology ( ) an Open Access journal It must be difficult for ALT to decide on subsidies. I benefit from the reduced rate annual membership and though I could wish for a reduced rate conference fee, I can appreciate how that might impact on the finances.

      • Nomad War Machine September 16, 2015 - 12:43 pm Reply

        I’ve already raised the matter of adjunct/student/etc. rates to ALT for consideration for next year. Unfortunately I raised it too late for this year.

  10. Libraries in my life | Francesbell's Blog
  11. Sue Beckingham September 17, 2015 - 8:30 pm Reply

    As ever, online communication is a double edged sword. Whilst it opens so many wonderful opportunities to connect and communicate, in the process of doing so comments can so easily be misinterpreted and taken the wrong way or taken down an unintended path.

    That said my experience of #altc this year both online and off has been wonderful. Meeting online friends for the first time face to face, meeting friends of some of these people online via a vconnecting hangout, engaging in conversations with those virtually interacting through Twitter and everyone else I had the opportunity to meet and speak to added so much to the three days at the event, but also the before and ongoing conversations.

    I love the fact we stay connected online Frances both in the social sense and because I am always learning from you. You open my mind to new thinking. So thank you for writing this post and more in the future.

  12. francesbell September 17, 2015 - 9:17 pm Reply

    I have sensed a coming of age in ALT-C – a willingness to address the tough questions whilst retaining enthusiasm for the possibilities of tech. I only saw 2 of the keynotes (Jonathan Worth and Laura Czerniewcyz) and they certainly set the tone.
    I completely agree with what you say about misunderstanding and my feeling is that we have to create communication spaces and practices that are tolerant of misunderstandings and accommodate ways of recovering from them. I also think that assumptions and expressions of irredeemably positive experiences can make it more difficult to surface people’s difficulties and have opportunities to resolve them.
    I am so pleased that you had a good ALTC. Thanks so much for your kind words – and I likewise value my online connection to you Sue. I hope we can meet face to face sometime.

  13. Sue Beckingham September 17, 2015 - 9:31 pm Reply

    We did meet at ALT-C in 2010 at Nottingham 😉 You led a workshop in the huge lecture theatre. Best learning experience and one I’ve talked about ever since!

    • francesbell September 17, 2015 - 10:06 pm Reply

      Sorry I didn’t remember – it was a pretty intense session. By chance I tweeted about it today #serendipity

      • Sue Beckingham September 18, 2015 - 7:04 am Reply

        It was ‘intense’ but so much fun! As we grouped I met new people, and then through the activity we pooled ideas and learnt a lot. I don’t think we ever got our video on to the wiki but the process of creating was a really good experience. I was just one of a huge crowd as the session was so popular so don’t worry you didn’t know me 🙂 The four of you taught me a lot, so thank you.

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