It’s all Academic! 

academicWorking as a Learning Technologist (LT) means that it can be hard to feel a true sense of identity. Rather than sitting squarely in one camp – be it academic or professional support – the LT often has a foot in each tent flap. As far as my particular role (Learning Technology Manager) goes, I am aligned to the professional support framework, so I am a member of several administration-themed committees and working parties along with colleagues from our student data, marketing, admissions and assessment teams.

I do spend some of my working week carrying out various administrative tasks including but not limited to enrolling staff on our LMS, checking student alignment to modules, setting up rubrics in Turnitin and copying content from one area of Blackboard to another. However, I spend more of my time talking to academic staff about where to embed technology into their curricula, their modules and their individual sessions. I discuss with them the pedagogy of online and blended learning, the best methods to use to enhance learning, to improve students’ critical thinking skills and to allow students to engage reflectively on course content. I show academic staff how summative and formative assessment can be carried out with real accuracy and validity using digital enhancement and how web apps and smartphones can make a session more innovative and interactive. I develop online resources and modules for national and overseas students that nod to a variety of learning theories and engage users via a multi-sensory, multi-media, truly two-way experience. I also show academics how to best use a toolkit of technology-based artefacts to enhance teaching and learning and I explain why this toolkit is just so bloody valuable.  And if there is time, I spend the rest of my working week reading, researching and writing around the subject of education and technology.

I started reading The Really Useful #EdTechBook by David Hopkins on the plane back from *INTED2015 last week, and was struck how different institutions perceive the role of Learning Technologist in very different ways. This, I assume, has a lot to do with the fact that it’s very hard to categorise or pigeon hole what a LT is. ‘In reality‘, states Peter Reed, one of the contributors to Hopkins’ book: ‘the Learning Technologist is a complex professional (and academic) role, and its variations and derivatives have increased over the years.’  However, Oliver suggests the practices of Learning Technologists are ‘little understood, even within their own community.‘ (Oliver, 2010) Reed expands upon his original statement:

Think of the Learning Technologist as the middle person in the complex relationship between learning and teaching and technology.  Typically, the role involves a good appreciation of both elements.  Critically though, a thorough understanding of learning and teaching precludes an understanding of technology.  This is imperative, as we must first identify the challenges, within and of, pedagogy, before applying theory to practice.  If we don’t understand these core aspects of what it is to learn, or indeed teach, how can we possibly advise on how technology might be an influencing and enhancing intervention?  The understanding of technology and its place in education, for me at least, will always come second.  Thus the role of the Learning Technologist sits comfortably alongside academic staff within curriculum development initiatives with a particular focus on applying theory to practice.’

So there seems to be a growing consensus of opinion that the role of the LT is firmly entrenched in the academic side of institutional life.  This then highlights an issue that needs to be unknotted.  If Learning Technologists are working with academic staff to shape their teaching practice (and don’t forget, we have the word ‘Learning’ in our title), then perhaps we should be aligned to the academic side of our institutions’ lives?  That way we can help to shape teaching and learning with technology at grass roots level. Here’s one final quote to finish off:

‘Learning Technology teams are typically considered a professional service – some institutions, (which Selwyn suggests is derogatory) consider them non-academic, non-Faculty or ‘support’ staff (Selwyn, 2014, p56), but the very placement of the team can have consequences for the role and how they are seen by academic staff.’

References:

Oliver, M (2002), What do Learning Technologists Do? Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 39(4), pp. 245-252.  Available at http://eprints.ioe.ac.uk/3083/1/Oliver2002What245.pdf, date accessed: 18/03/2015

Reed, P (2015) The Structure and Roles of Learning Technologists within Higher Education Institutions: The Really Useful #EdTechBook, published by author under Creative Commons Licence

Selwyn, N (2014) Digital Technology and the Contemporary University: Degrees of Digitalization, Routledge

*INTED2015 post-conference blog post to follow. Honest!

4 thoughts on “It’s all Academic! 

  1. Hi Bex,
    Thanks for referring to my chapter.
    I completely understand your frustrations here. I think I allude to it in the chapter, but there really isn’t a perfect setup – each option has its own problems. It sounds like the problems you’re facing are more related to a lack of understanding of the LT roles amongst those pulling the strings and setting up these forums.
    I’ve faced bits of this in the past when based in central ‘non-academic’ teams – you know certain decisions made e.g. whole faculty to move to online submission without any idea as to how this might work (this was 5+ years ago). I try to emphasise evidence based approaches wherever possible to justify actions (which might/did upset individuals) but if you’re not even in those discussions it’s tough.

    Are there conversations you (or your boss) could start with Faculty SMT? A dialogue about what you/your team can bring to the table can be a good starting point…

    Interested to see your progress here and to continue the discussion.
    Best wishes

    Peter (@reedyreedles)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Peter

      My School had never employed a learning technologist until I came along, and they were the first to admit that they knew that they needed me, but weren’t sure where to put me or even what it was, specifically, I’m supposed to do (hence me spending my first few months installing printers and swapping out faulty keyboards – as I work in technology, it’s easy to assume I’m a technician!) So there’s no blame or finger pointing here – and I am aware that this is common (I was also employed as teacher support when I was a learning tech. in my last role).

      However, I do like your idea of having a meeting with SMT – much more positive than just whinging about the way things are – and I’ll certainly keep you in the loop as far as any progress goes!

      Like

  2. If only there were some way of being able to get the message out to our institutions’ management teams – it’s not about having the hallowed title of ‘academic’, but it’s the ability to make a difference – and maybe academics would stop seeing us as part of the ‘under stairs’ staff and more as equals?

    Liked by 1 person

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