Scroll on!

catzI think I’ve mentioned before that blog posts are like buses: nothing for months, and then three come along all at once – and having noticed that I haven’t written any blog posts for a good six months I feel as if i should give an explanation. It’s not because I’m lazy, neither is it because I haven’t had the time. Quite simply, it’s because I haven’t done anything ‘blogworthy’ for a while.

I’m not complaining. There’s no need to PM me and ask if I’m OK (hun) because my life is dull and unrewarding. Far from it – I’ve enjoyed a beautifully hot summer awash with gin, friends and travel, been on some lovely walks both here and abroad, visited the biggest cavern system in Europe (in Slovenia), and spent some proper quality time with my family in Cornwall and Stafford, but my job has been unremarkable. Not uninteresting, not ‘bad’ – just unremarkable.

I could have blogged about the number of requests I get every day from staff wanting to be enrolled to modules on our VLE, or the drop in sessions I run around lecture capture, the day-to-day instructional design projects I’m working through, the technology strategy I’m writing for the school, the new curricula the School is currently putting forward to various University panels and boards that will be delivered using blended learning and the flipped classroom (hence the lecture capture training sessions)…but none of this is really exciting enough to blog about. And why would anyone be in the least bit interested?

But…and I refer you back to that first sentence…the past few weeks have seen a couple of things happen that I think are worth talking about. So look out for posts in the next week or so around the following:

The Wales Deanery Conference (Sharing Training Excellence in Medical Education) I was invited to speak at, which meant I got to visit the Cardiff City Stadium (rather than just drive past it, as I usually do)

The Festival of Enhancing Learning with Technology (FELT): an event I organised and ‘put on’ for School staff which, if nothing else, gave me the opportunity to buy a Fuzzy Felt kit in order to design the posters

And next week I’m going to Finland as part of an exchange / sharing good practice week, which should warrant a post, even if it is just photos of me at the Moomin Museum in Tampere…so watch this space (though you shouldn’t have to watch for too long…)


PressED Impressed

Imagine a conference that takes place online…

Okay, that’s not too challenging, nor in 2018, is it a massive stretch of the imagination.

Imagine a conference that takes place online but is about one thing, and one thing only – the use of WordPress in teaching, pedagogy and research… 

That’s still not too challenging, though reading back through these first couple of sentences, you may be thinking that this all sounds rather constricting. So, like a snake that hasn’t eaten for a month and has just spied a fallen antelope, let’s make things even more constricting.

Imagine a conference that takes place online, is solely about WordPress, and is hosted entirely on Twitter… 

Now your collective foreheads are wrinkling, aren’t they?

I was intrigued when I found out about PressED, having never considered for one second the notion of Twitter as a conference space. And I have to admit that I submitted an abstract out of curiosity as much as anything else. There were a range of logistic mountains to climb, surely? How could a conference ‘run’ on Twitter? How would it be managed? Who would manage it? Surely it would become an ever more complicated maze of Twitter threads containing more back channel noise than Chip Alley on a Friday night. I’ve become embroiled in a lot of Twitter chats, and endured a number of migraines as a result. So this would be a nightmare, wouldn’t it?

It turns out that the answer to that last question is a big, fat, glossy ‘No’. And that’s down to ensuring presenters stuck to a very simple but effective methodology, and very clear organisation. Here are the rules:

  1. One presentation only to be delivered any given time
  2. Each presenter given exactly 15 minutes: 10 minutes to Tweet their key points, and a following 5 minutes to answer any questions

Tweet scheduling was actively recommended by the conference team as a way to make the process as fool-proof and stress-free as possible. Using TweetDeck, I wrote 10 Tweets the afternoon before (ensuring all of them ended with #pressedconf18), added relevant images taken from my overarching PowerPoint presentation, added the presentation to SlideShare and generated a link, and then added this link to my final Tweet for anyone who wanted to find out more. So the image you see below is of me ‘doing’ my presentation. And yes, I was working from home, in bed, wearing pyjamas. My scheduled Tweets were automatically appearing every 60 seconds, and I was able to concentrate on any related Tweets, likes, retweets or questions that were coming through.


And what a fantastic experience it was. Presentations started and finished at exactly the times allocated – due, largely I guess, to the fact that everyone seemed to have scheduled their Tweets in advance. Each presentation was easy to follow, questions were answered quickly and thoughtfully from presenters who weren’t trying to juggle their presentation along with audience questions, comments or interruptions. And, vitally, as someone who is using WordPress as a replacement VLE with a small group of students, it was a perfect opportunity to get some insights from other practitioners doing the same.  I finished feeling elated, excited, and with a real enthusiasm for this very clean ‘crisp’ way of doing a conference.

