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ALT-C 2005; Sharing experiences of the ELF and service oriented approaches

Christina Smart
Last modified 15 Sep, 2005
Published 15 Sep, 2005
Impressions from the Association of Learning Technology conference 2005 held in Manchester on the 6-8th September.

If there is a must in the meeting calendar for UK learning technologists – its ALT-C. This year's meeting, ‘Exploring the frontiers of e-learning: borders, outposts and migration’, was held at the University of Manchester and had a significant number of papers from e-Learning Programme projects.

In the architectures and infrastructures theme there was a lot of talk of service oriented architectures and approaches. Over the past year there have been a number of JISC funded projects developing web service toolkits and e-learning tools adopting a service oriented approach (s.o.a.), so this year’s conference was an opportunity to report on developments and share experiences.

Papers from the ASAP (Automated System for Assessment of Programming) project [1], the JISC Framework Scoping Study [2] and the ePet (ePortfolio Extension Toolkit) project [3] reported their experiences and considered the benefits and drawbacks of service oriented approaches. Project teams commented that there was a ‘lack of maturity’ in web service technology at the moment, which means that implementing services ‘creates a headache’ for systems administrators. James Orwell from ASAP commented: ‘I needed to be on first name terms with the systems administrators in my institution to get this project done.’ There was a consensus that tools were needed to simplify the implementation process for system administrators. However, Simon Cotterill from the ePet project added that the results were ‘worth the effort’.

Another session on Tuesday afternoon also focused on the e-Learning Framework (ELF). Sarah Holyfield opened the session with a paper titled `Why teachers need to get to grips with some deeply technical concepts – it’s time to get involved!' [4] Sarah gave an overview of web services and service oriented framework based on the Non technical guide to the e-learning framework published on this site. Sarah argued that the catch with this new approach is that teachers need to understand both the technology and how they teach, to be able to tell designers what they want a learning environment to be able to do.

The next paper gathered feedback and reactions to the framework [5]. There was a consensus that implementing s.o.a.s was complex and required a deep understanding of institutional processes and politics. Tom Franklin commented that it might still be ‘too early’ for the web service approach because open source and standards are still not a priority for institutional system support teams.

Sam Easterby-Smith gave an overview of the reference model projects, in particular FREMA, and XCRI and COVARM. These projects are doing some of the complex process modelling required to adopt web services. He showed some of the process diagrams that the course validation project had done which had proved very useful for the people managing the course validation process [6].

Tish Roberts gave an overview of the e-framework – which is a broadening out of the e-learning concept to the administration and research domains as well as working with like minded international organisations, such as Australia’s Department for Education, Science and Training (DEST) [6].

Frank Vercoulen presented a case study of taking a service oriented approach at Eindhoven University of Technology. Frank argued that in order to implement web services organisational units will need to manage processes rather than systems. And for that there will need to be clearer governance structures in universities [7].

There were many other papers relating to the e-Learning Programme. Mark Johnson gave a thought provoking paper on: ‘The Pedagogical effects of the JISC e-learning framework: a critical reality perspective.’[8] The Innovative practice with e-Learning Guide about the use of mobile and wireless technologies was launched at a workshop at the conference [9]. There was a report from the ‘Study into how learning technologies are influencing the design of physical learning spaces’ [10], as well as papers from various regional pilot projects.

On the final morning, Stephen Downes gave a very entertaining summary of the collaboration theme – with a heavy dose of his personal philosophies on collaboration and online communities [11]. A good summary of his talk by Derek Morrison can be found on the Auricle site [12].

Oleg Liber summarised the architectures and infrastructures theme emphasizing the benefits in flexibility of taking the service oriented approach.

Etienne Wenger gave an inspiring talk about his ‘communities of practice theory’ and how the interplay between identity, community, practice and meaning all contribute to learning [13].

With eight parallel sessions, it was impossible to go to everything and these are only the presentations that I managed to catch at ALT-C 2005 - there were many others I missed. If there was something interesting you think we should report, post a comment below or email us (

Abstracts and presentations for all the papers can be found at:


[1] RP 448: Automatic Assessment of Programming Assignments by Dr Christopher Douce, Mr David Livingstone, Dr James Orwell, Mr Steve Grindle, Dr Jo Wood, Dr Jane Curnock:

[2] SP 408: A Toolset for Managing Service Frameworks by Dr Hilary Dexter

[3] SP 582 ePortfolio interoperability: providing continuity and enhancing learning by Mr Simon Cotterill, Mr Paul Drummond, Mr Paul Hollands, Dr Tony McDonald, Mr Richard Moon, Mr John Moss, Mr John Snowden:

[4] SP 583 Why teachers need to get to grips with some deeply technical concepts - it's time to get involved! by Sarah Holyfield, Dr Christina Smart

[5] SP 581 Adopting JISC's technical framework for e-learning - What would this mean in reality? by Dr Christina Smart, Sarah Holyfield

[6] SP 617 Developing the JISC e-learning framework with open standards and open source tools by Mr Sam Easterby-Smith, Ms Tish Roberts

[7] SP 630 Toward service-oriented learning environments by Mr Frank Vercoulen

[8] SP 648 The Pedagogical effects of the JISC e-learning framework: a Critical Realist Perspective by Mr Mark Johnson

[9] W 508 Innovative practice with mobile and wireless technologies - how can these newer technologies make a difference to teaching and learning? by Mrs Sarah Knight, Mrs Ros Smith, Mr David Sudgen, Mr John Whalley, Mr Dan Corlett

[10] SP 454 Study into how learning technologies are influencing the design of physical learning spaces. by Mr Bob Hunter, Ms Toni Kelly

[11] Stephen Downes’ final ALT-C 2005 presentation

[12] Derek Morrison’s summary of Stephen Downes’ talk at ALT-C 2005, "Collaboration kills freedom?"

[13] Etienne Wenger’s Plenary at ALT-C 2005, `Learning, technology and community: a journey of the self.'


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