We Need to Talk

talkAfter almost 6 years working as a learning technologist, I’ve finally popped my ALTC cherry, and it’s been a blast. A hectic, non-stop, 10 hours a day, three day blast…but a blast nonetheless.

I am exhausted. Between traipsing between (what feels like) 27 buildings on the University of Liverpool campus, sitting in (not quite) 1000 talks, speeches and workshops and looking at dozens of exhibits (see swag photo below), I am feeling every one of my 47 years. I want a mug of Horlicks, the Shipping Forecast and my bed. And I want them NOW.


Since this was taken, I have also acquired more pens, another memory stick and a water pistol.

But bloody hell – it’s been great. And I’m going to stick my head over the parapet and suggest that this is because it’s also been a little bit subversive, and possibly a little bit dangerous. I get the sense that those of us who work with, implement, teach with and manage learning technology are getting a little bit – dare I say it – fed up with the way things are. And it’s a long time coming.

Here’s some of the things that cropped up more than once across the sessions I attended:

  1. Where they even exist, institutional TEL strategy documents mention the word ‘innovation’ regularly, yet, conversely, are generally very conservative in tone – they also, for example, use words such as ‘maintain’ and ‘keep’– implying that they are going to ‘potter on’ as always and not actually do anything innovative or new.
  2. Institutionally, learning technologists tend to linger in the ‘neither academic, nor professional support, but still a bit of both’ no-mans-land called ‘the Third Space’. And this is the source of much frustration. Here’s a post I wrote just the other day on the back of this.
  3. There is an inconsistent approach across institutions regarding how learning technology staff are structured, where they ‘live’ and how they are used. They are aligned to IT Service departments in many institutions, but to Educational Development departments in others. In yet other institutions, there is no alignment at all. Likewise, there are school-based learning technologists, central TEL teams, and enthusiastic academics all performing the same role in different locations within the same institution.
  4. There is still a culture of blame when learning technology doesn’t ‘make everything better’. The blame is shared between institution-level managers and decision-makers who decide, without telling anyone else, to implement a piece of technology and then expect all academics to use it, and to use it brilliantly. Learning Technologists are to blame because, like religious zealots or followers of some sort of dark arts-based cult, they occasionally leave their offices (which are usually locked, and usually at the end of a dark corridor) to preach to academics about a new piece of technology, before mysteriously disappearing again until the next piece of technology comes along. And academics are to blame because they are ALL seen to be technology-deniers, too scared to use anything remotely technological. This is a massive (and damaging) generalisation of course. And in making these sweeping assumptions we are in a holding pattern where each group aggravates and misunderstands the others, and so nothing ever improves.
  5. In better news: the artistic standard of PowerPoint  and Prezi presentations has to be the highest I’ve ever seen. There is a lot of burgeoning artistic talent in the learning technology community. Maybe it’s time for an exhibition of the best. (Note to self: that’s not a bad idea…)

Referring back to points 1-4. I think we need to talk about all of this. A lot of decision making around learning technology is being made by institutional managers on large salaries with little or no knowledge of education, of pedagogy, of technology, or of learning technology. It’s behooves us, I think, to make a collective stand, to develop a communal voice and to say ‘LET US HELP YOU!’ Or better still, ‘TRUST US TO MAKE THESE DECISIONS!’

But where do we begin?

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