I took a lot away with me too – a new way of taking part in a 21st century conference, and a new way of using Twitter… but if there is one valuable, pedagogic ‘take away’, it’s just how many other people are (perhaps subversively) using WordPress as a replacement for Moodle and Blackboard. Maybe the days of the locked-down, institutionally-branded, ‘nothing other than a digital filing cabinet for ancient PowerPoint presentations’ VLE are approaching an end?

I’d like to finish up this post by saying thank you to PressED organisers Natalie Lafferty and Pat Lockley for making this amazing event happen. 

Manners Maketh Mobile

This week I spoke at my institution’s Centre for Education and Innovation Open Seminar (#CEIOS) series. The umbrella title of the seminar was Adding a Mobile and Interactive Aspect to your Teaching and Learning, something that in 2018 seems to be as contentious a topic as it was a decade ago. My presentation was called Please Destroy Cellphones Before Entering, and the thinking behind it was ignited by a sign I’d seen blu-tacked to the front of a lecture theatre, where I was asked to show a group of undergraduate students how to access a wiki activity on their laptops, tablets and smartphones. Sadly, I had to inform the group that I couldn’t run the session as planned because of the poster*. Though, because of the size, (A4), only the lecturer and eagle-eyed members of the front row could read it: 

Please Destroy Cell Phones Before Entering

The presentation looked at the very black and white state of mobile device use in higher education. There is a ‘mobile devices in the classroom’ continuum with academics firmly rooted at opposite ends, but with very few in between. So there’s either a laissez faire attitude – let them bring in their smartphones, let them text one another, let them use Snapchat, let them use Instagram, and if they fail their assignment / course, that’s their problem (this is the end of the spectrum I admit to being closest to), or, as with the poster I saw in the lecture theatre, there’s an outright ban of mobile devices. This is usually because teachers feel that students’ attention should be focused solely on them – a reasonable enough expectation, but if you are wondering why your students are plasying around on Pinterest and not focussing on you, maybe you need to make your lectures more interesting and / or interactive? Or maybe, even if they ARE interesting and you ARE the best teacher in the world, maybe even the most captive mind isn’t going to be able to handle 3 hours of being talked at? 

Leaving contentious statements to one side, I argued that there needs to be a middle ground; a compromise. And while it’s true that research has proved that students who use mobile devices in lessons do not do as well as students who don’t, (see the presentation at the end of this post for more information), there is a need to consider the following: 

  • Banning mobile devices in 2018 is tantamount to cutting off somebody’s hands and / or forcing them to travel back in time 
  • Higher Education students are adults so by banning mobile devices, it could be suggested that we are treating them as children?  And if we treat students as children, will they respond by acting like children? 
  • A smartphone or tablet has an incredible amount of potential as a learning tool. So if you catch your student playing with their phone, is it unfair to assume they’re frittering time away on a social network, because they may be searching the internet for further information around something you mentioned that really hooked them? 

At the end of the presentation, I invited the audience – a mix of learning technologists and lecturers – to take the first step in drawing up a list of ‘Mobile Manners’; suggestions for how a compromise can be made so that mobile devices can be allowed and used in sessions, but without the current all or nothing approach.  Here’s what we came up with: 

  • Remind students that this isn’t a social space – it’s a learning space 
  • Be present: agree. Perhaps, on a Service Level Agreement with students at the start of a programme of study. For example: emails can only be checked at break times, important calls can be taken when needed, but devices must be on vibrate, etc. 
  • Give an informal breakdown of what the session is about: ‘I’ll talk for ten minutes – and I really need you to listen to this, then we’ll have a Mentimeter survey, followed by a group task for about 20 minutes, then another ten minutes of talking – again, I’d its important, so I want you to listen and make notes, then we’ll have a break where you can check your social networks / email / WhatsApp messages…”. This may be especially useful for cohorts of younger students 

Something that we kept coming back to was what could still be an elephant in many staff rooms: if lectures / taught sessions were more engaging, less ‘chalk and talk’, and there were more opportunities for student interaction, then maybe students wouldn’t be so quick to reach for their smartphones. Could lectures be shorter, perhaps? Could they be designed to be more interactive, with more opportunities for audience participation? 

I’m keen to see this list of ‘Mobile Manners’ take shape and become more definitive, so please comment below with any suggestions you have. Thank you in advance.


 *I did run the session – I was just trying to be funny. And, as usual, failed abysmally… 

Let’s Hear it for King Ludd!

imagesI’ve been working in the technology enhanced learning sector in one form or another for over a decade now, so I reckon I am able to give advice to the next generation of learning technologists without fear of reprisal. So here we go. Pin back your ears and take heed young Padawans, for here it comes:

Embrace your inner Luddite.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but your inner Luddite can be a critical friend and a bridge between you and any academic or teaching staff who are not sure or happy or confident about using technology. But before I explain why, I want to dispel a few myths.

