As part of ALT’s 30th celebrations, there are some posts looking back to ALT-C’s of the past. I’ve chosen 2018, although it was not a great conference for me personally, an alternative title for this post might be “when life gets in the way of conferencing”.
It was a memorable conference for ALT, as it was their 25th anniversary. As a special conference it was chaired by the then President (me!) and Chair (Sheila MacNeill), and with Maren as one of the keynotes. It took place at the University of Manchester, which is a great venue, but, and this will become relevant, not particularly easy to access from Cardiff where I live. Leading up to the conference I had used the idea of celebrating 25 years of learning technology to do my 25 Years of Ed Tech blog series. I started this just for fun, but the idea came later to develop it into a book (we await the film rights being optioned). Without the conference I wouldn’t have thought of the blog series, and without the blog series I wouldn’t have written the book, and without the 25 Years book, I probably wouldn’t have written the Metaphors book. So I have a lot to thank that conference for (you might wish to blame it).
We had a great keynote lineup with Maren, Amber Thomas, and just before she went superstar, Tressie MacMillan Cottom. I had invited Tressie as we knew each other a bit from a previous conference and hanging around with Audrey Watters. I didn’t think we’d get her, so was delighted when she said yes, and I got to introduce her. We also had a fantastic gasta session hosted with gusto by Tom Farrelly as always, with Clint Lalonde’s presentation “When I grow up I want to be a learning technologist” talk a personal favourite.
To celebrate the 25 Years angle I had created a 1993 playlist (which was open to others to add to), which was played during the gala dinner. Sadly though, I was not present to witness this spotified triumph, which brings me onto my personal tale of “life getting in the way”. At the time I had a dog called Bruno, a 14 year old Staffie. He had survived two strokes, was largely blind, deaf and going senile. Although I mostly worked at home he was accustomed to me going away and always seemed to cope with it fine. Because ALT-C takes place in early September, I probably hadn’t put him with a dog minder since June and hadn’t really noticed an increased decline over the past few months.
The conference started on Tuesday and on Monday I dropped him off at the regular dog minders to head up to Manchester. As I was stepping onto the train I got a call from the dig minder saying Bruno was just howling in distress. I abandoned the journey and went to pick him up. Bless him, he was just walking round in circles, weeing and moaning. The result was that I got my dog walker to come in twice a day to sit with him (he was perfectly happy at home whether I was there or not, as he was familiar with the smells). I commuted from Cardiff to Manchester and back on the Tuesday to do the opening and again on the Wednesday to do the AGM, so I could be at home during the evening and night. I do not recommend Cardiff-Manchester as a daily commute.
Luckily Maren and Sheila took up the slack and covered for me, but it’s an example of how face to face conferences require a complex support system (earlier in my life it had been child care). When that fragile system goes wrong it can go wobbly. In some ways you could see this small example as a forerunner of issues that arose when the pandemic hit and we couldn’t meet physically. It was also an indication that Bruno was in rapid decline and he passed away a few weeks later.
So ALT-C 2018, a great celebration of everything the Association had achieved, an excellent line-up, but a personally tricky one to negotiate. This macro and micro perspective was a good reminder of this duality for all conferences and all attendees.