ALT-C 2009 represented all that is both good and bad about conferences. On the minus side: overpriced, environmentally damaging and some shockingly bad presentations. The prevailing air of depression concerning the financial future didn't help either. This doesn't tell you much about ALT-C 2009 - the same problems apply to most big conferences. After two disappointing keynotes from Michael Wesch (Oh well, whatever, nevermind), and the new Vice Chancellor of the Open University, Barack O'Bean (What's your name? Hello Debbie), the lowest point came on the last day with the infamous I wouldn't blog in a million years incident. Why disappointing? When I invest the amount of time and money it takes to get to ALT-C, I want to come away with ideas that will change my working practices, as I have at past ALT conferences.
Fortunately, the event was redeemed by Terry Anderson's keynote address which contained an elegant exposition of individuals, groups and networks in education. Groups are necessary but not sufficient for quality learning - because groups are limited and inward looking, they eventually consume themselves. That's why Ning and VLEs are a bad thing (for learning, although fine for administration). Networks are open and outward-facing, ultimately the only route to sustainable learning. And of course, ALT-C was one of the rare occasions where I meet some of the more distant nodes on my network face to face. In addition, I was extremely proud of my Leicester colleagues as I felt the quality and evidence-based nature of our presentations stood out.
If you still feel you missed something, everything is archived in the Friendfeed Group (apart from the f2f interaction).
When I arrived in Birmingham for the Centre for Bioscience Reps meeting, I was very tired and frankly not looking forward to it. In spite of my phenomenal performance in the pub quiz (in which our team "We look up to Jon really" was robbed), it wasn't until Friday morning that the buzz kicked in. Why? Because individuals innovate, not institutions, and on Friday morning you could watch the network emerge from this group of self-selected innovators.
I don't want to talk about tools (and I'm not going to mention Twitter ;-) but I left feeling that there was some hope. Let's hope the networks take over when the conferences end.