We tend call anyone who refuses to engage with technology a Luddite, but to do so is to do a disservice to Luddites. Wikipedia says that:

“The Luddites were a group of English textile workers and weavers in the 19th century who destroyed weaving machinery as a form of protest. The group was protesting the use of machinery in a “fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labour practices. Luddites feared that the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go to waste as machines would replace their role in the industry. It is a misconception that the Luddites protested against the machinery itself in an attempt to halt the progress of technology.”

So they weren’t against using technology per se – but using it fraudulently and deceitfully. I’d change those rather pejorative terms  and in terms of education would suggest that we protest the use of technology for the sake of it, which is often to the detriment of better, manual methods. An example might be making notes in a class or lecture. Students could use a laptop or tablet and type their notes or take a photo of a classmate’s notes, but research suggests that the act of putting pen to paper ensures that a cerebral connection is made that isn’t made when technology is used instead, and the author is more likely to remember what he or she has written as a result.

Luddites feared that their skills would be replaced by machinery, and this ‘fear’ is now a concern that we need to be cognisant of. Referring back to note taking, handwriting is a beautiful skill – damn it, it’s an art – but now we type rather than write by hand. I adore calligraphy (but as a southpaw am rubbish at it), but the thought of it becoming automated -or worse still, dying out completely – terrifies me. Because if we lose it, we lose a bit of humanity.  So let’s learn the new skills the twenty first century demands of us, but not to the detriment of the old skills that bring so much joy – and aid learning.

Finally, despite what we may believe, the Luddites did not protest against machinery, and did not want to halt the progress of technology. This suggests that they were actually all for technology – but not from an evangelical ‘this will replace everything’ point of view. They saw it as both a boon and a concern – as something to be embraced, but to be critical of at the same time. And I think a good learning technologist has the same, balanced view.

One other thing. Earlier I talked about being a bridge. I find that academics who claim to dislike technology don’t actually dislike it at all – they just lack confidence, are nervous, and don’t want to admit it. Bridges can be built and crossed if we, as technologists, accept this, and explain how sometimes technology isn’t the answer, that in some cases pens, paper and talking to one another in the same physical space is the best method, and that technology is not a panacea, nor is it evil. It’s just another tool to add to our toolkits, to be taken out and used only when it makes things better. You wouldn’t use a hacksaw to hammer in a nail, and it would be daft to replace an effective old-fashioned teaching tool for something digital just because it’s digital, at the expense of effective learning.


Association for Psychological Science, (2014), Take Notes by Hand for Better Long-Term Comprehension, accessed at:, date accessed: 1st March, 2018

Wikipedia, (2018), Luddite, accessed at:, date accessed: 1st March 2018

Mucha PechaKucha!

PechaKucha is one of my favourite ways of presenting information, has been around for fifteen years, and is still very much an unknown quantity in education. It has just two golden rules (and from these you must never deviate):

  1. 20 images
  2. 20 seconds per image

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that PechaKucha Nights are held in over 900 cities, but more surprised that whenever I talk to teaching staff they know nothing about it. Having said that, the concept was devised (in Tokyo) as an event for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public. As a result, I guess it’s something that’s ‘done’ in industry, and these evening events are very much for thrusting young people working in architecture, banking, graphic design and such like.

In 2018, students are still sitting through incredibly lengthy PowerPoint presentations that are text-heavy, image-light and weigh in at 30 slides or more in length. Moreover, we are all forced to sit through the same thing at conferences, staff meetings and training sessions. Think of the amount of time that could be freed up if presentations were exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds long! And think about how exact, how concise the presenter has to be to keep their narration to 20 seconds per slide. Bliss!

I do have to admit that building a PechaKucha-style presentation is a labour intensive process and takes a fair bit of practise to get right; and this may be a reason why teaching staff – already unable to find time to eat lunch or take a bathroom break – may not feel able to engage. The presentation I’ve added below took about an hour to build in PowerPoint, but took a lot longer to narrate – because I had to stick to key points (and there are so many to choose from), and no matter how much I trimmed away at my script, each slide had to be recorded, trimmed down and re-recorded a few times to be able to fit in with the 20 second time limit. BUT, using screen recording, I was able to film it, bung it onto YouTube, and, if this were an academic presentation, in theory I would be able to signpost my audience to it as an online resource rather than having to repeat the same presentation ‘live’ several times.

What are your thoughts on PechaKucha? Does it have a place in education, or is the ‘tight’ presentation style too restrictive? Let me know in the comments section below.

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, 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):


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.


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


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: