Reflections on ALE2011

The university aspect

I went to ALE2011 looking for a chance to meet and talk to like-minded practioners, thinking that I would come home with more ideas to use in my teaching. Although I knew it was an unconference and I’d been to a few Scotland BarCamps a few years ago, and found them useful, this was so much more useful for me, as well as for those I met too. That’s why I look forward to next year too.

It probably comes back to the self-selection issue. We all choose to go to ALE2011, knowing that we’d probably need to do a lightning talk for five minutes on a topic we could share with others. This made all of us realise that we could share something, and also learn something from the others.

While I wanted to go and share my understanding of agile and lean at the university, or at least my experience and perception of it, I did wonder how many would turn up for my talk after my talk was accepted. I was happy to see a nice turn out for my view on what universities should be offering for agile and lean in computing/informatics departments, what you can do to improve on the basics, and what those who want to bring the universities into the discussion of agile and lean can do to get this started. Thanks to all of you who came, and for those who offered apologies for not coming (I would’ve gone to one of the others too if I could have). All of this was good.

I also found it even better when it was suggested we do an open space session together on the topic of ALE university to pull together an action plan, and found people came. This was great, some where others who’d not made it to my talk. Then it got better: people talked to me during the breaks about the topic and wanted to know what they could do, and suggested ways to help. This was awesome. Here I was, someone who teaches others how to be practitioners, amongst a group of very capable practitioners, getting asked for help. This was new. This was fun.

And it continues with some of us continuing on the idea of getting more universities involved with the notion of an ALE University day at some point in the future. I’m interested to see where this can go, and what impact we’ll have.

The other parts

ALE2011 only had selected talks in the morning. These were all good and for the 25 minutes we each had, more than enough to cover the topic. Afternoons were filled with lightning talks and then open space discussions with seven or eight of these in parallel for three or four hours until dinner time. Lightning talks are when you get in the queue of people wanting to talk, and when your turn of three minutes comes up, you get on stage and do your talk. Three minutes of fame – and some of these sparked open space talks later which was also neat to see.

The open space sessions were organised by everyone – some 200+ people – saying what they wanted to offer and putting a sheet of paper with the topic on the timetable picking a time which suited them. This was amazing to watch as the forty or fifty slots for the afternoon filled up in a matter of minutes as people said what they wanted to share and learn more about from other people. The power of self-selection by the participants showing that everyone who was there had something to share, as well as something deeper they wanted to gather from others too. This is a very simple, but powerful idea, which should be used more often.

The unexpected joys of meeting people

I knew it would be good to meet people in real life, whom I only knew via twitter, or email and coursework in the case of a software project management student attending. What I didn’t appreciate until I started talking to them all though was how well we already knew each other from the interaction we’d already had through twitter. Sure, you follow some people and have the comment and reply dance now and then, plus maybe some DMs with a smaller circle of people too. However, I found here some of the people I’d possibly interacted with more than I had appreciated. The result was just breathtaking. Here were people I’d shared discussions, asked questions of, and gotten answers too, plus offered some of my own. It was like the old high school friend you’d not seen for ages, but pick up right were you left off, when you meet again. The diffence was that we’d still had those conversations hours, days, or weeks before via twitter and email. This was an unexpected joy from the conference. Now instead of a tweet and a reply later in the day, we could chat during the breaks or over a meal, or a beer. It was great hearing and sharing stories. It was also really nice to be able to just join in any conversation and take part, no matter who was there. It didn’t matter if they were a big name person, or a fellow learner. We were all equal ‘because we share’ as the motto of the conference shows. I look forward to doing it again. Maybe I can even get the whole family there too, as some did for the spouse and kids programme. That would be awesome and they could see what I do.

Lessons to remember

From the talks I attended these are the things I need to remember to do more of, because I’m not doing enough yet:

Reflect on what I’m reading, hearing and doing as part of the reflection cycle. I’ve this blog, so I should use it.

Do more thinking with my hands as part of a team, and find ways to have students do more of this too. The Lego in the office should be used more regularly as I see it.

Integrate more agile and lean practices into the curriculum of my courses, and see if I can’t get others to do the same.

Keep in touch with more people more regularly via Google+ and LinkedIn and not just focus on Twitter. There are lots of useful ways to share ideas and make the work easier by sharing it out, so I should get better at using them.

As someone said, we need to do more practicing of what we ask others to do, so that we can lead by example.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on ALE2011

  1. Olaf Lewitz

    Bruce,
    Thank you for sharing your impressions. Especially the way Twitter amplifies greatly the experience of (un-)conferences resonates strongly with me.
    Thank you for being part of it and contributing so much.
    Take care
    Olaf

  2. Franck Depierre

    Hi Bruce,

    Thank you for the open session we made about ALE university. Your thoughts about twitter before the conference and our shared experiences during the AEL2011 are really important to me.

    Have fun and see you in one month around ALE University.
    Franck.

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