Trying out the Implicit Association Test #unboundeq

This week I am participating on some of the asynchronous activities of the course (Equity Unbound, read the kick off blog post here if you are new to it), and in the course email for this week and next, Catherine Croning writes:

In Weeks 3 + 4 of Equity Unbound, between September 24th and October 7th, we will focus on the theme of Empathy & Bias. Together we will explore this theme, particularly in relation to digital spaces and interactions. Digital citizenship promotes global understanding when our digital presence allows us to share virtual space with others, regardless of geography. It is tempting, but dangerous, to imagine this virtual space as “one” — we are not all equal in that space. Some of us are louder and more visible, and some of us more vulnerable. What would it mean to develop critical digital citizenship on the premises of empathy and social justice? How can we build critical trust in our community and network exchanges in order to help us confront our own biases and blind spots?

The activity I have decided to try out is the Implicit Association Test or IAT, and the category I have selected the Gender-Career Task. I have not done a test like this before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

In the test, I was asked to categorise Male and Female words with Career and Family.

Once complete, I got the following result:

Your data suggest a strong automatic association for Male with Family and Female with Career.

Your result is described as an “Automatic association for Male with Career and Female with Family” if you were faster responding when Career and Male are assigned to the same response key than when Career and Female were classified with the same key. Your score is described as an “Automatic association for Female with Career and Male with Family if the opposite occurred.

In terms of how that compares to other people’s results, I found this graph helpful:

I took a few other tests, and found it interesting to try subjects I was less sure about, but the above result was quite typical of my responses, i.e. I usually found myself in a small minority of results. That in turn made me reflect on my own awareness of and tolerance for other, often dominant views and that feels like a good starting point for the next fortnight of the course.

Joining in #unboundeq – Equity Unbound

For the coming weeks I am joining into a new initiative organised by Maha Bali, Catherine Cronin & Mia Zamora. Here is what it is all about, or read more at Equity Unbound:

Equity Unbound is an emergent, collaborative curriculum which aims to create equity-focused, open, connected, intercultural learning experiences across classes, countries and contexts.  Equity Unbound was initiated by Maha Bali @bali_maha (American University in Cairo, Egypt), Catherine Cronin @catherinecronin (National University of Ireland, Galway), and Mia Zamora @MiaZamoraPhD (Kean University, NJ, USA) for use in their courses this term (September-December 2018), but it is open to all.

Equity Unbound is for learners and/or educators at all levels (e.g. undergraduate, postgraduate, professional development) who are interested in exploring digital literacies with an equity and intercultural learning focus, in an open and connected learning environment. Our motto is:

“The only way to make borders meaningless is to keep insisting on crossing them.” (Lina Mounzer)

Participants will collaborate in a series of open online activities including: collaborative annotation using open-source Hypothes.is, social network conversations and live studio visits, a Wikipedia edit-a-thon, blogging, collaborative multimedia making, and creating their own new learning activities (inspired by the DS106 assignment bank). Activities will seek to develop critical digital literacies and intercultural collaboration while encouraging questions of equity issues such as equity in web representation, digital colonialism, safety and security risks on the web, and how these differ across contexts.

To find out more:
  • Check out our current activities on Twitter: @UnboundEq and/or #UnboundEq
  • Click An overview (in menu bar above) to see the 6 Equity Unbound themes.
  • Select an option in Weeks/Themes to see more details about the activities planned for each theme.
  • Click All Unbound voices to see all blogs posts connected with #UnboundEq.
  • Click Resources to see the growing list of resources we are using in Equity Unbound
  • Click Participate (on the About menu) to contact us about participating, or to find out more.

 

Beyond Advocacy: Who shapes the future of Learning Technology

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (1)

This is a very special keynote to me and I am grateful to the Trustees of ALT to invite me to speak at ALT’s 25th Annual Conference. This post shares the slides and some of my notes for the talk and you can also watch a recording from the conference here . Thanks to James Clay for this video sketch note of the talk.

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I wanted to introduce myself via the skin of my laptop, which has been tattooed, to borrow a phrase from Bryan Mathers, with my experiences as ALT’s CEO over the past six years. When I started to prepare for this keynote I thought a lot about how I could tell a story from my personal perspective, rather than in the voice of the organisation I lead. Because thanks to working at the heart of what ALT does, with Members from across all education sectors in all parts of the UK and beyond, I have the privilege of a very unique perspective, one that encompasses everything from global Learning Technology policy to a single teacher using a new gadget for the first time. I can’t cover all of that in less than an hour of course, but I do want to give you as much insight as I can into my perspective, what it’s like to be standing in my shoes, and so the photos in this talk are from journeys I’ve taken to work with Members from Oxford to Edinburgh, from Belfast and Galway to Cardiff and London. They paint a picture of the landscape that I work in, what the world looks like when you are standing in my shoes.

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I hope that this talk will help us to critically examine our perspective – and in particular why our gaze is always drawn to what we are promised is just around the cover, just over the horizon. In her analysis of the most recent Horizon Report, Audrey Watters updated her project to track the predictions that the report has made over the years, examining whether what advocates promise actually comes to pass. Audrey writes: ‘Your takeaway, now and then and always: do not worry about what this report says is “on the horizon.” I bet you in five, ten, twenty years time, folks will still be predicting that it’s all almost here.’ 

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What does it mean for us if we are locked into a perpetual cycle of not arriving, of advocacy for tech that does not deliver to its full potential? We can go back through the history of Learning Technology and come across solutions promising to ‘solve problems’ from cutting costs or reducing teacher workloads to improving learning outcomes or increasing student satisfaction. But have these solutions really delivered for all learners? Does the way we think about and make policy for Learning Technology work? Or does this approach when viewed on a global scale, place the UK firmly in a policy context that the Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg describes as market-led privatisation, text-based accountability, de-professionalisation, standardisation and competition resulting in, in his view, unsuccessful education policies? I think so.  

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Advocating for what’s just beyond the horizon causes 3 issues: first, it gives us the sense that technological innovation is the driver behind change, the only solution to solving the problems that we face. The dominant narrative here is that we are at the mercy of inevitable innovation, the endless march of the machines and that we need to keep running in order to keep pace with progress. This in turn highlights the second problem: a perspective informed by advocacy focused only on what’s ahead increases our perception that we need to compete harder in order to achieve constantly moving goal posts. Compete with other countries as we move up or down league tables, with other institutions, with each other. Instead of making the most of sharing what we have, we don’t like to adopt something that’s ‘not made here’, we re-invent, re-design and re-solve problems and create content over and over again in a race to be the first, the best, the most successful. The issue is that this perspective of continual advocacy tends to ignore the history, the research, the evidence that we do have (and we have decades worth of it by now!). Does being focused on and advocating for what’s always just beyond the horizon also absolve us from ethical responsibility? We’re always talking about the future not what’s happening now?

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I argue that we have the history, the evidence, the research to shape a different perspective, to walk a different path in the future of Learning Technology and there are an increasing number of voices that articulate how things are changing, who are shifting the discourse to a more critical ground. Martin Weller’s inspiring series on ‘25 years of Ed Tech’ is a great example of this (and definitely worth reading if you haven’t come across it yet). He emphasises the need for taking a critical approach to our thinking in Learning Technology, to examine the (commercial) interest that influence its development,  ‘for example, while learning analytics have gained a good deal of positive coverage regarding their ability to aid learners and educators, others have questioned their role in learner agency and monitoring and their ethics.’

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (6)

Another important influence on my thinking and our wider discourse work examine the role of gender and equality in Learning Technology, led by man inspiring role models including Maha Bali, Frances Bell, Anne-Marie Scott, Bon Stewart, Josie Fraser, Donna Lanclos, Melissa Highton, Clare Thomson, Helen Beetham, Lorna Campbell, Sheila MacNeill, Laura Czerniewicz, my fellow keynote speakers this year Tressie MacMillan-Cottom and Amber Thomas, and many others who I am sorry not to mention by name. In her reflective post ahead of the conference, Catherine Cronin reminds us that often ‘long-standing work in critical and feminist pedagogy, for example, was not often acknowledged in later work about MOOC/online/open teaching and pedagogy. Acknowledgement and analysis of earlier work is vitally important in education’.

https://www.lilcomrade.com/product/tech-won-t-save-us-t-shirt

With ever growing challenges facing us, and decades of research and practice to inform our thinking, it seems clear that (Ed) Tech won’t ‘save us’. It won’t save us because it shouldn’t be the driving force behind what we do. Instead, we have to move beyond advocacy for tech that is the answer to all our problems. Towards empowered, critical practice that enables us to negotiate and articulate our relationship with technology and how we use it for learning and teaching. This isn’t to say that technology doesn’t have significant potential and I don’t meant to dismiss the role that industry plays or how much technological innovation contributes to the way we learn, teach and work. Learning Technology can bring big benefits for learners and educators – but it needs to be an empowered relationship instead us being threatened to be buried under an avalanche. 

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (8)

So my questions are: How do we move beyond advocacy? How to we realise the potential of our professional practice for the benefit of learners and for the greater good? How to we move to using Learning Technology to meet some of the biggest challenges we are facing globally right now?

These are big questions. I’d like to share some examples from my own recent work as a starting point to answering these questions. Putting Learning Technologists firmly at the heart of that effort, I’m going to start by looking at how professional practice has changed, using the example of ALT’s accreditation scheme, CMALT

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (11)

Building on the work Shirley Evans, Trustee of ALT, and my colleague Tom Palmer have done in the past two years to collate information from hundreds of portfolios submitted for accreditation since 2004, I’ve started examining if and how the evolution of Learning Technology as a profession can be charted by what specialisms individuals have chosen to demonstrate their practice with. Since 2004 over 100 different areas of specialist practice have been defined and starting to group these into different categories quickly became difficult as they had to be so general as to become meaningless instead of insightful. That in itself is interesting, because it emphasises how diverse the profession is and continues to be.

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It brings us back to ALT’s definition of Learning Technology ‘as the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching and assessment. Our community is made up of people who are actively involved in understanding, managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of Learning Technology.’ and reminds me of the original maxim that still holds true: you don’t have to be called a ‘Learning Technologist’ to be one. To me, it aptly reflects the reality of how differently we as individuals and within organisations approach the challenge of making effective use of Learning Technology and I feel that great strength lies in embracing and respecting this as a hallmark of our profession instead of trying to exclude or ignore words or people who don’t fit within a more narrow definition. Even if we don’t speak the same language or use the same terms to describe our work, the growing body of CMALT portfolios is a powerful example of what we do share.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (13)

Instead then of focusing on the bigger picture, my work has focused on drilling down into the detail of how specialist areas have developed and this first example shows specialisms related to engaging learners. It is interesting to see how even the titles chosen reflect a changing relationship to working with learners, from a more distant research or evaluation approach to focusing on support and feedback and then to collaboration and engagement.

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Another interesting question to ask is when particular kinds of work became important or developed enough to constitute specialist areas of practice and this slide shows examples of ‘firsts’, i.e. when particular kinds of practice were first submitted for accreditation as specialist areas over the past ten years. It only took a year after 2012’s ‘Year of the MOOC’ for instance for it to appear on this list for example. Meanwhile, more recent examples of new specialisms include digital well being, student collaboration, analytics, gamification and leadership. More and more CMALT Holders have started to share their portfolios via ALT’s CMALT Portfolio Register, opening up their practice and at the same time contributing to our ability to gain a better understanding of how professional practice is developing and changing.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell

One question we should ask is to what extent the kind of best practice usually included in portfolios submitted for accreditation, in particular if they are subsequently shared more widely, reflect the reality of professional practice? What isn’t included in this picture? What is left out? Most of the time, anything that’s gone wrong: all the times when a pilot didn’t lead to full scale implementation, when a new gadget ends up gathering dust in the back of a cupboard, when colleagues didn’t co-operate, students gave negative feedback or leadership failed. Learning Technology is a risky business and sharing what didn’t work is still not widespread. But there is something besides failures that isn’t reflected in this picture and that is all the work that is hard to put into words. Hours spent building someone’s confidence or overcoming their resistance to change. Days devoted to influencing decision makers to make the right choices when it comes to strategy or procurement. Teams who translate between faculties or directorates in order to arrive at a common consensus for the new VLE. I can think of many examples of what specialisms I’d like to see appear on the list – and I am sure you can, too.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (16)

One of the trends however we can follow over the past ten years or so is the gradual increase in the number of people who choose a management or leadership related specialism as more and more Learning Technology professionals move into more senior roles. Their expertise in Learning Technology becomes more important as technology becomes more complex and our demands of what it can achieve for students or staff on a large scale become more ambitious.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (17)

In consultation with Members of ALT this has informed the development of new accreditation pathways over the past 18 months, and the second pilot of both Associate CMALT (a new pathway for early career professionals or those for whom Learning Technology is a smaller part of their role) and Senior CMALT, for senior professionals whose work involves management, leadership, research or similar advanced areas of practice, are about to be concluded. These new pathways mark the first expansion of the CMALT framework since 2004 and I want to share some early findings from the pilot groups to date.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (18)

The requirements for Senior CMALT include two (instead of one for the existing CMALT pathway) specialist areas of practice to be described, evidenced and reflected on. The subjects chosen to date reflect a broad range of practice from scholarship and Open Access publishing, to assessment, online courses and mobile learning to staff development, training and leadership. Similar to the earlier chart which showed a diverse range of different specialisms over a time these choices reflect how more senior roles in Learning Technology are developing their focus.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (20)

A new requirement added to Senior CMALT is an Advanced Area of practice, which needs to be specifically related to the four CMALT Core Principles. The visual thought here shows the result of consultation with and discussion amongst Members who came together to re-articulate these principles afresh as part of the work to develop new pathways to CMALT. This is particularly relevant to the earlier question of how far the practice evidenced for CMALT reflects the reality of our professional everyday as to me these shared principles are a strong example of how we articulate what may be less straight forward to share about the work we do. To me these principles reflect professional practice beyond advocacy.

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Now we can see the earliest topics chosen by participants of the pilot groups for Senior CMALT and what areas of their practice they have chosen to as Advanced Areas relating to the core principles and these range from research focused topics, such as research in postgraduate distance learning or blended professional development to leadership of cpd programmes and leadership in the development of research and practice communities. At this stage the insight we can gain from this is still limited by the necessarily small numbers of professionals involved. But it does give us a glimpse of what critical approaches to professional practice in Learning Technology may develop and this will become more interesting as this pathways is fully established and the number of examples we have increases.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (21)

I gained CMALT two years ago and I found the process very rewarding. It was valuable to step away from the perspective of having managerial oversight and put it to the test as a professional, becoming a candidate myself and seeing the other side of the process (you can access my portfolio here and note that my portfolio was assessed by Trustees of ALT to manage the conflict of interest). So when the opportunity came up to put one of the new pathways through its paces, I opted for Senior CMALT and set to work expanding my portfolio. It prompted me to reflect on how I have moved my own practice towards a more critical perspective.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (22)

As my Advanced Area of practice I chose promoting equality in Learning Technology and I soon realised that this was harder to translate into a portfolio of evidence than I had imagined. It’s my own “CMALT Fantasy Specialism” and I am fortunate to have had some very helpful critical friends who provided input to ensure that it didn’t turn into a nightmare.

So to unpack what this part of my work is about it’s important to explain the context in which my understanding of equality is grounded and to do this I want to share an extract from what I wrote in my portfolio: 

Whilst my position is indeed one of relative privilege, it is nonetheless an experience of inequality.

As a space in which we work, Learning Technology sits at the intersection of the tech industry, education, politics and the third sector. When I started working in Learning Technology I had no concept of how much inequality there is and how much it would affect every single day of my professional practice and that of every colleague, every learner. Particularly as a Learning Technologist in a leadership position it can be sobering to see the kind of structural inequality Laura Czerniewicz (who stood in this stage 3 years ago and inspired us with her talk on Inequality in Higher Education) and others speak of on a national or global scale. But whilst the bigger picture is important to my work, examples of inequality I have experiences can be found far closer to home, in the day to day working life many colleagues can relate to, such as being the token woman on a ‘manel’ to seeing reports about empowerment illustrated exclusively by white women in high heels to being the only women on a table of policy makers representing “the sector” to having to be introduced by male colleagues as ‘the boss’ in order not to be mistaken for their PA, from not being allowed to ask questions at events to not being invited, not being funded, not being considered for an opportunity. The list of examples goes on and on and for me it’s difficult to describe dispassionately.

The need to promote equality in Learning Technology goes far beyond the personal (and as I have acknowledged in my case a personal position of privilege). Inequality is structural and political and frequently apparent in the development of Learning Technology, such as algorithmic bias shaping the way new technologies operate. I admire writers and researchers who analyse, chart or expose inequality and I actively use my position to take action to promote equality. I have specifically chosen to attempt to develop this area of my practice in my portfolio because that in itself can contribute and I have selected three examples of how I promote equality as a Learning Technologist. … 

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One of the examples of practice included in my portfolio is volunteering to support the FemEdTech initiative and at this point I’d like to give a big wave to  everyone involved in #femedtech who help us foster more criticality in Learning Technology by helping us create a more diverse, a more inclusive perspective and community. And this isn’t an effort that is relevant only to women or people of colour or any other other group that fights for equality and against discrimination. Although it may seem like an obvious point to make, equality is for everyone. It concerns all of us.

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Grass roots projects like UnCommon Women demonstrate that one of the key ways in which we can achieve greater criticality is greater collaboration, knowledge exchange and openness. Our practice is political, it’s personal and active participation in any of these initiatives makes a difference. It helps us articulate a narrative that isn’t dominated by advocacy alone and expands our personal learning networks beyond those we already know and feel comfortable with, help burst the filter bubbles that surround us. 

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For my own work, focusing on open collaborations is intensely practical and an efficient way to making things happen. I leverage this approach in my work for ALT for example for providing input to policy makers such as the call to action for policy makers collaboratively developed and published at the start of this year. Or working with start-ups and academics to bring together a guide for how to work together. Or developing ALT’s own approach to operating as a virtual organisation, a project in open leadership that I work on with Martin Hawksey.  Collaboration and inclusivity help foster criticality, inform my thinking through the different perspectives I encounter and inform strategy.

2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (27)

I follow in the footsteps of others (including the outstanding teams and individuals who were amongst the winners of the Learning Technologist of the Year Award announced yesterday) who have leveraged their open practice to make change and spark more critical professional practice.

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Criticality helps ensure that we do not leave answering the big questions, facing the big issues up to others without making our voice heard. Criticality and collaboration are at the heart of professional practice that enables us to work in partnership with industry, to inform how products and services are developed and to influence policy that effectively governs our relationship with technology and the tech industry. We do have the power to shape our future and we do have a vision of what that future should look like. To close, I’d like to focus on that future.

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Who shapes the future of Learning Technology? That is what we asked participants in the LTHE chat in June, when we discussed developing critical and open approaches in Learning Technology. We asked participants as the final questions of the chat to share a hope for the future of Learning Technology. Their vision is for Learning Technology to be ‘inclusive. Not a bolt on, not an alternative, lesser experience’, that ‘all education is open’, that we will combine ‘innovation and integration’, that there will be ‘greater sharing of results, greater scrutiny of results and greater understanding of the process followed to produce the results’, they highlighted the ‘need to raise the lowest level of engagement with technology/pedagogy as well as supporting those on the cutting edge’ and they hoped that ‘a symbiotic and ultimately synergetic relationship with pedagogy is established which facilitates a revolution in society’s objectives for our education system’. 

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These are their voices, their hopes, their vision (and you can explore the conversation with TAGSExplorer). So, when we ask who shapes the future of Learning Technology – my hope is that we don’t leave it up to others. My hope is that we continue to participate in the conversation, that we make our voices heard and listen to others.

When I first stood in this theatre in 2009 I saw great potential in what could be achieved by this community and I wanted to contribute to it. Nearly 10 years later I have seen parts of that vision come true, but there are much bigger things still to come.

And that is up to all of us. So I invite you to share your hopes, your vision and make your own voice heard: 2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (31)Last, but not least, I’d like to thank the Trustees of ALT who have given me the opportunity to speak here today and to thank you for listen (reading).2018 Keynote #altc - Maren Deepwell (32)

Pizza and virtual team dynamics

Conversation-joint-post-feature

This post continues our series on ‘openly sharing our approach to leading a virtual team’ – a joint project with Martin Hawksey (cross-posted here) for which we write a monthly blog post, some of which are special podcast/conference editions.

August

We are at the end of the busiest month of our organisation’s year in the run up to our Annual Conference. Getting here is a big milestone for our organisation and a real test for our approach to leading a virtual team.

Maren: We have been busy with preparations for the conference and our team of six has been working with over a hundred volunteers who contribute to organising the event. It’s usual for us to work with Members all across the U.K., but during the past month we’ve had to communicate and collaborate significantly more than usual. We’ve put our still quite new processes and working culture under real pressure, and we’ve made it through the toughest weeks in good shape. We’ve learnt a lot along the way, but I’m proud how well we’ve worked together. Now, as we get ready to take the whole team to the event, my thoughts are on the face to face side of our predominantly online working lives. We put a lot of thought into delivering the best possible experience for participants of the event and we talked about this recently on Edutalk radio with the Chair and President of ALT. We all agreed that there is special value in being able to take part in person. So our job for our team is to make sure that we have a plan for supporting each other over 4 long and busy days, so that we can all do our best. I’ve been thinking about a couple of things we started to discuss in June, when we had our first team day. For example, getting together to run this event also means seeing each other and working together in person for the first time in a while or ever. That’s not insignificant. Also, each year we have colleagues for whom this is their first experience of this event and although I’ve got previous years to draw on, each year is different and we have only half a day to get ready. Talking through each day in advance, planning meals and breaks together, and being clear about expectations about when we work and when we have down time helps get us all on the same page before we arrive. It also makes it easier to adjust from working at your desk at home to being with colleagues hosting 400 participants. What are your thoughts?

Martin: Looking back over August it’s interesting to reflect on the number of conversations we’ve had on supporting our team during the conference. Confidence and expectations were areas that came up a couple of times. With many of us never fully experiencing all 4 days of our Annual Conference before I think it’s a difficult line to walk in terms of planning for some of the potential pressure points whilst not unduly impacting on our confidence. Something that I thought was very useful as part of one of our online team meetings was a round robin to see how everyone was doing in terms of conference workload. The continual challenge I see in distributed teams is maintaining group awareness. This includes knowing what others are working on, where they are up to in specific tasks and what they are planning on working on next. In the last six months the team has grown by 20% from 5 to 6. It’s nice to have an extra pair of hands or a new colleague who is able to contribute to our delivery and we are already seeing the benefits of this, but at the same time we now have a bigger team to try and maintain an awareness of what we are each are working on, more people who have a voice at our weekly team meetings. I’ve not calculated how much extra time this takes each time we have new staff join. In software development you could point to Brooks Law which states “the complexity and communication costs of a project rise with the square of the number of developers”. I think in our case this would be a gross overestimate, and even in software development a number of people have questioned Brooks Law, but it’s interesting to consider the implications of growing a distributed team. I do believe investing time in gaining better awareness is still very useful. All the planning and preparation will hopefully result in a positive experience for all. Do you feel your spending more time managing a larger team?

Maren: definitely. Half of my focus is on observing, listening, supporting, advising… it’s the busiest time of the year, it’s a crunch point, it’s naturally a big part of my work just now. But half of my focus is far in the future, 2,3 or even 10 years from now, and our conference provides essential input to navigating what’s ahead, to be ambitious, to nurture the vision in my head, in my heart. Even one year from now things will be quite different and looking back over the past five years reminds me how much things have already changed. How far we’ve come. Any highly performing team feels growing pains when moving from the success of achieving at one level to moving up to the next. Things stop working in the way they have done before new dynamics are established. Getting through a conference together is a good bonding experience to build on and I feel that this is easier to accomplish in person rather than online when everyone is distributed. It seems very achievable to build individual working relationships virtually and over the past year or two I have gained experience in that, but group dynamics are harder to establish and our blended approach, seeing each other at events and team days, is important here. Five years ago when our team grew to include your role as a second senior member of staff, I had to learn all the things I now rely on. It took time for us to figure out how we would lead things together, assess each other’s strengths and where support would be most needed. Whilst we can’t put an exact figure on it, it’s fair to say that it took a lot of time establishing a senior staff team and that we continue to invest time and effort into that as things evolve. But, it has more than doubled our achievements as a result, increased capacity and resilience in many ways. And, at this time of year, it also provides us with a safe space to assess how we are coping with pressure and I know someone has my back if the answer is not very well. It’s opened my eyes to how valuable it is to invest in communication and team work whereas before I would have probably argued to be more effective doing things myself.

Martin: The difference between building individual and team dynamics in a distributed organisation is very interesting. I was recently reading a paper on ‘Group Awareness in Distributed Software Development’ which included the conclusion that ‘occasional face-to-face gatherings assist group awareness’, something you’ve also highlighted earlier. I was wondering if the intensity of a 3 day, 400+ delegate conference was the best occasion for what will be for some their first face-to-face meeting. Thinking back to my first time being part of the ALT conference, which also happened to be when I was also a distributed member of staff, my first face-to-face meeting with a number of the team was a group lunch the day before the conference started. As a more socially focused activity it allowed there to be more spontaneous communication also I believe creating an opportunity to strengthen a shared team identity. Time is also a factor identified by Hinds and Mortensen: “relationships between distant team members become more harmonious over time as teams develop familiarity and shared processes”. The quality of the time and mix of informal and formal all hopefully support a stronger team and is also a great excuse to continue what has become the traditional team visit to a pizzeria the night before our big events.

Maren: hmmmmm… pizza. Definitely a tradition I approve of. I hadn’t come across either of the references you mention, and they make for interesting reading. It’s thought provoking to see a more analytical approach. I always see relationships and team dynamics as messy, shifting, unpredictable with many known and unknown unknowns. Every year and every conference turns out to have surprises in store and that is why the months of preparations are so important. We develop trust in our processes and plans, we form the habit to rely on our lists, we solve problems together. By the time I arrive at an event we’ve organised, I’ve got a list that keeps me on track and am ready to enjoy the experience. Whatever unexpected twists and turns the days hold in store, this is the moment when I feel really privileged to have the job I have, when I see how our values are put into practice.

Martin: With all research there is likely to be a personal call as to whether it is applicable to the context you are interested in. I haven’t delved deep into this area yet but there are a number aspects I recognise or can relate to in our own distributed team. I think it’s also interesting to consider the quotes I pulled out in the context of the conference. For a number of our delegates the conference is that ‘occasional face-to-face gathering’ that helps them gain awareness of who and what is happening across sectors. One of the real strengths of our conference is it’s an opportunity for new and existing members of our community to make an initial connection that can be continued via various means. Thinking about this I ended up with a very long list that spread across various mediums including face-to-face local meetings of ALT Members Groups and SIGs, social aspects that feature in our conference platform, various mailing lists and dedicated online social spaces, the #altc tag and more. I hope through all of this our community is able to develop familiarity and shared knowledge in learning technology. Their participation and engagement in turn will inspire our next steps in leading our virtual team.

 

Missed a month? Here’re previous posts:

  • July – Special podcast edition: Reflecting on the first six months leading a virtual team
  • June – Virtual team, face to face team day: putting our blended approach to the test
  • May – Opportunity knocks: Using GDPR to strengthen virtual teams
  • April – 3 months in… hitting our first milestones as a virtual team
  • March – Developing collaboration as a virtual team
  • February – An open perspective on organisational transformation?

#altc keynote preview: Beyond Advocacy at ALT’s Annual Conference

I am really looking forward to giving a keynote as part of ALT’s upcoming 25th Annual Conference, and I am even more delighted to do so alongside the inspiring Amber Thomas, whose work I have followed and admired for a long time and also Tressie McMillan Cottom, whom I can’t wait to meet in person.

So, here is a preview of what the keynote is going to be about and also a link to watch it on the day 🙂

Beyond advocacy: Who shapes the future of Learning Technology?

This keynote poses the question ‘who shapes the future of Learning Technology?’. We will explore current thinking about what drives how we use technology in learning and teaching and questions the promise of tech that never quite delivers. For decades, technology has promised solutions to help us learn, teach, assess and care better, and yet these visions of the future are always just beyond the horizon.

But how do we move beyond that promise?

How do get beyond tech advocacy and realise the potential of our professional practice for the benefit of learners and the greater good?

To start answering these questions I will explore how professional practice has developed charted through new research into ALT’s CMALT accreditation scheme and share examples from recent collaborative work promoting equality in Learning Technology.

See the programme page for more details. 

Beyond hype or dystopia: Looking ahead to ALT’s Annual Conference 2043

No, this isn’t a typo, this post is actually about looking ahead to a conference in 2043, 25 years from now…

The prompt for this post is that Members of ALT are celebrating the 25th Annual Conference of the Association, which makes this year a valuable opportunity to reflect on how far we have come, all the things we have learnt and everything that has changed as well as the big challenges that are still ahead. I have been following and hugely enjoying Martin Weller’s series of blog posts “25 years of Ed Tech” so if you have missed it, go and read it now.

But what about looking forward to the next 25 years?

With the most recent Horizon Report being published this week, I have been wanting to look ahead beyond the future that futurists predict. And I enjoyed the post that Audrey Watters published “The Horizon never moves” in which she sets out some key ways in which the hype in the edtech industry is always about what’s just beyond the horizon, what’s ‘almost there’.  And then I have seen a (to me) new t-shirt appear on my Twitter feed which bears the slogan “tech won’t save us”. Thus prompted, I want to look ahead at the future in a manner that is free of predictions, free of the promise of technology or the solutions that are on the horizon. Instead this post is about stepping outside of hype and dystopia, instead sharing what I hope ALT’s Annual Conference (or an event like it) will be about in 2043:

First, I hope that there will be an independent Association for Learning Technology in the UK in 2043 and that the voice of its Members will continue to have grown in influence and reach as it has over the past 25 years. 

Also, I hope that as a professional body ALT will have as diverse a range of professionals leading it as it has today, continuing to challenge notions of professionalisation, fight for recognition of the value of the work Learning Technologists do and continue to expand our understanding and practice of how technology is used for learning, teaching and assessment. Regardless of what education and training provision will structurally look like by 2043, we will still be using technology to help us learn, develop and accredit. 

Long before 2043, I hope that the business model that supports the work ALT or similar professional bodies do will enable every Member to attend its events, with neither time nor cost being a barrier that prevents professionals to come together either in person or virtually to move their work forward.

By 2043 I hope that sharing critical reflection, pose questions and importantly disseminate failures will have become more common place than it is now. That conference sessions are less focused on reporting success or promoting solutions and geared more towards collaboration, debate and forming relationships. For that to be possible, the way in which language and in particular terminology around Learning Technology are used will have to become less divisive across sectors. I hope that we will have overcome the tendency to dismiss what we haven’t created ourselves or in-house, or what is expressed with different words than those we would use ourselves.

From a global perspective, I hope that the conference will have stronger ties with other events in the UK and across the world and contribute to the wider dialogue that addresses the fundamental questions of how we as human beings relate to technology and how we shape our future. My vision of the future is one of empowered professionalism, not one determined solely by the forces of technological determinism. 

The most powerful part of the conference in my experience is to get a sense of one’s agency within a community, to hear different voices and see contrasting perspectives that help open up new horizons and stop my professional practice from becoming too focused on internal concerns or limited to being relevant only in a cosy echo chamber.

The last point I want to add is that I hope that the future Learning Technology will be shaped less by the privileged, powerful and established than it is now. That in 2043 it is no longer unusual for people with fewer resources, people of colour, for women, for young people, for learners and others who find it hard to make their voice heard to play a part in determining what their future looks like. 

So here is to the next 25 years in Learning Technology.

I’ll see you in 2043. And hopefully in Manchester this September where our work to bring about the kind of future we want to be part of continues https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2018/.

Walking, talking, thinking. Conversational professional practice.

My office this Thursday

Recently I have experimented with different modes of thinking and developing ideas to see how I can expand my practice and work more productively in different contexts,  particularly whilst I travel.

Everyone I work with is distributed all across the UK and many people I work with on specific projects or initiatives are similarly in different places and so increasingly over the past few years I have made conversations, usually on the move, a big part of my professional practice.

What started as a necessity, i.e. taking urgent calls whilst I was walking from A to B or having confidential calls outside an open plan office became more intentional when I started working with my mentor and we adopted walking and talking as our preferred mode of working together.

Having something else to see and focus on, being able to move, look somewhere else than the person I am talking to often helps make conversation more free-flowing, less confrontational than sitting across each other at a meeting table and more personal than trying to hear each other in a crowded coffee shop. 

I find it much easier to think of new ideas or solve problems when I’m standing up in any case, so even if I am having a call with someone I might walk around my work space, talking and walking and thinking. 

It reminds me a bit of Bryan Mather‘s approach to visual thinkery, drawing and talking and thinking together. 

But whist having a walk is a great part of my professional practice, it isn’t possible or practical for me to physically meet up with everyone and so there are a number of other approaches to having a conversation that I have been finding really useful, including a recent experiment recording a podcast for a joint series on open leadership I am writing with Martin Hawksey.

Another experiment has been to take part in a different kind of conversation for a fortnight as a guest curator of @femedtech

Or the week co-hosting the #LTHEchat, which like the #femedtech week opened up a whole new conversation for me to take part in and deepen my understanding of how I can use different approaches to conversations as part of the work I do and the way I reflect on and explore new ideas.

A conversational approach to thinking about things and developing my understanding is particularly helpful because it makes me aware of my own perspective, what I take for granted, what assumptions I might make. It prompts me to re-consider my starting point as well as my objective. It also gives others the opportunity to understand my perspective better, to ask me questions and to put their point across and that is something that I value in particular as I have a leadership role in which that kind of exchange can easily be sidelined. 

I have also been writing my keynote for ALT’s Annual Conference, which I am really looking forward to, but it is in less than a month and the pressure to get my thoughts in order is palpable. When I am stuck or uncertain or lacking inspiration, that’s when having a conversation becomes even more important. Time to go for a walk this weekend.

My CEO’s report to ALT’s Members, August 2018

CMALT-Principles-with-Title-700px

This is a re-posted from the #altc blog

Dear Members

As I write this we have just one month to go before the largest event we organise each year, our Annual Conference. This year, as we celebrate 25 year of ALT, there is much to look forward to and this report covers some of the key developments across the Association.

Your voice #altc #altc25

First, I wanted to draw your attention to an ongoing project from ALT’s President, Prof Martin Weller, who has been blogging about the 25 Years of EdTech in this series of posts, counting down to 2018! Members have also started writing posts for publication on the #altc blog and we are inviting contributions tagged #altc #altc25 to add to this growing collection of voices and views from across our membership.

Vote for your choice in the Learning Technologist of the Year Awards 2018

As many of year will be aware, we have launched a new category of Award this year, celebrating outstanding achievements in research in Learning Technology. The judging panel, has reviewed, short-listed and interviewed this year’s entries and after careful deliberation the panel has selected the finalists. Now it’s up to you to vote for your choice for 2018 Community Choice Award. There can only be 1 winner, so you select your front runner from all individual, team and research project entries. Good luck, everyone!

Vote https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2018/awardsvoting/

Conference preparations

With over 100 Members involved in the preparations for this year’s event, we look forward to welcoming as many of you as possible in Manchester and online. Alongside our Members who work hard to review papers, shape the social programme and chair sessions, we are particularly grateful for the support from our sponsors this year: Catalyst, VScene, Blackboard, MeeToo, RMResults and UNIwise.

The Trustees of ALT have also made funds available to support 10 participants to come to the conference in memory of ALT’s former President, Doug Gowan, enabling those otherwise unable to attend to contribute and have a voice at the conference.

With 140+ sessions, the programme this year includes research sessions, poster presentations, workshops and many short presentations.

Register https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2018/registration/

Changes to ALT’s Constitution

At this year’s Annual General Meeting on 12 September Members will be voting on a resolution to adopt an updated version of ALT’s constitution. We will write to all Members to set out the proposed changes in more detail when the papers for the AGM are distributed, but the main changes to the constitution are to ensure ALT’s governance has more long term stability and is in line with best practice recommended by the Charity Commission. Thus the terms of service for the Vice-Chair, Chair and President of ALT, which currently are limited to 1 year and rotate annually, will be brought in line with the terms served by Trustees overall under the update constitution.

Read more about ALT’s next Annual General Meeting.

Staff team

As our activities are growing and in particular the CMALT scheme is now being developed to offer new accreditation pathways to Associate and Senior CMALT, we also require more staffing resource and we have just welcomed Susan Greig as ALT’s new Operations Manager. Susan will support ALT’s operations including taking on the overall management of the CMALT scheme and related CPD activities, work with Special Interest Group and enhance communications.

As senior staff Martin Hawksey and I continue to share our experiences of transitioning ALT’s operations to a fully distributed, virtual model of operations and we have now published 6 monthly blog posts and a podcast in this series on open leadership ‘Sharing our approach to leading a virtual team’.

A note of thanks #CMALT

I’d like to end my report with a note of thanks to all who have contributed to the CMALT consultations. As well as informing the development of the new Associate and Senior CMALT pathways, Certified Members led a ‘visual thinkery’ conversation with Bryan Mathers, resulting in these new visuals for the principles of ALT’s accreditation scheme. Thank you to everyone involved.

session 2 – principles of CMALT

We will be holding the first CMALT Ceremony as part of the AGM on 12th September to further enhance the recognition of the scheme. If you have been accredited or updated your portfolio in the past year, we look forward to congratulating you in Manchester.

Special podcast edition: Reflecting on the first six months leading a virtual team

This is a joint post with Martin Hawksey (cross-posted here) about how we, as senior staff, lead our organisation to adopt virtual operations. You can read previous posts in this series here.

We’re six months into our journey and in this special edition we look back at the highs and lows, share practical things we’ve learnt along the way and take our conversation from post to podcast to help us reflect and look ahead.

Maren: when you suggested that we share our experiences openly I wasn’t really sure what to expect. After six months, I find it’s become a valuable part of my practice. It acts as a regular prompt to reflect not only on my own work, but the team and the organisation’s progress; it’s made us set aside time to have a regular dialogue about important, but not urgent things; and it’s helped me find a voice to share more openly in a way I hadn’t done before. Also, on a practical level, a written conversation helps alleviate my tendency to interrupt someone before they are finished. Looking back at our first post one of the key things I’ve learnt is that this process itself, as well as the output, is important. I’d encourage anyone to build sufficient rapport and trust to try out a similar approach to collaborating. That said, I’ve also found aspects of it challenging! For example, trying to strike the right balance between sharing and respecting the boundaries of what can’t be shared has been difficult at times. Or deciding what to focus on, what might be useful to others. It’s quite a big risk to take to share leading a transition whilst it’s happening and I’m grateful that both the Board and the team have been supportive from the beginning.

Martin: The process of writing these posts has been very useful. The asynchronous nature of writing and opportunity to discuss our thoughts has created a space to reflect on where we are at and think about the future. Finding the right balance can be tricky. As part of ALT’s remit we are keen that as well as sharing the positive impact that technology has on learning and teaching that there is also an opportunity to share when things went wrong or didn’t work out. As you highlight as part of our transition it’s been important that we retain the trust and moral of the rest of the team. I should say that looking back over the last 6 months there have been no issues that haven’t been relatively easy to resolve. A challenge that came up in our February update was providing remote IT support. Overall we’ve had very few issues to deal with. Something at the back of my mind is our reliance on personal home broadband connections. Recently I changed by broadband provider. As I had overlapping contracts in terms of connectivity the change was seamless (the new WiFi router did however kill my home print server). Having checked the new providers broadband speed before signing up I was confident there wasn’t going to be any issues with speed. But what if there was an issue, or the connection can’t cope with the extra load from my daughter being at home during the school holidays? There is also the challenge of providing remote support when there is zero connectivity. We have some contingency plans in place for these situations but I think this is an area we can work more on over the next 6 months.

