Post for ALT #OER18: ‘Hands off my Stuff!’

ekI’m all for sharing. My parents made sure of that when I wouldn’t let me brother play with my Dick Dastardly pedal car and in return my brother wouldn’t let me play with his Evil Kneivel Stunt Bike, so he pulled the legs off my Sindy doll and I pushed him down the stairs.

We were both 37.

Joking aside, the world in which we live and work provides us with precious little in terms of time to make decent educational resources, we’ve all become pretty good at churning out PowerPoint presentations and worksheets, but quality, fully interactive, multi-media online teaching and learning resources…not so much. And I would suggest that this isn’t down to lack of technical ability, as there are plenty of free and easy to use web-based content creation sites out there. I’d hazard a guess that it’s down to lack of time.

So it makes sense to share resources with our peers – and not just for the aforementioned benefits of time-saving. There’s a lot of wheels being re-invented every day by teaching staff sitting in splendid isolation just three feet and two locked doors away from one another, making exactly the same content. And that wastes the very little time that they are afforded to create resources in the first place.

And yet, convincing some academic staff isn’t as easy as I’d hope – or expect. “Make resources that can be shared!” I suggest to audiences at conferences and training sessions. “Go to TED Ed, make a fully interactive lesson, then let other people use it in their practice!”

Cue a Mexican wave of arms folding in indignation.

“Why should I?” is the inevitable question asked by one Mexican-waver. “I spent time making that. Why should someone else who has done nothing benefit from it?”

There it is: the point of this blog post. The ‘hands off my stuff” moment.

And I sigh as a sea (well, to be fair, it’s usually more of a puddle) of heads nod in agreement, and I reply with something along the lines of this:

“Because we live in a world where your friends, your family and your students are making, creating, curating and sharing digital content, be it blog posts about the pitfalls of parenting, films of cats on YouTube, PhD theses on Academia.com, journal articles on Orca or pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch on Pinterest. It’s the twenty first century, the internet is the biggest canvas and the largest repository of content the world has ever had the privilege to be able to access and to make use of and we can’t just switch it off.”

At this point, I’m usually starting to rant a bit, and to be honest, it’s to no avail. It’s when I get to the next bit the at those arms start to unfold and pennies start to collectively drop:

“And it’s because someone else has made something, somewhere, that you can download and use yourself. It’s reciprocal. It saves you time, and in doing so, it frees up some time to do the stuff you want to do!”

Now, this may paint some of our peers as a bit mean spirited – so let me be clear that it is only the very small minority of which I speak, as most of my peers are more than happy to make and share their resources, even if it is just another PowerPoint presentation on slideshare. But I’ll be honest. It’s the 21st century, and the world is a pretty mean-spirited place to live on right now. So let’s share what we can, when we can. Let’s feel the love.

Just get yer hands off my Sindy doll…

 

My name is Rebecca and I’m a Learning Technologist (Part 1)

I was talking to someone with a similar job to mine last week, and he told me that whenever anyone asks him what he does, and he replies with: ‘I’m a learning technologist’, the eyes of the person asking the question tend to glaze over. Should the questioner persevere and go on to ask what a learning technologist DOES, they usually leave the discussion feeling a mixture of confusion, bewilderment and boredom. And they often miss the point by then asking if he can fix their broadband.

I have been here many, many times, and now tell people that I’m a window cleaner. It’s just so much easier.

It’s a pertinent question though. What does a learning technologist do?

Most days – and especially at the moment, it being the first week of the new academic year –  I’m pulled in so many directions from the moment I walk into my office until the moment I sneak out of the building and across the road to the bus stop (I say sneak, because if anyone sees me, they will probably stop to ask for some help and I’ll miss my bus), that by the time I get home, I feel like this (scroll past the image below if you’re squeamish):

hellraiser-andrew-robinson12

Heaven knows why he’s smiling. For a start he has a serious tartar problem.

Anyway, when I got home last Wednesday, I thought about the (typical and pretty unremarkable) day I’d just had, and put this post onto LinkedIn:

‘Hello there. My name is Rebecca , I am a Learning Technology Manager, and today, I:

  • Did some film editing
  • Also did some website(s) development
  • Wrote help-sheets for academics who want to try lecture capture
  • Delivered VLE administration training to a group of Professional Support staff
  • Looked for appropriate web tools to use as part of a post graduate module that is going to be delivered using blended learning methods
  • Converted media files from .mpeg and .avi to .mp3
  • Enrolled staff to modules on our VLE
  • Gave telephone-based support to a member of staff with problems seeing their browser properly… …and another member of staff got some ad-hoc tuition on using Skype, via Skype!
  • Finished writing a taxonomy and a set of principles around the use of learning technology as part of the School’s UG module re-validation project
  • Arranged delivery of 50 webcams to staff at another site

The role of the learning technologist is massive, varied and ever-changing…and I wanted to do a snapshot of one day. And now I would like to ask any other learning technologists who are still reading this what they do on a typical day.’

I wasn’t sure what to expect response-wise (if anything), but here’s a selection:

‘This week I am in Iceland giving training, the previous two weeks were spent at conferences, learning lots from the community. I shall spend next week designing new resources, writing, reading, and liaising with expert practitioners.’

‘Did some editing, created a STAR WARS parody video to promote a new feature on the LMS (see below), met an SME about content,  tried to get onto a GoToMeeting that didn’t work, answered a post about what I did today. 🙂 . I do the school run on a Friday so didn’t get into the office until 10.30 and left at 2pm otherwise it would have been a busy one…’

‘Any day can be made up of…… Working within the LMS, making graphics, writing some code to do something tricky, be editor to learning material, converting video files, teaching others or myself how to do something new, be an L&D consultant, thinking outside of a box, making a talking head, analysing data, being an Excel support, recording a voice over, trying to stay ahead of the technology pack, solving technical problems, and finally developing elearning. LTs are often seen as the person who “writes those eLearns”, when in fact they typically are the core technical member of the L&D team with lots of tacit knowledge. They will have a diverse skill set ranging from programming to teaching, with plenty of creativity and lateral thinking thrown in for good measure.’

‘It’s always been so hard to explain to people what a learning technologist does. In fact, I didn’t know I was a learning technologist when I started out because the term wasn’t around 20 years ago. I’m now a Learning / Assistive Technologist. My days are probably fairly similar to yours. Today has been a bit unusual – I set the whole day aside to get a new course on MindView finished on Camtasia. Having said that, I’ve still helped a colleague to see her printer, taken about 5 phone calls, booked some students in for 1-1 sessions and replied to numerous emails. I’m about to start captioning all my videos now. Fun, isn’t it?!’

‘Every day is different and that’s the best thing about it. Yesterday I made some edits to a new resource that’s out for QA. Attended a meeting about a tech event for students. Embedded links in a few VLEs. Finished a CSS/Html page to sit in the VLE to signpost to ref support. Attended a meeting re another service I’m part of. Had a chat about an app my boss has developed. Arranged to peer review on a blended learning session. Investigated some older resources and whether they can be retired. Discussed what was finished in last academic year. Looked at some conflicting data in a report and created some charts for a colleague. The usual emails and blog post reading. Sounds like a lot when you write it down but yesterday wasn’t that busy. I love what I do.’

I’m going to see whether I get a few more responses before my next blog post, because I think I can see some patterns in practices and attitudes taking shape, and I’d like to see if they become any more substantive before I write anything else. One thing that this has proved though – the activities carried out by learning technologists are, as I suspected,  almost too many to count.

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.

swagger

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?

The Third Space

Peter-Griffin-News

I’ve written about or mentioned a certain bugbear in many posts over the past few years. It’s something that, to quote great thinker and philosopher Peter Griffin, ‘really grinds my gears’.

I’m attending ALTC in Liverpool this week, and this morning, sitting at a 20 minute session looking at E-Assessment the thing that grinds those gears of mine was mentioned by somebody else. Finally, I have discovered that my frustrations are not isolated. Indeed, I echoed what had been said as a Tweet and this has become one of my most retweeted Tweets,  retweeted, I suspect, by others who feel the same as me.

