Maren Deepwell is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology

Maren Deepwell, chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology, outlines cutting edge ideas being debated at the organisation’s 19th annual conference.

Every school, college and university student needs to acquire the problem-solving skills and techniques software engineers use to write their programs if they are to succeed in later life, according to Aaron Sloman, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Birmingham.

He will outline his thinking and latest research at our 19th annual conference, A confrontation with reality, in Manchester which starts today. He argues that so far, the debate around the need for “computational thinking” has focused on the failure of UK education to equip young people with skills for work in IT-related jobs.

Current discussions are all about nurturing high-calibre application developers, “ignoring the need to educate outstanding scientists and thinkers, including philosophers, who need to learn new, computationally informed, ways of looking at old things, such as behaviours of microbes, insects, toddlers and economies.”

It would be simpler to shelve such arguments as belonging to others, somewhere else. But in fact our teachers and learners need to face these issues now in order to gain maximum advantage from these developments.

With the start of a new academic year FE providers across the country are entering a period of heightened activity, delivering inductions to a new intake of learners. Just as the new FE and Skills Under Secretary, Matthew Hancock needs to build on his predecessor John Hayes’ legacy, while shaping things for a new future, so teachers must marry the best of the old and the new, as Sloman suggests.

The skills and experiences that this year's intake will gain over the course of their time in FE are likely to shape their futures. First and foremost the people who facilitate their learning and development will make all the difference to those uncertain of their path seeking to find out what their potential is. To have an inspiring teacher, effective administrator, skilful technician or encouraging principal makes all the difference to our lives regardless of when in our learning journey we encounter them.

Technology is one of the key tools that we all have to get to grips with. Whether it is an effective institutional policy, innovative course design or individual project, the skills and understanding to use technology effectively is key. The ability to deliver an effective strategy for technology in learning and teaching however cannot be arrived at in isolation.

Confronting the reality of having to deliver more for less to a diverse body of learners is a challenge indeed. Which is why this year's annual conference of the ALT has taken this as its main theme with individual conference strands focusing on problem solving, openness and sharing, entrepreneurialism, mainstreaming and sustainability.

A host of specialist and invited speakers will focus on new developments, practical and intellectual. For example, James Clay, ILT and Learning Resources Manager, Gloucestershire College, will look at the impact of tablet computers and how they are being used right now for supporting and enhancing learning and teaching. And in a fascinating study of a world where “old technology meets the new”, Steve Bunce, Regional Leader for The Open University, North East, Yorkshire and Humber, will show how teaching school children the ancient craft of knitting can develop programming skills in the computer scientists of the future.

The aim of the conference is to enable practitioners, researchers and policy makers to share ideas, discuss issues and network with each other. With over 20 countries represented ALT-C will also allow us to get a better sense of the global development of technology in learning and teaching, getting maybe a glimpse of what the future holds - and how that can benefit our learners who are starting their first term this September.

All conference publications are freely available online at http://www.alt.ac.uk/alt-conference/alt-c-2012/conference-publications. We would also like to encourage participation online, particularly if you are unable to attend in person. For more information see

Maren Deepwell is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), an independent membership charity whose mission is to ensure that use of learning technology is effective and efficient, informed by research and practice, and grounded in an understanding of the underlying technologies and their capabilities, and the situations into which they are placed

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