Maren: You are right, in the first few months we thought a lot about infrastructure, because that was the most practical aspect of making this transition. On an ongoing basis, too, with staffing changes, moving house etc, the infrastructure is always a priority. I can now travel with our phone system in my pocket, and we can take our “office” with us when we run large events so that the whole team can be on site rather than someone having to cover the physical office space. It’s a powerful transformation. In our post about March we started discussing more about supporting staff, collaborating and also how this way of working influences our work as Learning Technologists. Here are three examples of how virtual working has changed my professional practice as a Learning Technologist: first, technology fails at team meetings. We’ve talked about our weekly team meetings a lot and how they form a cornerstone of us working together effectively as a team. We have had all kinds of technology fails, individually and as a team, over the past year and I think it feels very similar to getting things wrong in front of a room full of students or colleagues and the experience has made me have much greater empathy with someone nervous to try something new. Secondly, I have a much greater appetite for finding technological solutions to problems we identify. Bringing all of our operations into the virtual domain and working together with our Trustees, Members and colleagues in the same blended way has created a real sense of opportunity to improve what we do and that in itself has been really exciting (although maybe my enthusiasm for doing things better did not need additional motivation). Last, and this relates directly to my role as a Line Manager, I think the quality of communication is more important than anything else I do and that shapes all aspects of my practice. Regardless of whether it’s a chat message, video call, email, phone call or indeed meeting up face to face, I work hard to communicate equally well in every mode. As a virtual team we have to cope with difficult conversations, bad days and unexpected crisis online. Communication has always been really important to me and to how I succeed, but I am developing new skills and strategies through our virtual way of working. It feels like we are creating an effective blend of processes, technology & culture to build resilience for the highs and lows that we face and communication is at the heart of that. It may seem obvious, but our work over the past six months has really expanded my horizons on what that means in practice.

Martin: Communication was something that came up in the May blog post. Whilst this was a busy time dealing with implementing GDPR we reflected on knowing how the team were coping and visibility when when working remotely. This month I attended Google Cloud Next ‘18, Google’s main conference for sharing what it’s doing in it’s cloud platforms including G Suite. G Suite is one of the core tools we use at ALT and has been invaluable in making it possible to work as a distributed team. Google use this event to launch new tools and enhancements to its products and from the sessions I attended improving communication was a strong theme, as one of the presenters put it “the ability to communicate effectively defines success”. In terms of what we discussed in May a new product that caught my eye was Hangouts Chat. This is a new version of Google’s chat tool similar to tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. One of the features of Hangouts Chat is quick actions and reactions to messages. As part of this Google highlight emoji reactions “to build stronger, quicker and more expressive communications”:

I’ve mixed emotions about emoji’s, particularly in a work context. I don’t mind using some emoticons like 🙂 in messages but as I don’t like the emoji palette Google uses I’ve turned off the feature that automatically turning text emoticons to emojis (e.g. 🙂 -> ). Also given my own feelings about the Google emojis at times I feel reluctant to impose these on others, using as an emoticon I feel there is a degree of subtlety. Emoji’s or ?

Maren: I should probably start by saying that I don’t really use emoji much at all – neither at work nor in my personal communication. The person I text with most is my mother and she uses one emoji: little pink hearts at the end of a message. In her case that can mean anything from “thanks for taking me to the hospital today” to “sending you lots of love” to “take care and have a nice weekend”. I’m one of those people who mostly texts in full sentences with punctuation. That said, I have started using emoticons more in a work context since I started working as part of a distributed team. In chat, like Google chat such as we use for informal or immediate communications, I do find it useful to be able to convey my meaning in more than words. There are many instances when informal, but important conversations can be more nuanced – although that also depends on the person who i am chatting with and how well we know each other. Whilst in theory icon based communication should be more easily understood than words, I find that in practice most people I communicate with have very specific patterns in their use of icons and over time I learn what they mean. When I use tools like Slack for projects, I mainly use emoji such as to signal that I have seen a message, to show that I am participating or supporting something and for me that kind of interaction quickly becomes less meaningful. It’s like ‘likes’ or ‘hearts’ on social media. It’s useful, but limited. And I also dislike the Google chat and the iOS emoji palette even if they have become more diverse in recent years. Now, to answer your question: in a broader context, with a bigger user base and in contexts where being able to interact more, I’d probably say “Emoji? – ” – but in our immediate context of leading a distributed team, I think it’s .

That wraps up our written conversation for this month, but we are also experimenting with the format by recording a special podcast this time, reflecting a bit more on the six months since we started this project and talking about what’s ahead and where we hope to be by the end of the first year.

 

Missed a month? Here’re previous posts:

  • June – Virtual team, face to face team day: putting our blended approach to the test
  • May – Opportunity knocks: Using GDPR to strengthen virtual teams
  • April – 3 months in… hitting our first milestones as a virtual team
  • March – Developing collaboration as a virtual team
  • February – An open perspective on organisational transformation?

Crossing the Meridian: on stories and ideas

This week I had a really interesting conversation about how to communicate ideas and what role stories play in that. Shortly afterwards I crossed the Meridian Line in London and it made me think about all the different lines that connect our planet and us to each other. Networks, infrastructure, data… we often visualise the connections in a linear fashion. And most stories, too, follow that patterns, they have a beginning, middle and end, reaching from A to B… and back again.

But as an Anthropologist I’ve come across many stories that follow a different pattern, stories that we tell, not necessarily write down, that are transmitted as part of our cultural heritage in the form of songs and tales, art or dance or in material culture.

Over time, those stories can change, we may loose bits or make new additions. We may understand them differently as our context changes, we may not wish to remember them.  Some stories never die, whilst others are forgotten.

But whatever shape or form or history stories may have, the act of the telling, is an important part of what we as human being do to make sense of the world. And our place in it. And our own stories. That is why I like to blog for example. It’s a strand of my story that I want to create and share, but also a tool for me to make sense of what I do and think about. It’s part of who I am and of my professional practice.

So when I cross the Meridian I think about navigation and Patrick O’Brian and history. I think about measuring the globe and map making. I think about Victorian explorers and the nature of time. It’s the tapestry of my stories, the frame of reference I have built over the years and that helps me make sense of the world and my ideas about it. Yours will be different, everyone’s is. But if the story I tell is good, then it will communicate my ideas to you and enough of my perspective to enable us to establish some shared understanding.

This week has been a good reminder that what I have to share, what I have to say, is already part of the stories in my head.