Here’s the thing. I work at a university where my role includes, among other things, the development of academics’ teaching skills via staff training sessions To an extent, I teach academics how to teach. There is an advisory element to my role, and I can often be found sitting with academics and suggesting teaching methods and tools that will help them to better embed learning technology and digital literacy into their programmes. I sit at curriculum planning meetings and highlight sessions and topics within a range of programmes that lend themselves to technology-based methods such as blended learning and the flipped classroom, and, of course, learning technology. I have even helped to shape the direction my institution takes regarding learning technology.

But, because I am aligned to the professional services sphere as opposed to that of the academic, I am officially, as I have learned today, an occupant of the ‘Third Space’. A space that is both academic and supportive yet specifically neither, where members of professional support resent me for ‘hanging out’ with academics, but academics take no notice of me as I don’t have their power, influence or ‘voice’. And that’s why I can know everything about, say, lecture capture, from how to schedule a lecture capture recording through to which rooms are equipped with lecture capture facilities and I can quote academic papers that discuss how and why to use lecture capture to improve student retention, satisfaction and teaching…but an academic will be given the role ‘academic lead for lecture capture’, and, inevitably, have absolutely no idea what how or why lecture capture is a thing. They will then send emails out to every other academic misinforming them of lecture capture, getting every aspect of it wrong, while I silently clear up their mess behind them…but what they say ‘goes’ just by dint of them being an academic. Based on this logic, if an academic says that we have to use a *’Speak and Spell’ as a voting pad or iPads as chopping boards, then that’s what will happen…because they are an academic and what they say is law.

Rant over. And rathe than being emotive because I’m in the thick of this situation, I want to look at this from a more objective and, dare I say it, academic stance. Let’s begin with the work of Celia Whitchurch, the academic who first coined the phrase ‘Third Space’.

In 2010, Whitchurch published a paper called Optimising the Potential of Third Space Professionals in Higher Education. Whitchurch’s work sought to develop her concept of a “Third Space” between professional and academic spheres of activity in higher education. These were represented in the paper by three processes described as Contestation, Reconciliation and Reconstruction. Whitchurch suggested that successful navigation of Third Space involved being able to work through the challenges and tensions bought about by the characteristic of Contestation, to build collaborative relationships via perceptions of added value; the characteristic of Reconciliation, and to construct new forms of plural space during Reconstruction.

There’s a PDF copy of the paper in full here.

The study saw the complex dimensions of Third Space as an emergent space in its own right, and as a concept to be applied to higher education institutional environments to illustrate “another mode of thinking about space that draws upon… traditional dualism, but extends well beyond [it] in scope, substance and meaning.” And that, I believe, is a solid starting point. At the moment I occupy a kind of ephemeral, limbo-like space where I am neither one thing or another, yet somehow both. Giving this space a name makes it real, and gives it substance.

By developing the concepts of Contestation, Reconciliation and Reconstruction, the study has progressed understandings of roles and relationships in Third Space, including the creation of new spaces and identities. There is a sense of resistance and struggle, via the Contestation process, as a legitimate part of identity construction and working practice. It therefore offers a way of acknowledging the more challenging aspects of Third Space, at the same time as those that are more developmental and creative, providing a tool for understanding increasingly complex relationships. But how long will this take? Whitchurch wrote her paper in 2010 It’ 2017 now, and I hadn’t heard of the term Third Space until this week. Why has this not become established – recognised – after all of this time?

Third Space, Whitchurch posits, demonstrates that a greater emphasis on relationships than on organisational structures can reduce checks and balances and leave some staff, particularly those who are less experienced, feeling vulnerable. Feedback suggested that there is also a sense in which Third Space could become all things to all people, or a default position for people who feel that they do not ‘fit’ the formal structures, possibly with a hint of the ‘subversive’. It could also foster a sense of a lack of identity if an individual was moving from project to project as a ‘project manager’, especially if they did not have a title that linked them into established institutional structures. And I see this. We may rally against it, but humans like to pigeon hole everything. You are an academic, ergo you do this, this and this. You are professional support, so you do that, that and that. It keeps things clean, manageable and clearly delineated. Blur the lines – create that Third Space – and the world may end. But in 2017, aren’t we all now so used to having to perform multiple roles outside of our official (and ever-growing) job title that such delineation becomes too rigid and, effectively, keeps us in a stranglehold?

The study suggests that optimising the potentials of those working in Third Space is likely to be a joint process, with (and here’s the kicker) responsibility on institutions to recognise and respond to changes that are occurring, and an onus on individuals to ‘educate’ their institutions about how Third Space might be used most advantageously.

Moreover, although Third Space working has implications for the relationship between institutions and their staff, this does not necessarily mean a major shift in approach. It may, rather, be a question of being creative within existing mechanisms, so as to give credit for new forms of activity. For instance, Third Space activity can be supported by more flexible employment packages for individuals who occupy a broader range of roles than hitherto, and develop careers that do not follow a traditional academic or professional pattern.

What seems clear, however, is that relationships rather than structures are at the heart of the way that Third Space works for individuals and institutions. Both, therefore, may wish to review the concept of Third Space, the processes associated with it, and ways in which they might make it work for them.

Yes please. By being confined within a binary system, I am unable to do the best I can for those whom we all serve in HE – the students. And surely that’s wrong?

*For anyone under 40, this is a Speak and Spell:

speakspell

You’re Tired!

fired

It was on this very day 10 years ago that markets woke up to a problem when French bank BNP Paribas halted redemptions, or funds claimed by investors, on three investment funds. It was this act that triggered what has become the UK’s most recent and largest financial crash, but conversely, it was also exactly ten years ago today that Apple launched its first iPhone. Both of these anniversaries, though not intrinsically linked, have given me cause to think about where we are a decade later, and have prompted this post.

From 2008 onwards, the word recession became a part of our everyday life and language, and as budget cuts began to take hold, so the educational zeitgeist – be it around compulsory or post-16 teaching and learning – started to be re-framed around two key words: innovation and enterprise.  It makes practical sense to think in these terms if the country’s economy is flat-lining and the need to do more with less (innovation) along with the need to try to make a living at a time where the financial ground is barren (enterprise) become survival. I've written about innovation in education before, so if you want to check my earlier post out before continuing, do go ahead.

If I were to link these two words with cognitive processes, then creativity of thought, lateral thinking, and imagination, would be fundamental.

A decade ago, the iPhone was the epitome of innovation. It was, and still is, the 'must have' smartphone, it's still ubiquitous, it's rather beautiful, it has, effectively, replaced the office, but now that it's ten years old and developers' ideas are running out, each brand new iteration becomes less groundbreaking and certainly less innovative.

As a member of the conference panel for the next International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation in November (ICERI 2017), I’ve been reading through a selection of papers that have been submitted from educators, researchers and technologists from around the world. Though it has been a genuinely interesting and rewarding experience, something has been niggling me, and I can't shake it off.  And it's not just something that's coming from some of the submissions I've been reading: I've noticed it locally too. Things that are being mooted as being innovative are, on closer inspection,  no more than the re-hashing or re-branding of concepts, methods, and processes that have been around for ages. At the risk of sounding like 'Irritated of Nantwich', I'm going to suggest that filming clinical skills procedures and then making them available for students to view online is not innovative, asking teachers to curate and then reflect upon their CPD by way of an online portfolio or blog isn't a new idea, and recording audio feedback to students rather than typing assignment feedback isn't enterprising. These are all genuine examples of practice that has been labelled as being innovative and enterprising and that have been on my radar for a few weeks. The thing is,  they are also all examples of practice that were on the same radar a decade ago.

So have we run out of ideas?

I don't think so. I'd like to think that our collective imagination is limitless. But I do think that because we live and work in a daily state of emergency – where our day in the office amounts to little more than fire fighting, and our home lives are increasingly fraught and lived in the shadow of political unrest, inequality, lack of resources and a race to he bottom – it can be hard to find the space, the time and the right frame of mind in which to be innovative or enterprising. And so, because we are told that we must be enterprising and innovative in order to raise our institution's profile and remain relevant, but we can't reasonably be inspired on command, we re-package, rename and rebadge projects that have already been done, hoping that our audience likes the emperor's newly-tailored suit. Maybe if we had time to breathe, and vitally, to be allowed to take risks and make mistakes, we would be able to be truly innovative. Sadly, I can't see a time when this will be allowed to happen.

But I am determined to finish on a positive note. A cafe down the road from me not only makes the best coffee in Cardiff, it has been innovative and enterprising by doing one small thing. You know those cardboard coffee sleeves that you get in Starbucks and Costa? Visit the cafe, buy one of their fantastic coffees, then for one pound, you can buy a reusable coffee sleeve made from material. Simple. Brilliant. And it saves trees too.

Game On! (Part 2)

A warning to other bloggers out there: this is what happens when you promise your audience that you are going to write something groundbreaking based around a very specific subject, (and one you arrogantly think is yours and yours alone to write about), but instead you start prevaricating and writing blog posts about other things instead.

I have mentioned a couple of times in recent weeks my need to write about a theory that has been buzzing around my head for a while now: that console gaming is therapeutic. Well, an article from The Conversation has just popped up in my Facebook feed, and it says exactly what I should have done as few weeks ago. It would appear that my groundbreaking theory isn’t as groundbreaking as I had assumed. However, finding out that others have the same theory as you is comforting, this particular article makes for concise and genuinely interesting reading, had my head nodding enthusiastically in agreement (and my teeth grinding in frustration at my own laziness), and vitally, goes on to cite academic research published in April 2016.  The research, carried out by Leonard Reinecke of the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, states that when video games are systematically used after exposure to stressful situations and strain, that recovery experience is a significant facet of the gaming experience (Reinecke, 2016). Console gaming as therapy. Boom!

In terms of my own recovery from stressful periods, I concur absolutely. Were it not for Dragon Age II at an incredibly stressful period of my professional life, I would probably not be in the positive frame of mind I’ve been able to maintain for a few years. I’d also be lucky to be able to work at all. Skyrim got me through equally tough periods in my personal life, and on a smaller scale, I still always have a ‘go-to game’ in my PS4 in case I’ve had a trying day and need to let off steam and ‘ground myself’ again. This week, it’s mostly Elder Scrolls Online, though reading this back to myself, I really do need to find a genre of game that doesn’t involve swords, sorcery or picking flowers in order to make potions…

Reference:

Games and Recovery: The Use of Video and Computer Games to Recuperate from Stress and Strain (PDF Download Available). Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232594932_Games_and_Recovery_The_Use_of_Video_and_Computer_Games_to_Recuperate_from_Stress_and_Strain [accessed Jul 10, 2017].

‘Isn’t she in Game of Thrones?’

Darksansastark…said my erstwhile partner when he caught me clapping my hands with same level of enthusiasm a horse-mad 4 year old may display on receiving a pony for her birthday.

I’ll go back a little. It was the 6th July, and I had just received an email from Linden Labs informing me that I had been selected to be among the first to create ‘social VR experiences’ with Sansar, Linden’s virtual world for the virtual reality generation.

It’s been a long time since I was at the forefront of anything techy, so my excitement was entrenched in that little part of me that wants to try everything before anyone else does. The fact that it took me ages to log in, my avatar was about as customisable as a lump of coal, has the face of a corpse and walks like she has done a number 2 in her pants is nothing. Whatever happens, I was one of the first people to log into Sansar. And. most importantly,  as a developer, I can build my own space. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to:

sansa1

Oh, we learning technology types may scoff at how far behind we think our institutions are compared to the rest of the world, but I’m pretty certain that Cardiff University is (probably one of) the first HE institution(s) that has a presence in Sansar,  though how long it will last, I don’t know.

So how does it look and how does it feel? Graphically, Sansar is so advanced it makes Second Life look like an early Sega Megadrive game, and the quality of the audio is just fantastic: like being in a cutting – edge cinema. I’m even adoring the font style used for messaging (I have thing about fonts. I may need help). But it’s not all beer and skittles, and at the moment it’s really just a triumph of style over substance. Because it’s so new it’s frustratingly limited, it’s laggy, and even the usually simple process of trying to move objects around is a pig. So here we have exactly what he had 12 years ago when Second Life was introduced – something with real promise, and a glimpse of a future that I really want go be a part of, but with more bugs than an NHS hospital. As with Second Life’s early days, Sansar delights and frustrates in equal measure, and in this iteration, the virtual world can’t even be used with VR headsets as yet – despite this being the very premise on which it was founded.

I don’t care. I’m still really excited. Here’s a screenshot of my avatar in her new Cardiff University ‘home’ to tantalise and delight you:

sansar1