According to the Facebook group to which I was added at the weekend, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the graduation of Liskeard Comprehensive School’s class of ‘86. Looking at the roll call of names and photos in the group is like being in the audience of a Peter Kay gig. (‘Remember the 80s? Permed hair eh? And rah-rah skirts? Remember those? And eating butterscotch Angel Delight at your Nan’s house while you watched The Sullivans? Remember that?’) And, though I’m not going to be able to make the physical reunion this weekend, my nostalgia buds have well and truly been tickled, and some old real-life friends have become new Facebook buddies.
So let’s get nostalgic about technology. In 1986 I was 16 and had just completed a load of CSE and O levels. And despite only getting a grade 4 in Computer Studies CSE (I go to pieces when being observed or examined in any way – hence my 4 failed driving tests and disappointing exam results. The fact I managed to get any qualifications at all is a miracle), I would like to think I was pretty tech-savvy for the day. When I was seven years old, my parents had one of the first Space Invaders machines in the country in the pub they ran, so it was no massive leap to owning one of those fake walnut veneer ATARI tennis game system thingies when I was about 10 or 11, then a Commodore 16 when I was 16. My God, I loved typing out those pages of code from computer magazines back then, and going through every letter, digit and parenthesis to look for errors when, inevitably, the code didn’t work.
Now I think about it, had the role of learning technologist been around back in 1986, I know it’s something I’d have wanted to be when I grew up. Back then journalist, cartographer or chartered helicopter pilot were the closest I came to having those sorts of dreams. When we completed personality tests at the age of 15 and then saw a careers advisor, she recommended that, based on my scores, I pursued a job working with animals. That’s probably the point that I gave up on life to be honest. I don’t dislike animals…but at the same time, the fact that I don’t own any highlights just how useless that careers advisor / personality test was.
So, with not much of an idea as to what I wanted to do, I ended up going to Art College and getting a degree there. I did this because art was the only thing I could think of that I was good at. Naturally, this led me to a career as a bar manager and then as a lecturer in teacher education(!)…but here’s the thing. All of the time I was developing a love of technology that even I didn’t realise was there. When I saw a computer running Windows 95 in the adult education centre in which I began my teaching career, I was curious and felt nostalgic for my old Commodore 16. So I greeted it like an old friend and started having a tinker. I like learning by toying with stuff, and guessed that as it wasn’t my computer, it didn’t matter if I broke it – plus, as far as I was concerned, the only way I could break it was by physically throwing it out of the window. Which, in those early days, I wanted to do a lot.
At the age of 24 (a few years before I went into teaching – I was at the bar manager stage of my journey), I owned my first grown up gaming console: a Sega Mega Drive. And as my curiosity (and age) developed, I upgraded from the Mega Drive to PlayStation to Xbox. And this upgrading still continues as my addiction to Fallout 4 will attest.
My job didn’t exist in 1986, but rather fortuitously, the odd route I took to becoming a learning technologist was perfect: I have a keen eye for design (and qualifications to prove it, so let’s nip those ‘smug cow’ comments in the bud!), so I can design aesthetically pleasing resources. My background in teacher education means I know a little about how we learn and how we engage with new knowledge, so I can see learning from both teacher and student perspectives and have half an idea of works and what doesn’t. And all those years monkeying around with computers, then laptops, then the new-fangled internet, then tablets, via a suite of operating systems, cables, wireless devices and other new-fangled gizmos and gadgets mean that I’m not too bad with computers. Put all of these skills together, and I think they make for mean learning technologist. Or, at least, they do in January 2016. Whether they’ll be appropriate for the role in 2, 3 or 10 years is another conversation entirely…
…so what’s the overarching message behind this nostalgia-fest? I think it’s this: if you are at the age where your teachers and family are pestering you to make decisions about the exams you’ll be taking and the job you hope to get at the end of it, then ignore them. It is very common to find, later on in life, that the subjects you choose to study don’t often seem to have any bearing on the career you go into. So you mustn’t think that your life is over if you choose the ‘wrong’ qualifications, the ‘wrong’ apprenticeship or the ‘wrong’ degree. The job you end up doing may not have been invented yet – and may not be invented for another 20 years. I really didn’t know what I wanted to be until I started doing it – so I was about 40 when the penny dropped.
And, to be honest, I think curiosity, the capacity to cock up without believing that your world has ended and the ability to embrace change are better than a bag full of certificates anyway.