What I did in my School Holidays

Knitted Fishguard

Knitted Fishguard

It’s been a while since my last post.  Not good practice really, as others in my role will attest: Learning Technologists (LTs) – indeed, anyone who works in the online / eLearning / distance / mobile / blended learning or technology sector as a whole – will, ideally, keep a blog and update it at least once a week.  This does bother me, as I really don’t think I have enough of note to say on a weekly basis.  So, in a throwback to my 1970s schooldays, this post is called What I did in my School Holidays.  As you will have noticed.

It’s been a busy few months with a lot going on: my partner moved in (poor sod), my employers agreed to fund my Masters dissertation, making me both a student and a Registered University Teacher at Plymouth University (weird).  The two Schools I work for at Cardiff have formed as one new School, meaning lots of change happening very quickly.  Finally, my workload has grown massively – which is great.  I hate being bored.  At the moment I’m converting 2 of the School’s taught modules into online modules, looking at building some MOOC content for physiotherapy courses and, on a similar but wider scale, beta testing existing MOOC content available via FutureLearn in preparation for the university to author and offer its own MOOCs on the site.

Because of this busy period, this summer’s annual Technology Amnesty was a bit of a half-cocked affair.  Every year I like to switch off all technology for 2 weeks and release my inner Luddite.  It calms me, and feels very meditative to not have constant pings, beeps and electronic fanfares demanding my attention.  Last year’s two week holiday in Sweden and Denmark meant that the only device I took with me was my mobile phone and that was only so I could use the camera.  Everything else was switched off.  This summer was spent working, then spending a few days here and there travelling around Wales and the north of England, working for a few days then continuing the grand(ish) tour.  I tried to keep use of technology to a minimum, and when in the remotest parts of Wales this was easy.  However, there was a lot of stuff that I ‘needed’ to put on Facebook. Photos of Dylan Thomas’s house in Laugharne, the knitting bombs that adorned Fishguard, my response to the news that Peter Capaldi is going to be the next Doctor, my partner’s amazing harmonica playing in a Pembrokeshire-based pub band… all vital stuff.

New Year, New Questions

With summer on the wane and the new academic year looming, I met today with another LT based at the University (but part of a different college, so at a campus a few miles away).  She’s been working at the university for a year now, and is young, dynamic, proactive, and has more knowledge about coding, web design and technology in education in her little finger than I do in my whole body.  In order to save my ego, I will say that her career has been solely involved in technology within education, whereas I have concentrated more on teacher education and linguistics,  hence the gap in our skill sets.  I feel better having written that down (!)  Her previous role was as a Learning Technologist at Plymouth University, where the university’s LTs work as a team, each of them utilising their individual strengths and skills on single projects at a university-wide level. We talked at length about our roles, with our conversation providing me with an almost indigestible amount of food for thought.  It also threw up many questions, the first of which has made me feel a little uncomfortable:

  • Is what I’m currently and predominantly doing: taking pre-existing, paper-based materials, PowerPoint presentations and hand-outs usually delivered via lecture and turning them into Captivate and Xerte-based interactive, online materials really helping students to learn?
  • Should I instead talk to lecturing staff about how they can create and re-purpose digital content that enhances and aids learning and retention of information? Or is this the job of the School’s in-house IT Lecturers, who teach both students and colleagues how to use IT? Maybe I’ve gone in the wrong direction and turned myself into a digital sausage factory and I’m not doing the job properly?  That’s a scary thought….
  • …Linked to this, what are the boundaries of the role of Learning Technologist?
  • And linked to this: why are some LTs paid at an administrative scale and others at the academic scale?  Perhaps there needs to be a consensus about where LTs ‘sit’ in the university.  As we deal specifically with teaching and learning, should we all be considered academic?  Or is the role purely supportive and / or administrative?  I’m happy with either option – but I think clarity would make LTs feel more ‘settled’.
  • Why are we all working in isolation, busily re-inventing loads of wheels and not talking to (or as my meeting today will attest, set up as it was by a third party at JISC South Wales) or even aware one another – should we not have formed a Community of Practice that involves meeting, sharing ideas, methods, URLs and common issues? There are groups for LTs and VLE Domain Administrators…but these meetings tend to be solely about the VLE. And a VLE is just one of many digital tools.
  • (On a nationwide scale) why aren’t LTs working with IT Services? The ‘push me pull you’ ethic is frustrating, tiring and means that students do not get the best service.  Why can’t we all just get along?

Lots to think about.  Certainly, I need to be watering this blog more often as it’s in danger of shrivelling and dying.  I also need to think long and hard about what I’m doing in my role.  Is it working, is it useful and does it improve the student experience?  Or am I just making pretty, shiny follies that are of no use?  Am I actually hindering the learning process?

Beer please!

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